About 2,300 years ago Plato wrote, “Things are not always what they seem; the first appearance deceives many; the intelligence of a few perceives what has been carefully hidden.” People had been saying this long before him and have said many, many times after him. I want to suggest otherwise, that things are exactly what they seem. They are what they are, and they work the way they work.
This can be discouraging for people who do not like what they face right now. Some might think it takes their imagination away from them. It’s like T.S. Eliot wrote, “Humankind cannot bear much reality.” We can sometimes dread the monotony of daily living, and the strife, toil, pain, or suffering that we face may seem like too much, so we devise ways to lessen their burden. We create myths to do more than simply make it through the day; we create them in order to help ourselves feel like we’re climbing higher, doing better, and being more. Joseph Campbell suggested that’s the role of myths in society, writing, “All cultures… have grown out of myths. They are founded on myths. What these myths have given has been inspiration for aspiration.”
Somewhere inside our myths we have placed comfort, solace, relaxation, and ease. As societies, we’ve imbued these tales, characters, behaviors, and attitudes with power, purpose, and an almost singular sense of purpose. We should be identifying these things within ourselves. At the same time, rather than stock all our hopes inside voodoo dolls and ancient chants, ghost stories and callous gods, we should see that all these things are simply mirrors of our own interiors. We hold ourselves captive to our own worst fears, but rather than addressing them, we assign and ascribe them to forces outside of ourselves, blaming everyone and everything around ourselves without taking that good, hard look within.
Rumi named the solution, telling us, ”The real journey is right here. The great excursion starts from exactly where you are. You are the world. You have everything you need. You are the secret. You are the wide opened. Don’t look for the remedy for your troubles outside yourself. You are the medicine. You are the cure for your own sorrow.” This can be seen either as radical self-responsibility or as seeing the world as it truly is. Either way, I have come to understand this is our job in the world, to declare our knowingness firmly in all ways, always throughout our lives. Goethe once suggested that the best government is that which teaches us to govern ourselves. Today I know that the best living is that which teaches us to own our whole lives. These lives are ours, and ours alone. No gods, no nature, no forces control us; there are forces in the universe beyond our understanding, but they are not controlling us. If anything, they give us infinite ability beyond what we can handle. But even then, any one of us can handle anything, all the time. Period.
Joseph Campbell, ever the mythologist, also wrote, “The cave you fear to enter holds the treasure you seek.” My experience is showing me that, as everyday I delve further into my self, seeing me directly for who I am instead of what the mirror shows me. In the apparently dichotomous reality of life, T.S. Eliot answered Campbell without ever knowing him when he wrote, “…There will be time to prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet; There will be time to murder and create, and time for all the works and days of hands that lift and drop a question on your plate; Time for you and time for me, and time yet for a hundred indecisions, and for a hundred visions and revisions before the taking of a toast and tea.”
I’m going to bed now, and will stack up all the time inbetween here and there. In the meantime, I’m owning that which is mine, and seeing life anew: It is what it is, and it works the way it works.
“We are pain and what cures pain, both. We are the sweet cold water and the jar that pours. I want to hold you close like a lute, so that we can cry out with loving. Would you rather throw stones at a mirror? I am your mirror and here are the stones.” – Rumi