Recently, I have been reading Montaigne.
The full ramifications of this have yet to be seen; he is an interesting figure, and his writings are even more so, full of anecdotes and ramblings. His works are deep and profound, but they’re also shallow and lighthearted. Simultaneously with contradicting himself, Montaigne seems to be right about everything, which is infuriating.
I have also been working on the aspirational identification of myself with the heroic individual; I feel that this is a necessary step for me to improve my own life and the world.
Undergoing this process is something that is painful, often difficult, and also requires equally painful and difficult soul-searching.
One thing that I will do is consider maxims and then decide whether they are true or not. I try to come up with these as creatively as possible, or use what I read as an inspiration.
Today, one of these maxims popped into my head, and it was rather troubling for me:
I am everything in the universe.
Now, I don’t know how much I trust the random thoughts that pop into my head. In fact, I actually trust them very little. My brain is very good at free association and wandering aimlessly and without purpose. Most of the maxims I try to apply to myself are true only in part, which is perhaps the fundamental element of the human condition.
In any case, to the extent that the above statement is true, I don’t believe that it is necessarily a positive. At least, I do not interpret it in a sort of heliocentric egoism.
Rather, I think there is something to be said for the human spirit as a tabula rasa. Not necessarily in Rousseau’s noble savage conception of it, but rather in the sense that a person undeveloped can turn into anything.
I grew up in a traditional Christian upbringing, though I was not really acquainted as closely with theological traditions until I became older.
Two important traditions within Christianity, or at least the sect of Christianity that I find myself within, are those of original sin and total depravity.
Pairing this with the seemingly blasphemous maxim that popped into my head, it becomes immediately apparent that there are limitations to this, but it holds some truth.
This gives birth to a truer maxim, one which is more measured:
I am capable of becoming everything within my limitations.
The problem with this is that it is not necessarily a positive statement.
I’ve read a fair deal of Jung, though not as much as I would like. One of Jung’s most influential concepts in my life is that of the Shadow, the darker inner side of the subconscious that is hidden from our waking life.
In my life, I have the luxury of being relatively moral. I have made, generally, decisions which I can look back upon with at least a veneer of respectability, though I would say that I have made decisions that have generally benefited the world. I might be barely breaking even, all things considered, but I am at least not dragging everything down.
But I could be.
When I was a young adult, I had my first experience with holding a gun. My mother had paid for my brother and I to go to a firing range (I do not remember the circumstances that led up to this), and we had a rental lined up.
I remember relatively few of the details; I was able to piece many of them together later from the benefit of reflection, but they are not as important as the general experience.
When holding that gun, I had the realization that the power of life and death was in my hands. Perhaps, it would be appropriate to point out, it was only the power of death in my hands.
Barring my initial anxiety–my knowledge of guns came only from the movies, and while we had gone through the basic safety guidelines my brother and I were left to our own devices on the range–the event passed without incident. I was not a good shot, and remain mediocre at best to this day despite a few more trips to the range, but the sensation was familiar.
A similar sensation washes over me when I drive a car, a knowledge that I have within my capacity a great deal of harm.
For a while, I lived in terror of this feeling. I could not put it in words, but my own danger, that is, the danger I posed to the world around me, scared me.
The result was internal conflict. In the Jungian sense, I had awoken a dragon within my Shadow, but I had not figured out how to confront it.
Later, when I was reading Jordan Peterson’s 12 Rules for Life (affiliate link), I would discover that this is a common ailment.
I had not considered the fact that everything resides inside me.
This is not to be interpreted as a manifestation of hubris, because the everything within is not manifest in a complex form. Rather, it is as if the elemental motives that make up reality, matter in the sense that the things that matter are matter, all exist within me. They are latent, but awaken in tune with my spirit.
To overcome the dissonance within my psyche, I had to reach the realization that I was not just a good person. The notion of a good person is so vague by definition that it is easy for us to categorize ourselves as such. I often witness children ask if they have been good or bad, as if seeking exculpation. The truth of the matter is that nobody can make that assessment on a reasoned basis. The complexities of reality are such that judgment to the point of condemnation (though not judgment to the point of discernment) is impossible.
The truth is more complex. As I mentioned earlier, I have begun to better envision what a “good person” is; I have begun a process of alignment with the heroic individual who embodies those virtues that I wish to embody.
The counterpart to that is recognizing that there is a fraud, a war criminal, a traitor in every heart. Each step taken toward virtue means a step taken away from blind convention. Peterson would describe this as going from order to chaos, and this is a good conceptualization of the process.
There’s a Nietzsche-like element to the process. Stepping away from habit and toward a place where one can develop virtue also leaves one prone to stepping into darkness. The pursuit of light does not come without a risk of hypocrisy, of bringing the wrong elements of the self into dominance.
This is the Jungian Shadow: you are sheltered from your weaknesses by sticking to the rut, but to move beyond you must confront the worst elements of yourself and risk disaster.
The dragon I had to fight–the adversary I am still facing–is that the potential for great disaster lies within my own self, within my best intentions and the potential for me to give into baser desires.
I am everything in the universe, in its basest form, and that’s not as good as it might seem. I strive to inflect myself in such a way that I develop into the ideal; to pick up my cross and follow the righteous path.