This will be part of my story but also a tribute to the power and destructive properties of thought.
I started cracking up shortly after I took my first philosophy introductory course 5 years ago. We covered everything from determinism to Cogito Ergo Sum to relativisms and categorical imperatives. I suppose I should specify this was a Western Philosophy introduction class.
Mortality and ethics, both western and eastern thought, were the subjects I focused on after that. Why? Well, debates intrigued me and the confusion on whether we’re born with an innate sense of what’s right and wrong or whether it’s developed based upon laws, society, and culture struck me as a paradox; we can’t know what we knew (or if we knew anything) when or before we were born, and therefore have no variable to isolate—we will never know which influences us more; instinct or culture.
Scientifically, as of today, this is impossible to study. Philosophically, the debate rages. And no, your opinion on whether or not morality is innate is not scientific evidence. You could create a viable hypothesis, just know it’s probably not testable in a way that will provide valid results. But, nurture your beliefs anyway. Beliefs keep us alive.
On the journey into the murky, grey waters of morality, I got a sight of hell. I felt the hot breath of demons. They told me I was a dead man walking every time I stepped. They hunted me. And I couldn’t figure out why.
It started with possession. They invaded my body and others near me. This happened, I reasoned, because it was finally time. They’d been watching me all my life, I’d felt them as a child, and now they were trying to throw me off my divine path. I was here to influence the world, thwart their plans. Dead celebrities wrote through me; they’d also been watching me since I was a child. Still, when I hear of deaths, I feel them joined with me.
I turned to ancient Egyptian beliefs and amulets. I felt Thoth on my side, and spent nights creating rituals to talk with him.
Classmates were possessed, armed against me in this spiritual warfare. I dropped classes.
I didn’t believe in hell though, or God, not in the sense of “white Jesus”. I didn’t believe spiritual masters controlling our fate. And because I didn’t believe in any of this, the creatures possessing me, massacring people, were not demons. I realized I’d labeled them as such because I had no better words to do so. They never called themselves demons. And that lead me to Eastern Philosophy.
Unity is what saved me. The unity of all living things, of all emotions, of all concepts, of my body and my mind. There are forces that unify particles and molecules and atoms. Matter is just condensed energy, in the simplest terms, after all. This realization turned me toward The Tao Te Ching specifically, and Daoism; The Way. True Daoism isn’t interested much in this physical world or the conundrums that man spends so much time trying to reason himself through. As someone who was and always has been very logical and scientific, this thought confused me. What else was there in life besides reasoning?
What’s great is that a lot of mystical ideas within Taoism, ideals which could have been scientific had the philosophers not seen analysis as such a waste of time (in a lot of ways it is, though), have been and continue to be paralleled with modern science, particularly physics. The Tao of Physics by physicist Fritjof Capra is a great book to read more on this subject. I read it a few months ago, and it’s the book pictured at the top of this blog.
The Daoist way acknowledges and observes the natural transformation of things in nature, like the blossoming and decaying of a flower. Yes, this is where the T’ai-Chi T’u diagram comes in: it represents the unification of these polar opposites: one must exist for the other to exist. We’re talking, of course, about Yin and Yang. A consequence of life is death (or cellular regeneration if we’re talking freaky single cell organisms) and you cannot have died without once having been alive. In fact, we would have no concept of being alive or living if death did not rear its gentle head. And if we were always dead, well, we wouldn’t know it and words for it wouldn’t exist.
Both Yin (the darker element of existence representative of the earth) and Yang (the creative, heavenly—meaning not of earth—element of existence) have equal importance and balance everything. The symbol’s flowing movement, according to Capra, represents continuous cycles; in other words, these opposites are constantly within each other, influencing each other, and being each other because if they were alone, neither would exist.
This isn’t a Western way of thought. Here, someone is either guilty or innocent. Something is either right, or wrong. The flower is either alive or dead, and we see these things as separate from each other in the same way we see ourselves separate from each other. You can see this disconnect rooted in things like in segregation, in P.C culture, and in Mental Health. And because we don’t ascribe to the idea of fluid existence, of fluid transformation, because everything for us is so hard lined and linear—which is only logical because we experience existence in a physical sense despite knowing Time isn’t linear—we’ve developed an individualist and autonomous society.
That’s not to say it’s wrong. In fact, I stopped believing in the hard sense of right and wrong a long time ago.
And so how can something so abstract apply to life and how in the world did it help me balance madness?
Chuang Tzu explains this beautifully:
“The sayings ‘shall we not follow and honour the right and have nothing to do with the wrong?‘ and ‘shall we not follow and honour those who secure good government and have nothing to do with those who produce disorder?’ Show a want if acquaintance with the principals of Heaven [not of earth; cosmos, spiritual universe] and Earth and with the different qualities of things. It is like following and honouring Heaven and taking no account of Earth; it is like following and honouring the yin and taking no account of the yang.”Chuang Tzu. Also quoted in The Tao of Physics.
And suddenly life made a lot of sense.
Suddenly I understood why conclusions of morality always felt so contrived. I understood why “staying positive” never worked, and never would. I understood separation and dissociation and, most of all, I understood the fluid duality of everything, including my demons.
They weren’t demons after all, just as I’d suspected. I call them false angels now, because they are good in their badness and bad in their goodness. They couldn’t be demons because according to this natural, fluid transformation and existence of all things in the universe, everything has a polar opposite. Yes, classical physics tells us this, but not in terms of fluidity.
A demon has no goodness. But because I looked through this lens of consistently being unified with all opposites, these voices and spirits had no choice but to be both good and bad. They struggled with the universal order just like every particle, every force, every human.
This concept I have brought into the novel I’ve been working on, and I’m not mentioning how much I processed these thoughts through a first draft years ago, so whenever it gets published and you read it (and you WILL read it) you will see the similarities and thought process. You will think back to this post and say hey, I remember this! I was there! I. Was. There.
I could empathize with being torn apart by duality. I often found myself between sanity and madness. Between the right decision or the wrong decision. Between living and dying. Between happy and sad. And so I empathized with these damaged, clever, and now exposed beings. I saw the path they carved, the fork in the road that they drove me toward, and saw that this was never a battle between light and dark like I interpreted. They were always both protecting and hurting me; it’s the natural order of things.
That’s the real reason I stopped fighting. Not because I couldn’t anymore, not because I was too tired or because a bunch of therapists told me to, but because I recognized the pain and confusion and duality that radiates through the waves of the entire universe. I saw myself in it, and slowly my fear dissolved.
I get frustrated sometimes still at things they say or things I feel they’re influencing. I get swept away sometimes still, too. I mentioned before I thought of voluntarily committing myself some weeks ago. So this has not eliminated the struggle. What it’s done is give it purpose. It’s given it a place in the universe. It’s given me a reason not to feel sorry for myself or tortured or scream “why me!” Into the sky. It’s helped me learn to share my body and mind and the power of thought with whatever it is in my head, whether that’s a few misguided chemicals or actual spiritual contact. Neither are different from each other: they both follow that natural, fluid rotation. They are bound by the chaotic, ordered, unity of opposites.
This is the reason not referring to myself as “mentally ill” or “sick” has always set me free. This is why listening to my body and choosing to stray from medication was the right decision for me.
Philosophy saves lives.
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