“He who fights with monsters should be careful lest he thereby become a monster. And if thou gaze long into an abyss, the abyss will also gaze into thee.”
-Nietzsche, Beyond Good & Evil
Nietzsche’s Abyss was introduced to me by Henry Rollins via my favorite podcast, WTF with Marc Maron. Despite being a comedian, Maron’s conversations typically pivot toward insightful, introspective examinations of our shared, needy, frail egos and how they influence our choices and relationships. In other words, how we’re all more alike in our fucked-upitude than we care to admit!
Rollins himself is an intelligent, deep, intense sort of badass who I believe has moved from music to a variety of spoken-word performance. During his conversation with Maron, he spoke about the relativity of “being tough”; how in the United States it typically means puffing your chest out, and posturing yourself as the verbal Alpha dog. However, Rollins had recently traveled to Africa and spoken with people who had witnessed civil war and genocide first hand. After speaking with children forced to commit atrocities, men whose entire families had been exterminated, and being shown a “mound” with clothes poking out from beneath it: a mass-grave. He summed up by saying he’s “seen tough” and he was NOT it. That's the Abyss. The priceless realizations that come from diving into the muck of humanity; the experiences that inadvertently reveals you to yourself. Shining their lamp into the Abyss, the insightful are exposed to themselves.
Since leaving Andre’s and arriving in Port Townsend in September of ’09, I’ve changed. The last couple of years, I’ve struggled to evolve my ideas and identity to incorporate my pesky Don Quixote idea: people unconsciously (yet willfully) telling themselves anything, ignoring facts, and consciously distorting reality simply to protect their identity and avoid cognitive dissonance.
My problem: I was as guilty as anyone! To top it off, the people I’ve been the most critical of, Andre and Ray in particular, are the two of the four (along with Lynette and Chris) who wielded the largest mirror into my own personal Abyss. Surely, NOT a coincidence.
After all I’ve written, I’ve long felt the need, yet have been unable to balance the scales and offer insight into the reflective characteristics of Andre & Ray. I can trace this all the way back to my Gone Fishin' post in 2010. Regardless of the why, this is long past due.
I’ve never felt right about the conclusions I lobbed toward Andre in 2009. I still wonder how much truth was embedded within but, right or wrong, in retrospect it seems likely that my words originated from my deep seeded, acute, blanket hostility toward wealth. Andre and Ray were different species, but still powerful back-to-back manifestations of Matthew 19:24: “it’s easier for a camel to pass thru the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.”
Despite not being religious and harboring even greater hostility toward religion than wealth, I still believe this simple verse unquestionably contains infinite wisdom. It screams to the fundamentally corrupting nature of wealth. Chris and I once discussed the nature of evil, and I concluded that it’s personified in greed and the lust for power, both of which are conveniently stimulated by the collection of wealth. It gives some an imagined sense of superiority, others a perverse sense of protected righteousness, while others flock to the Altar of Power.
Disgust for religion aside, I enthusiastically embrace this verse and agree with those that surround it: to truly be the authentically righteous Moral Hero, one can't simply endeavor to ration his wealth to those he deems "worthy" and feed his ego through corrupt, glorified philanthropy. He must fully abandon it. Or, as Jesus supposedly said, sell his shit and give the money to the poor. Heresy!
That doesn’t sound much like a Mea Culpa, but, and this will be repeated, Andre was doing the best he could to balance his developing beliefs with the world he still inhabited. He put forth sincere effort while battling his own inherited human duality.
I’m rooting for Andre...but betting on the camel.
Ray’s example and resulting intense reflection has been the hardest for me to reconcile.
Again, I believe there was a great deal of truth in what I wrote, and perspective aside, I believe I raised valid questions. To recap, Ray did elevate himself and heighten expectations when he hitched his wagon to the Jesus horse! Even more so when he made use of the media to market his cause...which included raising money (!), seeking Guinness Glory, and pursuing a book deal. It seemed to me then, and still does, that a man so dramatically moved by our favorite verse wouldn’t require such base glory. Perhaps acting as and sharing an authentic example was enough?
Oh, and he DID leave me sitting on Monterey Bay without so much as an explanation!
That being said, he deserved far more credit than criticism. Also to recap, Ray liquidated over $500,000 in assets accumulated during his days as "The Reaper"; a successful repo man.
Epiphanies are common; men who live them are not.
Spouting off grandiose plans is common. Completely liquidating and altering one’s life for an idea: are you fucking kidding? I should especially be the first to applaud that.
Ray’s long-term role in my humble narrative is that of forced reflection. Here’s an example of, in some significant ways, both what I hoped to be and what I wasn’t:
- Ray’s tenacity was incredible, whereas I often quit much too quickly.
- Ray’s dedication to living his ideals highlighted where I sacrificed mine for convenience or the ability to straddle two worlds.
- Ray epitomized guts where I still find myself often crippled by self-doubt and fear.
I hoped he would make it to the end of his hike, but through his Facebook page I learned that his walk ended, if I remember correctly, due to a hip injury not long after we parted ways. As best I can tell, he’s living in Cincinnati now. I haven’t had any contact with him, but intend to email him this link, because I want him to hear this. Hope you’re doing well, Ray. Sorry for the harsh words, and I honestly wish things had gone better.
Oh...and phuck the Phils.
If you’ve read this far, it’s important to remember that while The Abyss provided the context for me to articulate it, none of this is new. My ego wanted to think this would be easy for me to work thru, but I’ve spun my wheels in the same rut since New York in ’10. In a sense, I’ve occasionally gone thru the motions while essentially hibernating--waiting for that old, mythical Lightning Bolt of Revelation to strike rather than embracing this for what it was: growth. Since August of '04, I’d thought I was on the right path. Submitting to the likelihood that I was mistaken or deluded was a bit much for my comfy new identity to absorb!
Almost exactly a year ago I wrote, “Few engage in, and fewer survive, an honest reconciliation of their self-image with the raw reality.” It’s become one of my favorite original lines. Funny things, identities, especially once we become attached and cease to adjust them manually. I’m persuaded that we should intentionally shed our stale identities like snakeskin, with blunt humility, on a regular basis and rebuild them with silent, secluded introspection while adding a scoop of what we’ve learned from our honest, noble (if not embarrassing!) mistakes. Indeed: few survive this process intact, and in all honesty I feel lucky that I did. I almost didn’t.
Chris quit writing publicly, but a few weeks ago I reread the last thing he wrote, called Shadow Living. Essentially, he was outing, describing, and owning his own duality; the same duality hiding within each of us--the same duality we skittishly conceal from the rest of the world, and in some cases, beat ourselves up over. The same duality I touched on in January.
Duality has long been a focus of mine. Trying to achieve Singularity, in spirit, mind, and body, was one of my original obsessions when I embarked on this introspective journey in ’04. I couldn’t understand why the image of who I wanted to be never developed externally; why could I never create that person in reality, dammit?!?!?
I brutalized myself over this, and often do still to this day. I foolishly refuse to fully embrace my imperfections, however it helps to realize that singularity in mind, body, and spirit, enlightenment, is the exclusive playground of the Gods, but there is a liberation in accepting our shared imperfections. If only temporarily. It’s difficult for me to hold on to, but realizing that, I believe, is what has finally enabled me to regurgitate this spiritual hairball and move on.
It would seem that the people I've helped have in turn helped me, while the folks I've judged have judged me via my own insights. All of this is terribly difficult, but I’ll make that trade and, again, I ask, “How many people attempt and survive a reconciliation of self-image with unfiltered truth?”
Of course that’s abstract philosophy; perhaps my arrogant version of Mental String Theory, but it’s the difficult, critical questions that ultimately matter. Even if they are impossible to answer definitively, attempting to achieve our own self-awareness evolves and enlightens us. "Enlightenment" or “consciousness” isn't granted by someone else's doctrine or even our own unquestioned, static, identity-driven beliefs anymore than salvation springs from a book. That’s textbook fanaticism.
Perhaps the only practical application of such questions is mustering the courage to have that priceless internal dialogue about who we think we are, who we want to be and, finally, who we are. Then, hopefully bridging these gaps as best we can. I still believe the key lies in the first step, which is the same one I’ve always maintained: Nosce Te Ipsum: Know Thyself.