To Thine Own Self

I recently heard a well intentioned, albeit misattributed quote in a film, about how families always rising and falling in America. 

Perhaps this was more true in the days of Natahanial Hawthorne, who wrote in The House of Seven Gables of the Maule family as:

“…generally poverty-stricken; always plebeian and obscure; working with unsuccessful diligence …”

So too is the fate of many who are born and die in my day – and if not poverty stricken then debt stricken, and most certainly plebeian and obscure in their unsuccessful diligence. 

The American Dream is the idea of rising up from obscurity – from plebe to proprietor. This is the theme of many a musical. How ironic that those who pretend to live in a casteless society dream of rising above their own. 

Of course, not everyone wants or even believes in such a story for themselves. Many simply want more than they grew up with, which, ironically again, is precisely what their parents wished for them: a better life. Now, whether better means having a different emblem on your automobile, or simply having enough every month, well, this is something that follows according to each individual’s family history. Funny how ambition so often works that way. 

For me, I would dare say I am not in contest with the past, for there is no contesting; we had nothing. My scorecard is thusly not against the past but against the time and pressure of those who I wish to have as peers (More on that [peers] in a moment).

Were I a different person I might find myself content to remain in my present station in life, as one who has the ability to successfully get by according to the American standard. But, thank Caesar, I am not; however, I cannot deny the difficulty of rising above ones station. People are like crabs in a bucket: eager to pull their own kind back in as soon as one attempts to make a way out. 

Emerson wrote, “A man’s growth is seen in the successive choirs of his friends.” How sadly true this is, as anyone knows who has ever lost friends according to growth. As water seeks its own level men seek their own kind; for man is, by and large, the average of his closest friends. So it is, our peers define us more than we know, and – for better or for worse – a man’s peers are his equals.  

And to what end this game amongst the choirs of our friends is played, well, this, my dear reader, is up to you. You may be a weekend warrior or your own hero. And you may moralize and rationalize your reasons all you wish, but beware you do not deceive yourself. There is not much satisfaction, in my experience, in living the kind of life in which one lives in secret discontent. It’s a kind of false life where nothing seems right. 

And maybe this is all arising because I am thirty, the age in which, in the words of Albert Camus, a man takes his place in time. 

Likewise and during every day of an unillustrious life, time carries us. But a moment always comes when we have to carry it. We live on the future: “tomorrow,” “later on,” “when you have made your way,” “you will understand when you are old enough.” Such irrelevancies are wonderful, for, after all, it’s a matter of dying. Yet a day comes when a man notices or says that he is thirty. Thus he asserts his youth. But simultaneously he situates himself in relation to time. He takes his place in it. He admits that he stands at a certain point on a curve that he acknowledges having to travel to its end. He belongs to time, and by the horror that seizes him, he recognizes his worst enemy. Tomorrow, he was longing for tomorrow, whereas everything in him ought to reject it. That revolt of the flesh is the absurd. – Camus, The Myth of Sisyphus

So it is, the fire beneath my balls, so to speak, has been lit. 

Emerson too writes of a similar realization, whence a man must take responsibility both for what he is and  who he wishes to be. 

There is a time in every man’s education when he arrives at the conviction that envy is ignorance: that imitation is suicide: that he must take himself for better, for worse, as his portion: that through the wide universe is full of good, no kernal of nourishing corn can come to him but through his toil bestowed on that plot of ground which is given to him to till. – Emerson, Self Reliance 

And here I sit, almost thirty one, knowing that what I am to be rests in my hands. 

Not the world, nor my family can ever – nor ever has – applied any pressure for me to be any certain thing. 

Besides, externals do not motivate me. After all, you may find amongst any number of successful men myriad reasons for their accomplishments in life – as you too may find excuses for failure as vast and varied amongst their counterparts. 

I can safely say that none of my known forebearers lived exceptionally successful, satisfying, nor contented lives. Why this is, well, it might have something to do with being Irish, but I would argue more it has something to do with the guilt and shame passed down upon the people by the church, which, in my opinion, was only ever established to produce and control obedient slaves. 

This may seem offhanded reasoning but I view consciousness as a sort of computer in which the highest commands are followed. Of course, I do not mean to say there don’t exist highly successful religious persons, but I neither suppose my ancestors were quite fervent in their beliefs – merely oppressed by them. 

It pains me we are not raised to be the heroes of our own stories but, rather, are raised to worship martyrs. 

Now, whether any of this makes a modicum of sense to anyone outside of myself or my Sarah, I care not. This blog is my blackboard and I shall do as a wordsmith does in formulating his own equations. 

Nothing against Jesus, I have no doubt he was the most awesome hippie of his day, but I was not born in sin, nor shall I die of it. 

As I recently read, religion is for those who believe in hell, spirituality is for those who have already been there. 

I’m just saying, you make your bets as your have and live your life as you will, but I will make my paradise on earth. 

And to that end, what motivates me?

The answer to this my friend, has nothing to do with good or bad, which, I suspect, is what stops many from ever following their bliss. All I know personally, is that they who live most truly in the shadow of guilt will never find their deliverance. Repression is the passage and pathway to hell. And no, I’m no hedonist – but I am far less of a Stoic than I have been in past years.

And this is merely called evolution. 

I will always be a Stoic, carrying forth the mental fortitude imparted to me by such philosophers as Marcus Aurelius and Epictetus, but to allow a single school of thought to rule over you, be it Catholocism or Liberalism, this is a crime against your own mind. 

I was taught to be objective and to think for myself by a wonderful psych professor, and that torch was set ablaze and further carried forth by a book I read this past year. In The Pursuit of Happyness, Chris Garner tells the story of how he was invited by a friend to attend a seminar, in which he found the teachings both demeaning and manipulative [Read my other entry on the same anecdote, here].

As he [The author] goes on to say: “That little experiment proved to me that I didn’t need other doctrines to enlighten me. But Bill kept on searching.”

The author then tells how that same friend (Bill) went on to follow a charismatic leader to Jonestown, where eventually he and 900 other followers drank cyanide laced kool-aid in what is know today as the Jonestown Massacre. 

Not that your pursuit of enlightenment – be it in Yoga or Jesus or Buddah – will end as tragically, but what’s to say some don’t give their lives up to someone else’s teachings just the same. 

I recognize I have digressed a bit, but to return to my point, I will say that in a perfect world there will be as many religions as there are people, and I should hope they might find themselves as Gods – not to worship, but to believe in. 

If you are not the hero of your own story, after all, what the fuck are you?

What do you believe in? Goodness and beauty and truth? Welcome to the club, but I’m sorry, those are not absolutes.

Under those same auspices countless people are persecuted and killed, as they have been by churches, doctrines, and other crusaders for millennia. 

You must find your own way. 

To grow up and gemnate your own goodness, beauty, and truth, you must realize that no one has the answers but you. 

And do some need religions and doctrines and leaders as moral guides? Perhaps. The ruling class thought so for ages. 

Today I think that by the virtue of the Western justice system (Something that will continually improve as it has) and via the effectiveness of the collective consciousness via global media, people have found new guides, new benchmarks for behavior. These, of course, largely serve capitalism rather than the individual, but the point being, the old gods are dying. Now, sadly, also I also think the inroads to the soul are passing along with them, but for me this is where spirituality picks up the ashes of religion, and the individual can – in many ways for the first time – live as the only the individual ought: freely and happily. 

Everyone believes in something – everyone worships something. 

As David Foster Wallace said in his famous Kenyon College graduation speech, This is Water:

The only thing that is capital T true is that you get to decide how you’re going to try to see it. You get to consciously decide what has meaning and what doesn’t. You get to decide what to worship…

Because here’s something else that’s true. In the day-to-day trenches of adult life, there is actually no such thing as atheism. There is no such thing as not worshipping. Everybody worships. The only choice we get is what to worship. And an outstanding reason for choosing some sort of God or spiritual-type thing to worship-be it J.C. or Allah, be it Yahweh or the Wiccan mother-goddess or the Four Noble Truths or some infrangible set of ethical principles-is that pretty much anything else you worship will eat you alive. If you worship money and things-if they are where you tap real meaning in life-then you will never have enough. Never feel you have enough. It’s the truth. Worship your own body and beauty and sexual allure and you will always feel ugly, and when time and age start showing, you will die a million deaths before they finally plant you. On one level, we all know this stuff already-it’s been codified as myths, proverbs, clichés, bromides, epigrams, parables: the skeleton of every great story. The trick is keeping the truth up-front in daily consciousness. Worship power-you will feel weak and afraid, and you will need ever more power over others to keep the fear at bay. Worship your intellect, being seen as smart-you will end up feeling stupid, a fraud, always on the verge of being found out. And so on.

Unfortunately, the speaker of these words had fought a decades long battle with depression, which ended when he hung himself, but he had a point. 

The problem is – I think – is that we worship what we are externally programmed to, rather than what we are internally aligned with. 

Personally, I worship experiences that either make my heart sing or my balls tingle a little bit. Things that make me happy. 

How this works out for me, history will tell, but I am happy and I am free. So, as it stands at thirty and 98% of thirty-one, I would say fabulously. 

And to close, I will honestly say that I have written this pretty much entirely for myself, but should it resonate with you, I implore you to find those things that make you happy, other opinions be damned. 

To thine own self be true. 

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