”Whenever one approaches the points where man
proves himself to be equal or superior to pain, one gains access
to the sources of his power and the secret hidden behind his
dominion. Tell me your relation to pain, and I will tell you
who you are!”
There were many pitfalls on the road to where I am now. Nothing has come easy, and I don’t imagine it ever will. Looking back, the obstacles are plain to see, all the depression and anger, the so-called trauma and bullshit. Self-hatred, hatred in general, and every bit of insecurity or uncertainty or doubt that dragged at my feet along the way, like the rotten sludge at the bottom of a river made from raw sewage.
I got so sidelined by these things that I often felt like a completely dysfunctional human being- a raw, seething mass of hatred, frustration, dissatisfaction and disgust with every living thing on this planet, including myself. A wretchedness indescribable. An impulse that expressed itself in socially unacceptable ways, a rage that manifested itself in broken bones, blood droplets scattering across the pavement and the years like red prayers.
I remember the first time I put someone in the hospital, it came with a sense of elation and freedom that is hard to explain. Something about causing reckless damage to a human being with no end in sight that makes you feel like you’ve escaped your own species, transcended some primal boundary, or maybe gotten more in touch with the murderous urge that makes us the most human we’ve ever been. It’s hard to say exactly what it was.
Since I can remember, I’ve been struggling with my own perception and understanding of who I was. I was never content with where I was, and always felt that there was a part of me that was alien and unknown, even to myself. I was plagued by the questions of how to relate to it, where to fit in; of trying to untangle and understand my “bad wiring.”
The questions remained mostly unanswered. My strategies often did not work. There have been many times where I was defeated in the battle against my lower self. I’ve lost more times than I like to think about, and it has led me to some very dark and awful times in my life.
There is a reason I am telling you all this.
I am telling you because I know that negotiating the abyss of who we are and who we have become is something like sailing a ship in dangerous waters with no compass or crew. It can be a been a lonesome and often terrifying expedition through agony and excess, self-deception, rediscovery, failure, fire, hardship and death. I have learned a couple of things in my thirty plus years here, and maybe the most valuable things I’ve learned are these:
No matter how I spin it or how hard I’ve ever tried to do something else, I am who I am. Some of it has been my own decision, some hardwiring, genetics, upbringing and so on, but the man I am today is what I have to work with. We can and should continually look to better ourselves (a hard enough concept to really define- what is better? What is worse?) and change certain aspects of that circuitry and blueprint, but the base material we have to work with will always be the same. Junger said that,
“We do not escape our boundaries of our innermost being; it is true, we may transform ourselves, but we always walk within our boundaries, within the marked off circle.”
Something I have realized about myself along the way, is that I have passion in spades, but very little balance, and I define myself by pain and hardship. More often than not, I give value to a thing based on its difficulty to achieve, and not necessarily in its pleasurableness. This has become a key element in my life philosophy and in the way I approach everything.
Our word “passion” comes from the Latin root meaning “to suffer.” In other words, what we are passionate about is what makes us suffer- the word is intertwined with itself, ouroboros.
Because of this, true passion has no real balance- it defines itself through suffering, hardship, trial, ordeal- it is always “on” and there is no escaping its terrible nature in order to only taste its sweet parts. It must be experienced in total.
Therefore, we must use an internal alchemy in order to turn our suffering into our strength, to be empowered by it, not enervated. We must master it in order to gain the keys to those gates that will otherwise remain forever locked and barred to us- concealing kingdoms of power and freedom.
Our approach to each trial must then take on a mythical seeming- nothing is so small or so great that it falls outside of this Gordian knot of struggle and growth. Each task we undertake every day we are alive is a an opportunity to experience the holy strife that all life is based on. To overcome ourselves and our obstacles with a drive so ferocious that we excel in all areas and arenas we traverse.
Our lives will always seem incomplete; there will always be questions, failures, joy and grief so overwhelming they will threaten our foundations. We are always walking a labyrinth made of our own experience, negotiating its length and breadth with heart, breathlessly. It is in how we walk it that makes our transformations occur, and though we always may be within the confines of our “innermost being,” we know that it is not the situation we are in, but how we meet it, that truly matters.
Transformation and growth can happen, and each time we meet ourselves again, we are different. Changed. There is a newness that comes within the endless struggle. We shed our skin through a metamorphosis that can only be brought on through suffering- for if we do not suffer and overcome, we do not grow.
Most people’s approach to pain is avoidance. The average person in this world of weakness views pain as merely the opposite of pleasure, a negative, something to be circumvented at all cost. Whether it is physical, emotional or other, the normal thought process is that “pain is bad.”
Our pain should be immense.
During training, we should push ourselves until our lungs are pure flame; our muscles burn like a thousand suns; at the end of our limits, we push onward- and in that place of white hot fire, we are immolated and made new, stronger, purer. Not the same as we were before.
In our lowest moments of spiritual blackness, we must push on, knowing that we are in chrysalis. Embrace that darkness and go deep into the well of painful experience, down to its uttermost depth, and commune with those devils who dwell there. The bargains they offer come at a high price, but the power that is gained on the other side is even greater still.
Let this life do its best to break you, and keep moving- unbowed and unbroken.
Find your passion in suffering.