I’ve talked a lot about harmlessness, and it’s lack of virtue. Maybe it isn’t that “nice guys finish last”, but that nice guys without the capacity for evil, without the capacity to be mean and ruthless finish last, because nice without mean isn’t nice at all, but laziness, or weakness. Any virtue, without the balance of a vice is no virtue at all, it just is. It seems that something can’t exist without the counterforce pulling at the other side. Love is not love if there are no options outside of it. Morality is not morality if it is just fear wrapped in nice words. There is no virtue in harmlessness, for he (or she) that does not know evil, does not understand how much truly sinister power they possess within them, can never be virtuous. Instead, only he (or she) that understands the latent power within themselves to cross the threshold, that identifies that inside, truly they are a monster, that instead of banishing the evil, they work to tame it, only they can be virtuous.
I gave a short speech the other day on the issues that manifest themselves in our lives as tiny, seemingly obsolete problems. They start out small, but over time, if ignored, they grow and grow and grow until our home is to packed to the brim with this issue that has festered and multiplied. I closed with the question that Dr. Jordan B. Peterson asked: “Why Do Dragons Hoard Gold?” “Because everything that you need is on the other side of everything that you fear.”
During this speech, I touched on the idea of identity scripts, which is the understanding that our personality and our value set is usually carved into us by the age of 5. This means that who we are seems predetermined before we even have a choice in the manner. Thus, it seems, as I said, that our lives are not to be a process of learning new traits and skills, but a journey of unlearning irrelevant, harmful, and otherwise sinking skills that we had no choice but to pick up. Before we can go, into the heavens, we must first go down, into Hell. Maybe Carl Jung was tiptoeing this this idea when he discussed the shadow, and the journey into our own hell. Maybe he knew, that before one can grow, before one can reach up and learn, they must first sink, they must first unlearn, and fail.
This process of unlearning, of reaching down to hell, of dissecting every piece of yourself to surgically remove every ounce that was, at one point helpful but now is detrimental is not easy. Why do you think Jung compared it to Hell? When doing this, when attempting to strive and become the person that we feel we need to be, we are often met with counterforce. This force either comes internally or externally. While internally is bad, externally is the topic of this writing. When, on our journey, we are continuously met with vices of excess, poisons such as lies and trickery. When we seem to be born into a world that wants to take advantage of us, how do we not become resentful?
There is a notion that consciousness and suffering exist in a direct relationship. As paralleled in the Allegory of the Cave, consciousness, and thus suffering, seem to pull at each other, like opposite ends of the same string. To visualize this, imagine consciousnesses is on the X axis, and suffering on the Y. As you start, you have very low consciousness, and thus suffering is also very low. This is seen in teenagers, or those who ever grow up. They do not understand the world around them, they are not self-aware, and thus they do not suffer. As we learn, as we become aware, as we grow in our consciousness, we grow in our suffering. The more we know, the more we see, the more we understand what lies on the other side. This is why a second love is often harder than the first, or why, once you’ve failed, it is that much harder to start again. Once you are aware of the consequences of potential actions, you suffer. But, it seems, the more aware you become, as you crest over the middle level of consciousness and begin to ascent into enlightenment, the suffering decreases. Thus, the graph forms an upside down U.
The issue is, we often are forced into consciousness by an event outside of our control, and then we sit there, marinating in the suffering because we can’t go forward (because we can’t see past the current pain) and we can’t go backwards (because once you’re awake, you’re awake.) Consciousness is a tricky subject, because we can reach the crest, the middle point of consciousness (the peak of suffering) with no work at all. We can became shocked into the world by a death, by a breakup or a bad rejection. Suddenly, our life of ignorance is gone, and we, never having tried before, suddenly see everything that is happening around us. Our shields retreated, and the cave spit us out. Once there though, once at that middle point where life threw us, any more awareness takes work, and if we aren’t used to, or don’t even know that we have to work to ease suffering, then we won’t and we will just sit there, in a cesspool of pain.
What seems to happen, when we are forced to the peak of suffering, and the middle of consciousness, is we find it hard to move, and even harder to find the fault anywhere within ourselves. So we look exteriorly. Without understanding the ebb and flow of the universe, we feel cheated and wronged that the world could ever (do whatever made us conscious). Instead of: “How can I become more aware, and thus ease my suffering?”, we begin to ask, “How could this happen to me?”, or “Why me?”. The blame typhoons into our bellies, breeding resentment into the world in the form of coldness, of distrust and distaste in a manner that seems (at the time) to just be a way to ease the suffering, but instead staples us to the peak of suffering, and doesn’t allow us to grow.
(Side note: There seems to be no way to ease the momentous suffering that life lays on us, except, for the ironic truth that: once you accept that all life is suffering, life seems to cease to suffer much. This is a step of becoming more aware, and it shows that consciousness is the only true shield to suffering, not the coping mechanisms that we manifest to protect ourselves.)
The question I have forced myself to ask repeatedly is: “When the world has proved itself to be a snakebite of suffering, a common cold that everyone seems to catch, how do we not grow bitter?” At first, I thought this was just a me problem. I thought that seeing the world as a danger, as a monster build from scratch to eat you alive was a self imposed issue that only I faced…. Then I began listening. If you ask the right questions, anyone will talk. And if you listen correctly, their pain will unfold like a catalyst of meaning right in front of your eyes. And it is here, in these back office, coffee shop, hair salon conversations where I realized the painful truth: this is not just me.
Bitterness seems to ebb and flow between words like a string sewing the fabric of being together. And who can blame us, or them? When life drops them off at the peak of the U, and they are suddenly aware, and suddenly suffering in a manner that they have never realized before, how do we blame them for the bitter resent that begins to bubble in their body? We can’t blame them, and that is the part of this that keeps me awake at night. The path of bitterness, the path of resentment and distrust towards the world is not a seldom worn path, but seemingly the main road through life.
This is what Nietzsche warned us about when discussing the issues with nihilism. It isn’t that nihilism (the foregoing of any morality or meaning in life) is just a painful and detrimental world view to accept, it is that it is also so appealing, and so easy to fall into. It isn’t that people choose to be bad, distrusting, bitter humans, but that they feel they have no other choice (because the peak of suffering is so overwhelming, and nihilism creates a shield (from suffering, but also from meaning in the long term).
So my fix? In the long term, we must find and aim for meaning. By this I mean that there are certain things, certain people in life who are worth suffering in the short term for, worth sacrificing for. There are moments that bring about meaning in a way we could never imagine, and this eases suffering. If we just aim for expedience, or for instant gratification, then we often either forget about, or just see long term meaning as obsolete (because when suffering, when in complete chaos, you can’t comprehend the future) But, long term meaning is the cure of the issues we now face. While the quick relationship, or quick buzz is easy (and often dams the suffering), the women who takes time and patience to court, who forces you to become a better human and question assumptions you previously held drains the whole lake (of suffering). In the long term, meaning always trumps expedience, and this, from personal experience, I promise you.
But what about the short term? How do you survive the months or years of sacrifice that meaning calls for? How do you ignore or squash the resentment bubbles that brew in your belly, and how do you ignore the lizard brain that tells you the world is out to hurt you? You become naive. You pretend that you have no idea what you already know. You ignore the seemingly obvious connections between a past failure and a present potential. You refuse to group people together, accepting that just because one person hurt you, or just because everyone has seemed to be unworthy of trust, does not mean that this person will be too.
In the short term, while aiming for the long term meaning, become naive. Ignorant if necessary. But let it all go. Become innocent again, as if you never felt the sting of a lie, or the tragedy of a betrayal. Take people on their word, and refuse to question everything they say. Trust, until provided a reason not to (a real reason, not a made up one). It seems, the cure to becoming bitter and resentful, lies in becoming naive, in wiping the slate clean after every encounter with evil, and refusing to let it mesh with the encounters with good.
Because the easiest way to ruin meaning, the quickest and most detrimental way to force the good (people, opportunities, etc) out of our life is to see them as evil before they had the chance to be good. The best way to be hurt is to never trust, and the fastest route to betrayal, to loneliness is never letting anyone inside. Like an ironic, positive feedback loop, the best way to become bitter and resentful, is to start as bitter and resentful, because it never heals, it just compounds and compounds.
So, when the world forces you to the peak of suffering and consciousness, become naive. Strive for long term meaning (and thus more consciousness), but become naive to the lies, betrayal, or tragedy it took to get you there. Because if you don’t, if you let the past evil seap it’s way into every interaction with the present potential, it may very well already be over. Nihilism seems to be the most appealing poison we could ever self impose.