"The spirit is such that it creates itself and makes itself that which it is". - Hegel
The philosopher Nietzsche had a famous saying regarding what he thought the goal of life was- "to become who you are!". I take this to mean that there's something in us that wants to be birthed, to become, to enter into the world through and as us. It's uniquely ours, but according to Nietzsche it takes a substantial amount of courage and self-overcoming to bring that forth out of oneself and into being. Indeed.
I'm at yet another crossroads in my life, a growing moment where it's time to shed old skin, to leave outworn patterns and habits behind and to let the new- what I'm to become- emerge. But that's no easy task. For me it's often a struggle, a long gnarled painful struggle. Or at least this one is anyway.
Today in church the Bible reading was well timed, one of those moments when you're sure the spheres have sent you a message precisely when you needed it. It included that paradoxical and enigmatic teaching of Jesus in Mark 8:35:
For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it.
What's meant by this teaching that we must lose our life in order to gain it? It's a good question, but it seemed like it was a light shining down the road I'm supposed to choose at this juncture in my life. The Reverend Beth Hayward began her sermon on this passage with a very apt accompanying poem by T.S. Eliot, from The Four Quadrants:
You say I am repeating
Something I have said before. I shall say it again.
Shall I say it again? In order to arrive there,
To arrive where you are, to get from where you are not,
You must go by a way wherein there is no ecstasy.
In order to arrive at what you do not know
You must go by a way which is the way of ignorance.
In order to possess what you do not possess
You must go by the way of dispossession.
In order to arrive at what you are not
You must go through the way in which you are not.
And what you do not know is the only thing you know
And what you own is what you do not own
And where you are is where you are not.
Again, paradox abounds. As does trust, and faith.
I'm also reminded of chapter 48 in the Tao Te Ching which says, "In the pursuit of knowledge, every day something is added. In the practice of the Tao, every day something is dropped". Father Richard Rohr, in his book Simplicity- The Freedom of Letting Go, called this "the spirituality of subtraction", which he contrasted with the "spirituality of addition", a hallmark of our consumer capitalist culture.
Lose yourself and you will gain yourself.
It's a real blessing to have all this spiritual wisdom to guide us in difficult passages of our life like this. But all the spiritual writing in the world isn't going to take that step into this paradoxical unknown for us. Only we can do that ourselves. There's that famous Zen phrase, "Leap and the net will appear". Well, good to know, but I'm still standing here on the ledge scared shitless. This is the moment of Kierkegaard's Leap of Faith, beautifully depicted at the end of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade as "the leap from the lion's head", where Indy had to step forth into the abyss and when he did, the bridge appeared. It's existential, it's real, and it can be terrifying.
But if we're to become who we are, it's a lonesome valley that apparently we must walk through. As the old traditional gospel song goes, no one can walk it for us. We can get help and support along the way, but in the end we must pass through on our own, of our own courageous free will. So it's towards that lonesome valley I now stumble, and whether I make it through to some sort of other side is unknown. If this post finds you in a similar situation in your own life, godspeed and much strength to you in your own passage. Lord knows I'll need it in mine.