I wanted to talk a little about the demonization of the Greek God, Hades. It’s incredible to me that the protector of the dead has become the ultimate Hollywood villain just because of his name and relation to death. It’s so fitting that the fear of such a natural thing creates villains out of the one who watches over us as we pass into the next reality or unreality.
He’s depicted as such a violent, petty character full of schemes to overthrow Zeus and the Olympians when in actual fact, he did nothing of the sought. He stayed well clear of the squabbles and fights and in actual fact, it was Poseidon who sought to dethrone the God of Thunder. On the subject of violence, it was Apollo who skinned alive those who lost against him in music competitions, it was Hades who was called the Invisible due to his passivity. We fear his darkness why? Why do we fear the dark yet embrace the sun as if the two are inseparable forces of nature rather than integral to our existence?
Even in the case of Persephone, in some recounting of the tale, he did not kidnap her as some would say but asked Zeus for her hand as tradition in Ancient Greek custom. The following drama was in fact caused by the scorn of Demeter, his mother-in-law who demanded that her daughter return home rather than spend her days in the Underworld. Hades, to arranged with Persephone to eat a pomegranate seed, binding her to both worlds. Perhaps an unpopular retelling, far less villainous. Yet he was famous for a foul mood being always distracted by his duty and bound often to never leave his Obsidian Palace.
The demonization of Hades is tied to our fear of dark, the yin.
“The yin-yang elements or energies are constantly moving and influencing each other. The maximum effect of one quality will be followed by the transition toward the opposing quality. The yin-yang aspects are in dynamic equilibrium. As one aspect declines, the other increases to an equal degree. All forces in the universe can be classified as yin or yang.
Yin characteristics: passive, negative, darkness, earth, north slope, cloudy, water, softness, female, moisture, night-time, downward seeking, slowness, consuming, cold, odd numbers, and docile aspects of things.
We cannot exist without the balance of both strength and passivity; life or death; masculine or feminine – like all things: fluid and transient.
It’s fear that makes monsters out of our own nature and natural expressions of the universe – there is no ignorance, there is knowledge. When a thing is understood, we remove our conceptions of fear. We fear the dark of ourselves, clinging to the light and the strength we think makes us strong. Yet, it is the facing of all facets of our own existence that makes us strong – the acceptance of the Hades and Apollo within us all.
Admitting your own weakness is a strength all to itself. Expose the light to the dark and the dark to the light, bring yourself the love you deserve wholly. Only then can you see others for who they are and not what you perceive them to be through the lens of balance. You will see all things in alignment with The Tao and you will be find yourself enriched.
I said to a friend today about that sometimes, the darkness, the yin, people would rather run away than face it. Finding themselves frightened by the weakness within or rather perceived weakness. Personally, I think if you can allow yourself to cry and to experience the catharsis that’s pretty fucking brave.
We are beings of love and light, true but also of the shadow. When we demonize and fear the shadow within, we make villains of ourselves from dastardly blue-flamed haired Disney villains to rigid modern warriors shattering at the sight of their own teardrops. Bask in the light and take solace within your Obsidian Palace.
Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro is a novel I’ve started reading, gifted to me by my workplace’s book club. I’m 35 pages in and so far I can say with almost certainty that I’m not going to enjoy it. Now, that’s not a criticism, far from it. It’s a masterpiece and is written with such precision, I can only aspire to be able to craft such atmosphere and feeling in a reader. The feeling from the first page evoked in the reader can only be described as vemod. I’ve spoken about that before, probably horrendously misspelt as vermod not vemod. To recap: vemod is a Scandinavian word that describes a poignant and lingering sad nostalgia.
The book about loss and times gone by – so far at least – put me in a reflective mood. I left my school at 18, being there from age 11 and stuck to the same friendship group for the entirety of that period. Yet, barely five years on, I’ve lost contact with every one of them. I look back now and think why that was and how I ended up where I am now, with the friends I do have either hundreds of miles away or entirely online. What a lonely feeling it is to realize ones own singularity. All that history, all of those stories gone like, to quote the 11th Doctor, “breath on a mirror“.
“I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I watched C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhäuser Gate. All those moments will be lost in time, like… tears in rain.” – Roy Batty, Blade Runner
Even the name of the book, Never Let Me Go, is so human. It’s a clinging on to the dreams and loves of the past as they slip from our fingers into the mists of eternity. All of us, one day become a few faded lines of text on a stone tablet in a field of stone tables and bones. It’s a tearful smile of an existence, all of us existing between each tear. It’s beautiful like a Bob Ross painting and as soothing as his voice as we are lulled into a casual sleep.
The thing I always noticed about Bob Ross’ paintings was that they always felt lonely to me. Like we, as the observers of his landscapes were alone in this wonderous vista, Adams and Eves, entirely alone. Perhaps that’s the unspoken beauty of the art and the art of life. In the end, we all have to let go – of the past, of our loves, of ourselves. We cling on as long as we can but in the end, not even the wind blows forever. And when we do leave, we leave by ourselves.
“Hence a gusty wind cannot last all morning, and a sudden downpour cannot last all day. Who is it that produces these? Heaven and earth. If even heaven and earth cannot go on forever, much less can man. That is why one follows the way.” – Tao Te Ching XXVII
So now, in knowing that all things are in a state of fading into eternity, why do we forego the moment? Why do we fret about the others that we have no control over rather than living in pure contentment with the moment that we exist in? Life is a series of moments so love each one and embrace each one. With each thing, ask of yourself, am I to regret this? Am I making the best purpose of my time? From being actively passive with some meditation or a well deserved nap to climbing to the tops of Kilimanjaro for a little perspective that you cannot find in the mirror, find purpose in it all. Ask yourself what benefits you and the greater good. Ask yourself what do you cherish?
Reflect on your life perhaps and see what you should let go, despite the things protest. What are you holding on to that hurts you and pricks at your soul? Which habit? Which condition? Which person? If we can’t hold on forever to our own flesh, we can’t hold on forever for someone else. What feeling are you holding on to? What detrimental responsibility long overdue to be let go of? Remember in these cases the tale of the scorpion and the frog. The scorpion rode on the frog’s back across the river with the promise that it would not sting, alas it did. When the frog asked why kill them both as they were drowning, the scorpion asked why the frog would even ask. It was the insect’s nature to sting.
So, as I continue to read Never Let Me Go, I’m sure Kazuo Ishiguro will treat me to further bluer shades of melancholy and opportunity for reflection. I welcome it, and recommend it.
I’ve had a cold for the past week or so, brought on due to working in close proximity with someone who has no concept of hand sanitizer or understanding of why smearing bogies onto desks is not exactly sanitary. Yet the issue arose for me with a single question one morning before I went to work.
“Are you suffering?” – X
“No. I’ve got a cold.” – Z
It seemed a simple answer for me because having a malady of the body is a nuisance not really suffering at all and in my own experience, suffering arises from the self, whether that be spiritual or emotional. Effectively, bodily pain, is just that. Now I’m speaking from a position of privilege, my only real experiences of pain are from anaphylaxis, asthma and burns. Perhaps my view would change with continual pain, perhaps I would be less stoic about it and my hubris would be plain for all to see. I’d like to think that my philosophy would hold true, to my way, The Way.
“Pain is an evil either to the body – so let the body give its evidence – or to the soul. But the soul can preserve its own clear sky and calm voyage by not assessing any pain as an evil. Every judgement, every impulse, desire and rejection is within the soul and nothing evil can penetrate.” – Meditations 8.28
The Buddhists believe that all life is suffering and we can escape suffering by walking the Eight Fold Path to enlightenment and subsequently Nirvana when we break this cycle. The Taoists, a philosophy I lean closer to, see it as a balance between the yin and yang and you cannot have darkness without light and vice versa. This is a far more stoic approach and one I subscribe to. If we fear the coming of suffering and coming of pain we are fearing to live, yet if we obsess about pain and suffering and see only those things, we are not living.
In the end, all suffering comes from love: either a lack of, too much, or a loss. We cannot exist without love even octopi have some concept of the chemical compounds that flush the mind and carry the soul. It’s a fact of life and I’ve spoken about this to no end that life is love and love is life. Not to be gushy or romantic only seeing the clear truth of it all. After all, in the Taoist sense, how can we be one with divinity if we do not love the manifestations of it?
Even loss. Even the most painful of experiences where we lose something that can never be replaced in our own understanding of existence. While yes, we all return to universe, you can’t hold atoms like a parent, child or friend. We carry them with us in the impressions they leave, they’re never truly gone and we carry the lessons, the love, the suffering. We are immortal in each others lives until we fade entirely. In the face of such loss to who can we turn to aside from the stoics for our comfort or the Tao for security in the balance in the face of perhaps such random chaos. But, there is no chaos there is harmony. I can’t talk like an expert on this loss, I’m sure I’ve felt it for lovers and friends and my own actions yet, one day I will be faced with this challenge to be able to say something tangible past my own shallow impressions.
“Loss is nothing more than change. Universal nature delights in change, and all that flows from nature happens for the good. Similar things have happened from time everlasting, and there will be more such to eternity. So why do you say that everything has always happened for the bad and always will, that all those gods between them have evidently never found any power to right this, so the world is condemned to the grip of perpetual misery?” – Meditations 9.35
All things are under going change. We are transient beings, as is the universe.
I have not been suffering from a cold and never will, I will and am suffering from my own impressions of love. I asked for love from the universe in my subconscious, in my desire in my action and I gave it readily. The universe provided yet there are conditions, uncontrollable conditions that everyday test my love and my soul. Or perhaps these things do not test but I allow myself to be tested by feeling this pain in my chest. I see my love and I see it for another and it’s not returned. It’s not returned in the same kind and I am left with a feeling of inadequacy, loneliness and a deep amusement. Why amusement? Because each time in my life have I properly loved another, it has ended poorly and been rather unreciprocated or poorly timed never to come to fruition. Yet, I have been loved and not loved back myself, my focus on this unrequited feeling. It’s my own conceptions and impressions that hurt me and it’s all self-harm.
Perhaps I am coming to conclusions now because I have no citalopram in my system to help regulate my internal ecosystem. Not being caffeinated doesn’t help either.
It’s love that causes us harm but also sets us free and makes us human. This pain in my chest despite how it harms me and how I let it harm me, feels me with contentment. It reminds me that I cam capable of love, it reminds me that I can and do love and I am alive. Feel alive, feel this moment, feel your pain and your joy at the same time and love it all in the experience of what it mean to be human.
Love your suffering because it makes you you and how you respond defines your impressions on the world.
I’m sat here, suffering at a situation I’ve found myself in twice before. Where I can’t decide whether or not this is going to end the same way where I allow myself to be led around like a slave to my feelings tied to another or if I’ll miss the point entirely like the latter situation. I see it with contempt yet love the experience. What else is there to do with this pain other than laugh, live – not unlike a terrible live, laugh, love sign, the bane of my life. It’s something I’m going to move pass yet this feeling has become synonymous with my nature: to be a pining philosopher in a turtleneck, sipping wine, feeling alone in others’ company. I can think of worse fates. I’m not unhappy about it, I suppose.
See your suffering. Look in the mirror and face it. If you can’t reflect on your own suffering past your physical hurt and see its root cause, then you are enabling it. You are ignorant to the directing motions of your own mind and soul and you have lost your way. Reflect and see past your eyes to what ails you and find your cure. What do you live for? Who do you live for? The answer will take you back always to the same word: love.
Today, I was advised to speak about or rather reflect upon the affect of praise and gratitude. It’s a strange experience for me to receive praise as I never know how to react. I’ve spoken about this before, my own feelings on it that I should never need to be thanked for doing what I feel is right aligned with virtue. Yet, I express gratitude myself to those around me to ensure that I stay grounded and that I speak my appreciation to those people and things that I appreciate.
Now, I’m sat here drinking a beer gifted to me for helping someone. Yet, I feel nothing but a strange sadness for it. It’s almost as if, while as lovely a gift it was, it was bitter sweet. I do not need repaying for what I do nor do I want it further than the financial compensation of my job required to live in the world functionally. I enjoyed receiving the gift true, but does it affect my virtue? No. Of course, I’m grateful, don’t get me wrong, it was a nice gesture, yet it feels almost – I don’t know what I feel. Perhaps I need to deconstruct my stiff upper lip to find out.
Today, a close friend said to me that they admire what I do, which I thought was ironic as I admire what they do a lot more. To compare, they are saving lives literally and I’m babysitting. Yet I’m going to steal the wisdom they shared with me to share to you:
“…a mountain doesn’t look as impressive once you’re at the peak but the ones around it do. Its normal for me, yet I can admire yours more as an observer” – X
It is hypocritical to give praise and appreciation and not be able to take it? Surely, as someone looking to live a balanced life, all things should flow equally in a give and take motion of forces. We all like to receive praise and gratitude sure, yet we shouldn’t act for those things. We should act in a way that comes naturally to our humanity in service of each other regardless of thanks or reward. When we start to rely on praise as motivators, we become seekers of fame and fortune rather than inner peace and outer peace.
It goes without saying that I admire my friend whether they accept it or not or whether they feel they deserve it or not. They continue to inspire me day after day with strength, humility and giving nature; a kindness rare and a beautiful soul always enduring never surrendering. They enrich me and I remind them, something I think, that doesn’t happen enough. Yet why is it so challenging to turn the same loving smile inward?
“They cannot admire you for intellect. Granted – but there are many other qualities of which you cannot say, ‘but that is not the way I am made’. So display those virtues which are wholly in your own power – integrity, dignity, hard work, contentment, frugality, kindness, independence, simplicity, discretion, magnanimity. Do you not see how many virtues you can already display without any excuse of lack of talent or aptitude? And yet you are still content to lag behind. Or does the fact that you have no inborn talent oblige you to grumble, to scrimp, to toady, to blame your poor body, to suck up, to brag, to have your mind in such turmoil? No, by heaven, it does not! You could have got rid of all this long ago, and only be charged – if charge there is – with being rather slow and dull of comprehension. And yet even this can be worked on – unless you ignore it and welcome your stupidity.” – Meditations 5.5
I should begin to practice and will attempt to praise myself and show myself the same gratitude others hold for me as I them. I want to be able to be a mirror of their light as they are for mine. Love them, love myself, love universe, amor fati. It’s funny to me that for a philosophy seen so dry in the media through Mr Spock of Star Trek and the apathy of Jedi in Star Wars, stoicism at it’s core is about love, gratitude and praise for our reality. Embrace it all.
If you need more evidence about the transience and flux of time, see how much can change in a single 24 hour period. From the micro to macro, we have examples throughout history of how single moments in minute corners of our experience can change the course of fate. Of course, by changing the course of fate, I mean to divert it for a brief instance in the history of the multiverse, before it returns to it’s new equilibrium on a path of fine.
Take the current UK COVID-19 response, for example. Lockdown lifting seems imminent one day and hopes of holiday dashed by the next. One day the Conservatives seem set for an electoral landslide in the next GE only for Dominic Cummings to appear with enough bombs dropped to level Whitehall.
One of my favourite comic books, The Killing Joke talks about this from the perspective of The Joker.
It’s entirely nihilistic and on brand for the supervillain but is he wrong to define how changeable the world is, our reality is? A single experience can change our entire outlook on life for the better or worse, dependant on how deeply we allow it to affect us. For that, I refer to Stilbo:
“…when his home town was captured and he emerged from the general conflagration, his children lost, his wife lost, alone and none the less happy man, and questioned by Demetrius. Asked by this man, known, from the destruction dealt out to towns, as Demetrius the City Sacker, whether he had lost anything, he replied, ‘I have all my valuables with me.’ There was an active and courageous man – victorious over the very victory of the enemy! ‘I have lost,’ he said ‘nothing.’ He made Demetrius wonder whether he had won a victory at all.” – Letters from a Stoic IX
While the film of The Killing Joke was an insult to the source material, I can’t deny the raw talent of Mark Hamill and Kevin Conroy all the same… I digress.
The Joker isn’t wrong but his nihilism is terribly destructive and selfish – realistically, what can we expect from a comic book villain? In a sense, it’s so meaningless and transient that it is maddening but its also brilliant. So brilliant in fact that we should not be surprised by anything at all nor upset by it. One day we sleep under a roof the next day open sky, yet we endure and overcome. We do this together, for the sake of each other not just ourselves.
The Way flows ever onwards never stopping, as our blood and our breath, even in death: we return to the blood and breath of the universe.
Each day when we wake up, take stock. See all the things you have and all the things you need. Take stock of what you are grateful for having because in seconds it may all fade with you or without you. From your friendships and relationships to the sheets you sleep in.
Amor fati and you will love whatever it brings, whatever the day.
I suppose, despite how sad it all seems, how lonely it is in the moment of these things happening, we learn quickly. I’m not above feeling sad and alone and despairing but I’m also someone who can find the root causes of these things. Fate, and love and all that comes with it are surmised by a metaphor my friend told me today.
“If you have a horse at your stables, that you love taking care of and it enjoys your company. You do activities together and everything’s perfect. Then a storm strikes, the horse is not being itself, it’s afraid and stressed. As the owner, you wish to calm it down and let it know that all is well. You tug at its reins, but it does not comply. It shoves away instead, so you naturally tug at it harder to make it come back to you. It’ll eventually relent and do as you wish but then it’s no longer genuine. It’ll look for chances to escape and be free again while you as the owner forces it back, it’ll be unhappy and so will you since things are no longer the same.” – X
Don’t tug on the reins and let this happen organically. Or rather as Bukowski said about fame and success: don’t try. You’ve got this more than you realize, fellow traveller; trust me and trust yourself.
Tonight I was going to write about the massive topic that is suffering yet ironically, I thought this would be a pain. So that topic is shelved for another day.
Instead, I’m going to share a long quote that I found resonated with me on my travels today. I experienced feeling like I was standing in the oddly calm eye of the hurricane as the world span uncontrollably around me. It was a lonely experience but I was ok with it. It was almost alien and I seemed unable to reciprocate the panic and stress and anger of my co-workers – something I’m not entirely unhappy about at all.
“Do not let the panorama of your life oppress you, do not dwell on all the various troubles which may have occurred in the past or may occur in the future. Just ask yourself in each instance of the present: ‘What is there in this work which I cannot endure or support?’ You will be ashamed to make any such confession. Then remind yourself that it is neither the future nor the past which weighs on you, but always the present: and the present burden reduces, if only you can isolate it and accuse your mind of weakness if it cannot hold against something thus stripped bare.” – Meditations 8.36
“Is my mind sufficient for this task, or is it not? If it is, I use it for the task as an instrument given by the nature of the Whole. If it is not, I either cede the work (if it is otherwise my responsibility) to someone better able to accomplish it, or do it as best I can, calling in aid someone whom in cooperation with my own directing mind, can achieve what is at this particular time the need and benefit of the community. Whatever I do, either by myself or with another, should this sole focus – the common benefit and harmony.” – Meditations 7.5
To quote another of my favourite things…
There is no chaos, there is harmony.
Reflect on these statements, next when you stand in a chaos of not your own making with the task of bringing harmony or keeping serene. On Monday, there are only four additional days to your Saturday morning off, if you are living the 9-5. It’s all fleeting and transient happenstance that you can overcome and be proud of overcoming each day. Even in your personal life, it goes without saying but I’ll say it anyway for those who missed the point, and I may well have said it before:
I’ve found time to read again, or rather I’ve made the effort to read and the time has just been there all along, hiding between my naps and pacing. Once again, Universe or God or Allah or The Way seems to be guiding me towards conclusions with happenstances lining up exactly as I need them. I read Seneca’s letters and at the same time, a friend of mine talks to me about faith and trust and holding the faith and trust in the self and others. Of course, the story wasn’t that at all, but boiled down to its core, its about those factors. And, perhaps like all human stories, it was about love.
If you don’t know, we can’t exist without some kind of love. Even wars which we think are based on hate, are in fact based on the love of ones own ideology and others. You may curse fate for bringing war to your country but you will endure because you love your family and you love the life you have and the fight for the new equilibrium.
“Whether we are caught in the grasp of an inexorable law of fate, whether it is God who as lord of the universe has ordered all things, or whether the affairs of mankind are tossed and buffeted haphazardly by chance, it is philosophy that has the duty of protecting us.” – Letters from a Stoic XVI
Being a good person and true to one’s own discipline is a daily task and not an accomplished feat that you can overcome just the once. I was met today with a test of my own faith in another, and I was told that to be disciplined in trust is a virtue. Of course, with those words I could have kissed the person who said it on the mouth then and there but I was practising discipline. It reminds me of one of my favourite lines from the show Bojack Horseman, a series that everyone should watch, to reflect on themselves.
“Every day it gets a little easier… But you gotta do it every day — that’s the hard part. But it does get easier.” – Jogging Baboon, BoJack Horseman
The destination in your life when it comes to philosophy is not a finish line of enlightenment and a medal but the truest end – death. Philosophy has no finish line and its a path we all walk in some way or another. Don’t cry over potholes, step around them and brace for the incline. What goes up must come down and what goes down must come up.
“Carry out a searching analysis and close scrutiny of yourself in all sorts of different lights. Consider above all else whether you’ve advanced in philosophy or just in actual years.” – Letters from a Stoic XVI
Reflect on each of your steps before you make them, if you find yourself stepping on someone else’s head, you’ve gone off course. Today I found myself checking to see where I was treading, to see if I was finding gratification in easy shortcuts rather than walking the moral path. It was well intentioned and not malicious by anyone’s standards yet I found myself at a place of unease and needed to check my own map before continuing. The path as a wise person said to me today, is going to be fine and we need to have faith in it. It is difficult to see how ours will intersect with others or how another’s path with transpire before them yet when we have faith in ourselves and the universe, what need is there to worry? We keep walking, every day, with each breathe we walk. It is in our nature.
“Here is another saying of Epicurus: ‘If you shape your life according to nature, you will never be poor; if according to people’s opinions, you will never be rich.’ Nature’s wants are small, while those of opinion are limitless.”
You may never be the president if you choose not to step on heads and people may look down on you for your conviction. They make mistake your calm in a situation for apathy; your passiveness as callousness; your love as foolish, and your faith as delusion. The solution is that you keep walking your path undeterred in the light and goodness of the philosophy. You may never have sheets of gold but those who do, can wake up as paupers as easily as the rest of us so why do we care about the opinions of such things? Love your own way and you will find it easier to walk. Your way, The Way: amor fati.
I was told recently that I’m a black and white individual, that I have a harsh and blunt demeanour. I didn’t notice my own sharpness until today. I was in a situation where someone became upset and I froze a little, confused on what to do. I just stood there and sighed; my internal monologue saying: “well fuck, what do I do now” instead of actually helping. The situation was resolved without me with a hug and kindness as I stood there a little like a spare part, my face with the expression of someone trying to solve some impossible equation.
What does this mean for me? Is it something for me to work on or something to accept within myself? Emotions make me uncomfortable in these situations yet for some reason, in others I can absorb myself fully into them, feel each facet and dissect them, exposing the root cause to begin to heal. I find myself saying often that I’m a tad psychic for this exact reason and my strange ability to know things and be able to advise the right thing in the right moment. Yet sometimes, I’m blinded.
It’s almost as if the fortress within is fussier than the one needed without. I am a fortress, my walls are made of tungsten and the palisades are as sharp as diamonds. Yet, I keep the drawbridge down for visitors, I need to both professionally, spiritually and socially. When I can be detached from a situation and not slap bang in the middle of it, I can casually dish out advice and good will like it’s Christmas yet when I’m there, in the thick of it, the drawbridge comes up. Plans are made, archers are readied and the vanguard forces are prepared to march and by the time all this is done, the event is over. The problem is now out of my hands. Fate has taken the wheel in the form of another person or condition uncontrolled.
This seems to extend to my life entire yet as my faith in myself and the Universe expands and my understanding of faith expands with it, it seems less and less of an issue to resolve. There is an acceptance of my own processing and my own judgement. As if I accept my weaknesses and allow things to resolve as they can when they are outside of my control. What other option do I have? Of course, I could force myself into these situations, throw myself into the deep end of the emotions of another to save the day yet is self sacrifice helpful? Do the tears I cry for another make the problem in the moment any easier? The resolution as I see it is to accept my talents and flaws in this: I am a long range actor not spearman in the war for emotion. A strategist is not a warrior and that’s okay.
Yet, as any sage should be, it pays to be prepared for when the gates fall in and the war comes home. Fortify your mind, accept the fates and the transience of your own chemical receptors to conditions. Face it all: love, hate, despair and joy with a critical eye. You will see through to the root causes of all of these things: why you feel this way and how you can remain from being overwhelmed. Of course if you find yourself overwhelmed, there’s no shame in it. That too will be as fleeting as everything else. It fades with time like a scar.
It’s about again, finding the balance within. To be able to be okay with that balance, even. It’s not an apathetic feeling just a contented one. Like you have everything you need and you have total acceptance of that. It’s a warm feeling that even in the face of your own weakness you are accepting the ebb and flow of the universe around you. Love it – amor fati.
This war at your gates for your emotional response, for your soul: it will last for as long as you do. Every human in history has battled the emotions from without, the true test is to not fight those within. See them, feel them, accept them and let them vanish as you roll your eyes at exactly what you don’t need. What do you need? Ask yourself. What do you need to feel in this moment and what makes it worth your time? Is it contentment, admiration, love, peace? Or is it something that keeps you up at night?
I’ve been meaning to talk about, for my own sake more than anything, the attachments that we have to our past. Even the grimy parts, we find a comfort in the knowing and the tried and tested methods of our own character. It’s human nature, surely, to hold on to the familiar and reject the uncertain path even if it might be sunnier on the alien horizon. It’s a part of the falling forward philosophy and acceptance of the forward motion of existence to continue into the unknown. It’s almost against our philosophical and rational nature to turn back yet we do it anyway. There’s this hardwired device that instructs us to return to a familiar equilibrium rather than face the new one.
Yet, it’s not possible. Life exists within the principles of Todorov’s Narrative Theory:
Stage 1: Equilibrium.
Stage 2: Disruption.
Stage 3: Recognition of Disruption.
Stage 4: Attempt to repair Disruption.
Stage 5: New Equilibrium – link back to Stage 1.
It exists in all of our fictions and non-fictions and has become a core reality of our human experience. Hell, perhaps the experience of Universe entire. It extends far beyond the academic theorizing of a Media Studies lecture hall and into the very chemistry of existence. This is what we know.
So why do we fight with our feelings to so desperately go backwards within ourselves and our conditions?
The “good old days” don’t exist and they never did.
Today I called an ex partner of mine, who is also a close friend. I did so feeling lonely, feeling starved of contact and touch. I felt the pull to the past, the pull to a time capsule of our perfect moments. They didn’t answer and I took it as a sign. It was a sign from Universe that I needed to check my own motivations, reflect on my purpose for calling. When they did call back, I was honest about this conversation with myself and it was all very amusing. Yet, when we finally said goodbye, it felt that it established a New Equilibrium and the pull at the old one felt less important, less probable.
I remember a time when I was never alone with myself. I lived off the Hank Moody philosophy that: “A morning of awkwardness is better than an evening of loneliness“. I romanticise this time: a time lacking self-awareness, a time lacking reflection, a time without thought just action. It was almost supernatural and a whirlwind of fleeting emotions and meaningless sex. A time when I could do anything and be anything and a time when my vices never caught up with me. Now, in the New Equilibrium, I can’t act without reflecting. Before I commit an act, I wonder first if this benefits the people around me, if this is a virtuous act. It’s progress no? A betterment of my own character yet still I yearn for the quick and easy.
Perhaps that will always be the allure of calling up an ex: the quick and easy way to feel wanted, to feel complete again and to feel appreciated. There’s no shame in it, but what does that do in the end? For us, for them, for the grander effect of Providence in the world around us? The path forward is harder yet more natural than the path backwards. It’s cyclical and it flows like blood in the cardiovascular system. The Universe pushes us in one and services our organs accordingly as we need not as we like.
It’s a painful reality to know that things for us, will not be the same as they were before. From accepting the loss of a former relationship to a distancing of a friend to a loss of a limb. But we endure, as our nature requires us. We push forward into the horizon together in the same motion. When we breach the horizon, there is a new day and at the end, a new dusk, a new night, a new dawn. Life spins in the circular motion like the Earth on its axis, like the Sol System around the galactic core, like the Milky Way entire.
Todorov’s Narrative Theory isn’t just some mental exercise, it’s existence on paper.
“First, do not be upset: all things follow the nature of the Whole, and in a little while you will be no one and nowhere, as it is true now even of Hadrian and Augustus. Next, concentrate on the matter at hand and see it for what it is. Remind yourself of your duty to be a good man and rehearse what man’s nature demands: then do it straight and unswerving, or say what you best think right. Always, though, in kindness, integrity, and sincerity.” – Meditations 8.5
Or perhaps I’m thinking too deeply and it’s easier just to say: forward, dear sibling, always forward.
People seemed to enjoy the first half of this so I thought I wouldn’t wait a bit before posting the second and final half. I’d be interested to know how people feel about it, I’ve been meaning to get back into writing fiction and any feedback would be appreciated. I hope that someone takes something from this story, sees the message I tried to sneak in, I hope it means something to someone other than myself. Of course, if not, it was an interesting read, all the same.
From then on, as she remained silent. So, I am alone in Orphan House as my wife and my children live their lives separate from the machinations of the true work. The twisting walls and ever-changing madness of the great gallery will protect them and keep them. So peaceful they are that the children have not stirred since their mother put them to bed, and my wife remains so in her chair in the library. Time and space bend in the halls of Orphan House and it slips away like sand through fingers so much so that it seems like months since they became still. Yet, of course, as the God of my kingdom, I know it to be only moments.
‘Will it always be like this?’ I asked the hooded avatar in its cliffside residence, waves crashing against the rock just outside of the perfectly rectangular stony cavern. ‘This lonely?’ I continued, sat in the brown leather armchair in the arrangement of contemporary furnishings. Sat opposite in a matching seat was the avatar of my most trusted mentor. Far removed from the throne on the beach with the true body like a pale kraken, this skeletal reaper, with face obscured by smoke from a black pipe seemed almost convivial. Yet, I thought, even that towering glorious monster would not be the true extent of the king’s true physique as I pictured in my minds eye, some infernal twisted serpent slumbering soundly at the bottom of the ocean. It waived a nonchalant hand through the smoke and drew near; placing the pipe down in an elegant crystal ashtray upon the rich wood coffee table at the centre of the arrangement. Lifting from the chair, It strolled silently over to the precipice of the sanctuary – where I was no more a God as a termite -, bare muddied feet patting on the smooth rock face. The waves, crashing against the cliff, pushed chill winds into the cavern and as It reached closer to the mouth, the black cloak billowed wildly. There was a moment of pure silence and total stillness. I awaited the answer, rising to my feet. Seconds that felt like eternity ticking over in that cold silence in the no longer howling, Howling Isles. Then it came: the dreaded answer. My pale host, let out a dry tobacco lined chuckle before extending white, skinny arms out wide and falling forward into the quiet icy sea. Upon the crash, the Howling Isles resumed its turbulence.
The eleventh winter in Orphan House has come, and I fear that the mighty fortress kingdom that I have forged is returning to its natural earthly form. The wide aperture in the roof has become lush and green and provides me with its fruits – a strange entrance from the outside. It has been so long, or perhaps not at all, since I tasted sweet things. Through the endless travel through oblivion and the dancing of my brushes, I found little interest in the simple pleasures that once meant so much to me. As a child – even with the nightmares and the endless spouting of lies from men in white collars – it was the sweet taste that helped the colours of the world come together for but a moment. I scratch at my beard and feel for where I remember my eyes to be and smile softly. I rush to my wife’s side to find she is not there anymore. Alas, it was to be expected, her departure. In my panic I race to the nursery and the children are no longer there either. My sweet daughters had left their beds and there was nothing about the room. No trace of their existence and the sweet from the apple in the attic turned to ash. So bitter and foul was the taste that I could cut off my tongue. How could a god be so ignorant, so blind? They had been taken by the deep dark, by the rage of the lords themselves for my own hubris. Or worse yet, she had taken the children and left the fortress, a foolish betrayal out of a fearful panic, exposing their young minds to the poisonous lies of the outside real.
I staggered through the winding labyrinth of the house wailing. I cried out to my patrons, so many now, numbering in the thousands with their icons covering every surface. ‘My lords!’ I shout, scratching on canvas after canvas, an affront they could not ever ignore. ‘Answer me!’
Then I fell. I fell for so far and for so long into an abyss. As God of Orphan House, artist and sorcerer supreme, I had forgotten the rule. I had forgotten that those on my walls, decaying and bowed, had become of far greater import. Spartacus, god of the pit, had, in his grand revolution forgotten whose hands fed him. The true household gods of Orphan House, those who I had invited from further afield than the outside, had been disrespected. Was my realization enough in that endless abyss to warrant the punishment served? All my powers, so mighty in the real, equated to nothing at all in the face of true divinity. Perhaps I was mad after all. It was one of the last words my wife spoke before she stood before the great Eel King. Perhaps she was right; or rather is right; or rather is right, now. How far had I fallen? I could not say. As I tumbled down the abyss, biting winds rushing against me skin, I wandered if I had indeed been falling since I first picked up the brush. It was the price of truth. It had never been clearer to me, after all these years of crafting portraits for the gods, it had never been so transparent and brilliant.
Awaking on the cold ground of the basement, I thought myself dead. My clothes were dusty and my skin had lost all elasticity. In my quest for more answers, I pressed against the boarded windows of the second floor to hear the churnings of the outside. Their machinations louder than ever before. My punishments were not over, I thought. They were coming, and as I charged through my winding halls, the paintings finally spoke to me after so much silence when I needed their voices most. So loud they were, as the shouts from the outside erupted into a crescendo and the canvases crashed from the walls. Louder and louder, like the world was collapsing, the hand of Chronos crashing down through the open roof and through the boards and into the library. Down it came, through the library and into the central hallway and down further, smashing the grand staircase in two. My great kingdom crumbled inwards like a collapsing soufflé and so, with all my strength and the chanting of the art of the endless universe itself, I charged at the vicious inevitability with all my power. Sparks of brilliant purple and splashes of deep crimsons filled the tearing reality and as Chronos, with his hand of time aloft roared for more battle, it stopped. There was only silence once more.
Silence: the national anthem of Orphan House. It had been this way even when it was full of life not of the unearthly kind. When it was simple and gentle. When my wife and I would sit in the kitchen and laugh at the fluttering larks outside the window. This was a time when the three-hundred-acre estate was protected by just the simple boundary. When the outside was free to impose its laws and the truth about their pointlessness was unknown. I would still visit Boston then. We were far enough away from the city that the smoke of the docks and the industry was a distant memory. Even the Atlantic became somewhat of a myth in our simple home. Our children, so safe within the property lines, used to play in the woods from morning ‘till night. My wife would read for hours and hours in the library that I had had created for her, while I painted landscapes of lush verdant still life to her satisfaction. Now, of course, I paint for another’s satisfaction and we are rewarded with more than a smile of hers could ever dream of. We were rewarded with the beauty of this kingdom that I was crowned regent. Its halls adorned from floor ceiling with art and magic that the outside fallacy could never love or understand.
Chronos had retreated and the nation of Orphan House was saved and the twisting faces and figures upon the canvases cheered in congratulations. The chattering jaws and gnashing teeth thanked and greeted their savoir as I marched through my lands and showered me in roses and bright confetti. I bowed graciously to the mighty delegates of the unknown but my revelling was cut short. A crashing of wood and metal from the foyer stamped on this fantastical celebration. The last thrashing of Chronos, that bitter bastard. I forced my legs to move faster than they have ever moved before and rushed to the pristine central staircase. Upon my arrival, I witnessed the ultimate horror that no creature from a million abysses removed could ever compete with. My heart leapt into my throat and tried to force its way into my mouth. I could do nothing but make a foul guttural noise as the wooden boards, before nailed so firmly to the frame, fell from the doors with a series of thuds. The chains slipped from their hooks like dead snakes, sliding with a horrendous jangle to the floor. As each element of my fortifications came down, poisonous bright white light spilled into the hall through empty window panes. Then, finally, with a gentle rattle of the brass handle, double doors open wide. It was the final act of the lord of time, commander of the encroaching chaos. The outside had come in.