Each man's life represents a road toward himself, an attempt at such a road, the intimation of a path. No man has ever been entirely and completely himself. Yet each one strives to become that--one in an awkward, the other in a more intelligent way, each as best he can. Each man carries the vestiges of his birth--the slime and eggshells of his primeval past--with him to the end of days. Some never become human, remaining a frog, lizard, ant. Some are human above the waist, fish below. Each represents a gamble on the part of nature in creation of the human. We all share the same origin, our mothers; all of us come in at the same door. But each of us--experiments of the depths--strives toward his destiny. We can understand each other; but each of us is able to interpret himself to himself alone.
Why is it so difficult to become ourselves? Why is it that sometimes our lives become a comedy (and tragedy) of errors on the way of finding out where are hearts should finally rest and lay? Why, to begin with, are we not who we really are--but only seeds and promises, potentialities and never actualities, only shells and drafts and plans that rarely be?
I find it quite unfair, to be honest. Not knowing has something devilish about it. The tragic hero commits himself to what is honest and pure and right, but in doing so he unawares chooses what leads to his irrevocable demise. We, to be sure, know what fate will befall our hero and what he shall receive in exchange for his choices and his all-too-human weaknesses. We know--and we watch and predict and rationalize why suffering is necessary and understand the incomprehensible wisdom of the gods. We never question why events unfold they way they unfold for others, while that is what our hero is--a question to himself, a riddle for the world, a problem of God.
But when it comes to ourselves we cannot rationalize. We cannot say that this failure was necessary and that misstep a whisper from the world; we fumble our way most our waking days and that is all that can be said. I would be lying if I say that my past was necessary for me in order to be where I am now. I didn't know then, and I still don't know now why I am who I am. One test to know if you have already claimed your destiny is to ask yourself if is this where it all ends? and if you will not change anymore? Happy though you may be with your lot and shade under the sky, know that this is fleeting and that never does the ground you stand on not shift. One calamity changes everything, one person can disrupt your cherished balance, one dark day eclipses all your beloved memories. We are forever banished nomads in the world, cursed to wander its deserts and valleys, skies and seas, never finding home east of Eden while doomed to recall a lost paradise. We all bear the mark of Cain.
What to make of all of this then? If I know that I will forever be a stranger to myself, never to learn the secrets of my fate, how do I roam about the earth? I can despair, and that is perfectly understandable (why feign dignity before the light which embarrasses you?). Or I can settle: pitch my tent in a lot of my choosing, decide on living a life worthy for a man. The second path is the easiest because it is the sensible way. To despair is to be weak and to surrender, while the point is to keep on living in the face an absurd existence. We create our lives, gather odds and ends which could make up a semblance of a 'self', and, as much as possible, pray for happiness--one which silently says "In spite of this world which was not created for happiness, please let me imagine and feel as if I am, could be, happy." And with such prayers we tend to forget what we pray against because of our confidence and trust or dishonestly. We forget that happiness is impossible and that, truly, nothing existing makes sense.
There is one other way, I think, other than despair and happiness. One can become indifferent to both, suspend all human notions such as fate and gods, reason and meaning, purpose and love. You can be a solitary. Take leave of the world's landscapes and enter the darkened labyrinth of the heart where gods and men cannot find you nor tell you where you need to go and what you need to do. There, where no word has been spoken, you listen to the sage within you that all men have but rarely listen to. What we used to call conscience at one time and easily take as the voice of the devil in the next, that is the real you who knows everything--from what you really like and wish to do, what you really are and should be. "It is good to realize that within us there is someone who knows everything, wills everything, does everything better than we ourselves" (Hesse, Demian). We have ready numerous experiences when we find ourselves knowing what decision to make, but because another thought comes to mind, or because we start to think, we dismiss our "intuition" or "gut feel," consider our first choice as hasty and thus probably wrong. We know everything already. And that is because we are often told by a voice within us. Such voice within us was what the Greeks called daimon.
In front of a tribunal which sentenced him to death, Socrates spoke of many times hearing a voice which would warn him if what he was about to do would be unwise. (The voice, though, would be silent if what he was to do would do no harm.) It is doubtful if admitting to hearing voices changed even a few of the juror's minds. Nevertheless, the philosopher confessed to having a daimon (or as he said, "a divine something") at the point when he was asked if he didn't even want to show remorse for his actions in order to save his life (impiety, corruption of the youth, teaching false gods were the charges brought against him). So Socrates said: I am not answerable to you but only to my god, your laws are your own, and it would be a graver mistake if I should not follow what I am told.
It is rather unlikely that the voice Socrates heard was from a god without. It would be more faithful to experience to say that the voice comes from within, or from ourselves. Plato speaks of another etymological meaning of daimon: he said it came from daemones which meant wisdom or knowledge. In a word, the voice which advises us on what we need to do (or what we should not do, rather) comes nowhere else than from the wisdom of what Socrates called an examined life.
There, in the recesses and darkest chambers of the self, or selves (as all of us are many), there we find who we really are, calling out to us, asking for an audience, telling us not to listen to the world and others but to pay heed to one's self. And it is only when we wander the deserts within, when we survey the terrains of our thoughts, desires, and love, that we gain knowledge and wisdom, which, it is hoped, will help us decide on what to make of our otherwise meaningless lives. It has often been said that if the world possesses no meaning, then meaning is a matter of creation and decision among men. It would be wise, therefore, not to obey the laws of the world and be afraid of men's judgment and their punishment. Only follow the commands of the voice within for to disobey would be to spite the only god there is, the god within.
When we reach the end of the road within, ah, that is when we find our destiny. The word "destiny" also comes from "daemon." This is not surprising at all. Men who gain wisdom not from others but from self-knowledge, those who know who they are, become who they are. A life is not beholden to fate or to gods or to the plan of the universe; a life is its own solar system, a law unto himself, meaning on its own. No event is an act of God or fortuitous, as no decision can ever be a mistake. To the contrary a life aware of itself does not refer itself to anything else outside it; thus there is no meaning, and there is no need to have one because I am not answerable to any one. This, perhaps, is the heaviest definition of loneliness: to receive no more answers from the world. These are our moments of great crisis. Those crepuscular times we are abandoned even by God. There are our Gardens of Gethsemane.
"A demon will not select you, but you will choose a demon" (Plato, Rep. 617e). We choose our own demons as we choose our own lives. Only when we choose our own destiny and take it to its most extreme conclusions--facing the consequences bravely, never turning back like Orpheus--do we, if it is still possible, become happy (eudaimonia) and even be something heroic and divine (daimon).
|Nikolai Nikolaevich Ge (Gay), Head of Jesus, |
Preparation for The Crucifixion, 1893