by Paul Waggener
“I don’t want to be a product of my environment. I want my environment to be a product of me.”
These words open the film “The Departed,” one of my favorite Scorsese movies, spoken by the character Frank Costello, an Irish mob boss.
The words resonated with me strongly when I first heard them, and have stuck with me for years. I felt like this was the perfect delivery of a truth I had always believed and held as one of the major principles of self-creation.
If we are living lives of mythic action, our every word and deed becomes a spell of creation or destruction- shaping the malleable fabric of the world around us, changing our environment to reflect where our will is applied, and how. Gandhi famously said “be the change you want to see in the world,” a statement often seen on Pinterest styled bumper stickers on soccer mom’s vans, or bright eyed hipster idealists’ rusted beaters. Cliche, but only because almost all statements of basic truth seem that way through overuse and under-application.
In order to “be this change,” one must apply consistent, consonant pressure in the direction he wants to see that change. By consonant, a word I use often, I mean that it has to “make sense together.” Like notes in a music scale, or a well done painting, your actions must find congruence in order to become as effective as possible.
Consider it: what is a more sound strategy in war? Focused, tactical strikes at high-yield targets that eliminate them with brutal efficiency, or random squads sent out in all directions to take potshots into the trees, hoping they hit something?
In order for our lives to achieve this consonance, we must begin to view our life as a whole- as an artist looks at a canvas, or a sculptor his block of stone. From here, we should consider our lives as a work of art in motion, and shape it in a way that has a narrative, a direction- many elements working together in a flow toward some kind of completion. The idea of goals, and plotting the steps toward these goals is certainly one way to achieve this, but on a more visceral level, attaining consonance is done through aesthetic.
The word’s definition is given as “a set of principles underlying and guiding the work of a particular artist or artistic movement.”
This view of aesthetic permeates the entirety of a life, and when we think of individuals who typify certain concepts or ideals, we are thinking of them as archetypes, or paragons of a certain aesthetic. Their lives have become “a line of poetry, written with a splash of blood.”
Choosing an aesthetic is a crucial element of building your own legend, the framework within which you will operate, the filter through which you will see the world around you, and the body with which you will interact with that world.
The highest principle of humankind is to create.
It is the way in which we imitate the gods, and emulate the impulse they experienced when they created us in the myriad mythologies of humanity, spread across the aeons.
So many human beings sleepwalk through life, unaware or not stopping to consider and develop these ideas into something that can make their life more than what it is- a sweeping saga of their principles and ideals writ large on the stones of human history.
No one wants to be forgotten, although we are all likely damned to that same grim fate- but we have the choice to attempt the mythic, the timeless, to strive for higher things, even if our outcome is sealed.
In Norse mythology, the gods walk to their final battle aware of the outcome, but choosing to perform the duty for its own sake. That, as Spengler said, is what it means to be a thoroughbred.
To achieve aesthetic and consonance in our lives, we must begin by choosing one to embody.
In writing, they often tell you to fake a voice, or use someone else’s until you find your own, and the same holds true here.
This is why the stories of the many gods and legends of our various peoples exist- to give us archetypes, not simply to revere, but to emulate- to actually spend each day attempting to become them with everything that this implies.
There is so much strength in this practice: losing one’s temper, or making a poor dietary choice becomes so much more removed, or seems so much lesser to us when we are waking each day and choosing to embody a legendary archetype, a specific aesthetic.
We begin to view our lives as “a set of principles,” rather than a random collection of meaningless actions. The environment around us too, should be considered. If we are building ourselves into a monolith of ideals that guide us as sure as a compass point, how can we apply this creative impulse elsewhere?
Obviously, we can do this through a host of actions, such as honing the crafts of writing, engineering, art, music, carpentry, but we can also begin to reinforce our aesthetic in our immediate surroundings by bringing first our physical form into agreement with our stated aims.
When one considers Achilles, Thor, Hanuman- he does not think of a couch-locked, skinny-fat form, atrophied through years of poor diet and sedentary living. Our emphasis on the ideas of physical training and healthy lifestyle come from many positive principles, but this is their quintessential one:
We cannot emulate the gods in a neglected body.
Beyond our bodies, our domiciles and places of work or training- how can we better bring them into alignment with this aesthetic we have chosen, in order to increase a harmonious interaction between increasing areas of our life?
One can begin to see this architecture grow and expand, as we can no longer neglect our immediate surroundings, but must cultivate them like a garden of the soul. Our dwelling-places and studies, our gyms and our work areas are where we spend many of our waking hours.
Why should they not become temples to the Work, visual reminders of who and what we are seeking to become?
This practice becomes the weave of our own developing mythology as our strength grows, our practice becomes ritualized, our ritual becomes bedrock- the transformations within transform what is without, and ever widening ripples emanate outward from the core of our being into the material world, penetrating and transmuting raw elements and material. This is how men become symbols, what I have called “lliving runes,” and from there can aspire to pass into legend.
Every action is a lesser or greater degree of one that came before it.
If we can change ourselves, we can change the world.