There has been a paradigm shift in the sense that in the past I was obsessed with our ephemeral nature and I used to drown in ruminations about mortality – not that I’m immune to that now, but I feel the focus is now on something else. Initially, this shifted towards the idea of rebirth and re-emerging from myself and leaving behind any psychological material, any thought patterns, any people, events, or memories that no longer serve me and that I need to shed in order to become a better version of me or step into a new, more enlightened self. The idea of identity is very limited – there’s this tension between being and establishing an identity because the latter is usually based on worldly things- accumulating things e.g whatever your idea of success is or knowledge. I’m reading an interesting book about the difference between knowledge and self-knowledge, which I will elaborate soon. You’ll still have this nostalgia for who you used to be, you’ll be haunted by the ghosts of past versions of you, with their own dreams. Unless you are able to shed all those layers and not repress but step out of that state towards a new you and embrace the now, embrace the current experience and let yourself be guided by the subtle currents of mindfulness and gravitate towards the reality of wholeness.
The difference between knowledge and self-knowledge is that objective knowledge is disembodied knowledge; it can be alienating and, paradoxically, it’s all about ‘me, me, me’, about how you can profit from something, how you can use information and map out the structure of reality in such a way that it allows you to manipulate the reality around you. And it’s focused on the wrong values like being in control (because it’s the realm of the ego), having a sense of power and control over others – which makes you feel good. At the opposite pole, you have self-knowledge, which is a world-centred view of the self: it’s all about felt experience and how you relate to the world around you, to nature, to people. Self-knowledge is used here in the sense of embodied knowledge and integrated information and it’s all about your body’s attunement to the world and about felt relationship and felt experience, when parts of you become illuminated. It’s not about thinking about the self in limiting, ego-driven ways, on the contrary, it’s about turning the focus towards the world and being in harmony with the world rather than trying to establish order and control. It’s not about control, it’s about surrender in a way, and about being present in the world and allowing yourself to integrate all aspects of the self as well. It’s something that reaches the depth of who you are by shedding all those layers that you were perhaps conditioned or wired to adopt. When you do that you are able to experience the wholeness of the world and the fluidity of being as well. And you will be able to resonate with the world around you and your entire world has the potential to change in a very beneficial way.
Self-integration should make you get rid of anxious self-conscious musings. By embracing all those aspects, you are able to become yourself. You can just witness emotions- this is a classical stoic teaching- you can witness an emotion – no need to numb it down- then distance yourself from it, allow it to pass, observe it, learn what you need from it, and then move on, with that knowledge in mind. As long as you are attuned, your body is attuned, your whole being is attuned to the diversity and the wholeness of the world, I believe that is the secret to happiness, inner peace, harmony, and comfort – being at ease with yourself. It’s not always easy; we do have a tendency to let certain things define us like a certain emotion especially if it’s a negative emotion, one that you’ve experienced too many times you feel like you might let it define you – especially if external factors like people around are also pointing that out, emphasising that or only choosing to see that. So you shouldn’t let yourself be defined or tainted by anyone’s perception of you, by your own focus on a particular negative reaction or emotion, because you are so much more than that.
Regarding success, even when you want to separate yourself from other people’s ideas of success you have to do it successfully so in a way that feels successful to you based on your own frame of reference or system of values which means you have to have a lot of faith in that in order for it to withstand the currents of opposing views. Spirituality tells us we are innately worthy, that worth should not be attached to external factors. I think for me success would be the idea of integration and harmony, especially inner peace. That looks a certain way, I have a vision of what it means. I don’t know where I’d be if I didn’t have the capacity to make things vanish. The capacity to move on, step into new selves is important to me.
This made me think of that line from The Tree of Life which I will always remember- amazing film- the dichotomy refers to what I was talking about before about the self-centred view of the world versus when you look outwards and try to establish a relationship and with the world around you based on harmony.
“The nuns taught us there are two ways through life, the way of Nature and the way of Grace. You have to choose which one you’ll follow. Grace doesn’t try to please itself. Accepts being slighted, forgotten, disliked. Accepts insults and injuries. Nature only wants to please itself. Get others to please it too. Likes to lord it over them. To have its own way. It finds reasons to be unhappy when all the world is shining around it. And love is smiling through all things.”
As beautiful and poetic as it sounds, I have always had mixed feelings about this quote. Accepts being slighted, forgotten, disliked? That’s not the way. But I can see what they mean: the way of Grace is about transcendence; it refers to not letting external things affect you, it doesn’t necessarily mean you stay there and endure hardship and mistreatment, it just means you are strong – it’s about real power and transcending and about how the other – the one who was metaphorically referred to as nature has a false sense of power gravitating around the concepts of control, entitlement, order, wanting to establish order rather than focusing on harmony. Seeing the darkness in everything, which is basically a reflection of what is within. Not that there’s no darkness around you, but if you only see that, that says something about what’s inside you. Grace, on the other hand, only accepts insults and injuries in the sense that those things don’t change grace; there is something immutable about grace that makes it so that she doesn’t change in the face of adversity to the core. Her system of values doesn’t change. Things that don’t matter can change. So in this sense I do agree with the way of grace, however I have my doubts about the way this is expressed. I do stand by stoicism and the stoic world view, I always have. These are not opposites: You can preach about the fluidity of the self whilst at the same time holding onto that immutable aspect of you. A balance between the way of grace and of nature would probably be ideal – taking the best characteristics out of each and synthesising them and there you have it. This is kind of like how self knowledge and knowledge have to go hand in hand to be balanced and the more one grows the other one has to grow with it. As you cultivate your objective knowledge, the one responsible for accumulating information to use it in certain ways, you should also work on and nurture your self-knowledge.
The two ways of seeing the world (self-centred & world-centred) are also reflected in Only Lovers Left Alive through the following encounter between the two protagonists. Tilda Swinton plays an insightful vampire, sharing her perspective with her perpetually despondent blood-drinking lover.
Eve: “How can you have lived for so long and still not get it? This self obsession is a waste of living. It could be spent on surviving things, appreciating nature, nurturing kindness and friendship, and… dancing.”