Creative Heroism II



What makes Man? More than anything else, it is the mind – the ultimate world-shaping, meaning-making, life-changing force for evolution and transformation. Its development was our destined differentiator. All of Man’s experience is filtered through this instrument, all of what we call ‘life’ comes in the form of appearances within consciousness.

So what is it? And what does it do?

Human beings are hard-wired to seek patterns: the forms within the formlessness, the order inside of chaos. Consciously and subconsciously, our capacity for pattern recognition within our ever-changing environments has been a hard-won competency. Forged within the crucible of evolution and naturally selected for, it was the triggering development which allowed us to raise our level of thinking to that above the rest of the animal kingdom. With this heightened awareness, human beings could seek out more complex patterns, and build upon them. {Tools! Fire!! Math!!!} As one of the slower and weaker members of large animalia, developing in this way was certainly a matter of gravest survival for us. And in the act of our species’ persistence, in this building out of our understanding of the world’s many patterns, somewhere along the way, concurrently with all of this, something transcendent sparked within us.

We became self-aware; capable of sensing and marking our thoughts themselves. That is, our consciousness was birthed.

The Albion Rose – William Blake – 1794-1796

With sentience in hand, came an observation of self, an individuation of who we are in the context of a past, present, and future we can envision, outside of objectivity. The hominid became aware of what it was like to be it. This subjective experience for an individual drives a myriad of potential perspectives upon our thoughts, sensations and experiences. {We can think about thoughts, and then think about thinking about those thoughts. And then!…}. Endless layers of experience can theoretically be engaged upon within a conscious being’s mind, depending on how much attention one pays to their inner existence; each conscious state carries the capacity to wholly influence the next. {And of course, we still don’t know why or how consciousness might’ve emerged within us as a species. It is one of life’s grand mysteries.}

With consciousness in mind, for the first time we could imagine differing outcomes, and divergent paths for ourselves, concerning the lives we were not leading.

“I am primarily a gatherer, BUT I could be a better hunter.”

“I am alone, but I don’t have to be for long.”

“I have no stories to tell around the fire. But I know what I might do to create some experiences worthy of an eventual tale.”

“We are here, and secure for now. But there’s no telling how long that may last, or if there isn’t some better place for us, with more plentiful resources and shelter, just beyond that horizon there…”

We might ponder the distinctions, devising methods to bridge the gap between these dreamed, future expectations and our hard, current reality. And human beings could do all this from the comfort of a seat of contemplation. In a cultivation of ideas first, and actions second, comes the separation between the conscious and unconscious mind; Man was now operating outside of the bounds of his inborn nature, and his instincts. We could consider our problems and their solutions, before they came to pass. Through first-hand experiences, or mere observations of another’s journey and folly within life, one could move differently in their own.

“Man’s nature battles against his consciousness. It is the growth of consciousness which we must thank for the existence of problems; they are the Danaän gift of civilization … As long as we are still submerged in nature we are unconscious, and we live in the security of instinct which knows no problems.”
~ Carl Jung

Job rebuked by his Friends – William Blake – 1825-1826

Living within a community, full of conscious actors mucking about, friends and foes, one can learn a great deal by taking the time to pay attention to it. To them, your comrades, and yourself – your actions and their reactions in tandem; through ascertainment of the feedback of the world around one, consciousness grows and expands, along with a person’s potentialities.

Together, in tribes and in society, as this collective of newly imaginative beings, came metaphysical reflections of the terms and tenets of our relationships to one another. Individual freedom, communal responsibility, and the sincere consideration of suffering outside of oneself —morality— all came into being as the materials for rumination, factors to consider in our coming choices. Aided by the development of language, the stuff of philosophy and self-governance allowed us to share in and reflect upon the complexities of life and the mysteries of our consciousness in a more conscientious way.

In the building of civilization, developing laws and traditions, concurrent with these concerns, as both an outcome of consciousness’ growth, and its clearest method of deliverance, comes story. For uniquely conscious creatures such as we, storytelling, mythmaking, the sharing of symbols, and the embodiment of archetypes all serve an invaluable purpose: to articulate purpose.

Consciousness, with all its faculties and power, demands a story be told to it, and through it. And so, we do it, continuously and thoroughly. Storytelling allows us to enumerate the contents of our consciousness, in all its oddities and absurdities, and put names and functions to everything within its purview. In the forms of mindful fictions penned from within our limited understanding of the world’s true physicality {that would come later {see: Newton}, and is coming even now {see: dark matter}}, comes the creation of a makeshift tapestry of teleology with respect to nature and our self within its vast, cosmic confines.

Storytelling lets us articulate our personalized strivings. It gives form to our collective mythos as beings within the world endlessly working to progress … somewhere. Since our dawn within the cradle, our future remained uncertain, unknown, full of risks that might end us. Stories allow us to explore our mortal road with efficacy; Stories lend credence to our struggles, building them out upon the ubiquitous canvas of language, to be expressed and shared and understood, as only conscious creatures can. Animals might share stories implicitly, with their actions and inactions {*don’t go over there — it’s dangerous* / *come over here – there is food, water, warmth* / *watch this — if you do X, then Y is possible.*}.

Only Mankind shares stories with his word. Our stories more articulately shed light upon our restless and ever-changing sense of self; it is through the complexities and contradictions of storymaking that we may try to converse and sympathize with our inner daemons.

After all, you cannot eat stories. Myths do not house us from the elements. Though each may provide the knowledge or inspiration to such ends, they are useless in and of themselves for the sake of survival.

Stories, more than anything else, allow us to cope – psychologically and emotionally – with the suffering that comes our way, and create abstract meaning for ourselves out of the path we are on.

All of this was true then, around the fire within the cave, and it is true now, couched before the dim light of a smartphone. Making meaning through story is innate to us. It is necessarily timeless.

As I said before, we exist within our own story, one we are continually writing as we continue to exist, out of necessity and whether we want to or not. Without the story, or equivalently, a sense of self, we don’t know who we are. Our mind, seemingly the source of everything that we are {i.e. “Cogito, ergo sum“}, forges the narratives which come to shape our lives.

~ I am — a son, a daughter, a sister, a brother, mother, father, walker, runner, fighter, lifer, laugher, leader, starter, ender, watcher, maker, reader, writer, storyteller, creator — a person. I think, therefore I am.

This narrative of our mind is yet another ambiguity, a shapeshifting contradiction. It goes and goes, with or without any heed to our intent. That is, it goes on creating these narratives without our help {automatically, instinctively, for the sake of surviving} or it can do so with it {mindfully, consciously, for the sake of thriving}. Inescapably, the mind lies to us. It filters, embellishes, extrapolates, predicts and perceives. It fills our conscious experience with thoughts and sensations we do not ask for or wish to carry on with. It misleads us and gifts us with physical and mental pain for no other purpose than for our body’s most relevant evolutionary end: survival. And it does so relentlessly, never really letting us rest until we go forth into periodic unconsciousness in the form of sleep. {Or psychosis. Or death…}

The shape of our thinking, the constant churn of our mind’s operation through life, is borne of a combination of experience and expectation. We grow up, we move forward, we learn. We develop desire. We want to eat, we want to rest, we want to fuck, we want security, we want a home, we want to be a part of the community, we want a higher position within it, we want to be loved, we want to be respected, we want to build something much greater than ourselves, we want to live forever, etc. Simply, throughout living, we experience pleasure and we want more of it; we experience pain and we want less of it. These amplifying, avaricious wants are the ‘problems’ Jung speaks of, the ones that creatures of instinct simply do not deal with in the same way. Unlike the beasts, we anticipate our wants, we create ever more complex ones, we originate nigh impossible visions of what our life might be like. We produce complexes for ourselves. We focus upon the imperfections of the now amidst idealized futures that we can imagine but cannot yet grasp.

All these problems can become better or worse, depending on our actions in conjunction with our thoughts, and the resulting conscious states we feed. These problems can lead unto the endgame of self-destruction, individually or collectively, quickly or slowly, consciously or unconsciously.

Through all this, the stories we create, whether it’s close to a type of Story 1 {Dream achieved!} or Story 2 {*suicide*}, or somewhere in between, are shaped by our experiences, our decisions, and our delegation upon the balance of our mind. We may decide to let our mind go its own chaotic way, or from time to time, wrest some manner of orderly control over it. The key point here is: we may decide. We can exert control over our consciousness. We can temper our desires, we can choose which among the maelstrom to go forth with, and how to do so. Our mind carries a capability to be an angel or a daemon, and we hold the key to each release.

The question pursued by the psychologist and the mystic: What may we do, in thinking or acting, to create better conscious states for ourselves? Or what kind of life eventualities may cause such kinds of reflection to put us down the beneficent path, through no intention of our own beforehand?

Through no initial desiring of our own, after we are Thrown into the world to live and breathe and try to thrive, and importantly, after our basic material necessities are taken care ofwhat is capable of changing our self-story?

Moonrise over the Sea – Caspar David Friedrich – 1822

A worldly one may discern that there are pair of reliable agents of change at our disposal, inevitably upon our path, ancient and time-honored, to serve transformations to our sense of conscious experience and these stories we tell ourselves:

1) tragedy {a dramatic, forceful, and personalized realization of pain / suffering / death / entropy upon our life};

2) mindfulness {deep introspection and reflection within yourself; a dispassionate observation of consciousness, the process of ordering our chaotic attention to the present moment of our life}.

Each of these experiences, in whichever form they may come into our lives, shake us from our apathy and make us consider the Truth. They humble and humanize us. One way or another, after their arrival and passage through our lives, conscious experience markedly changes. I think most people can agree on this. Both serve to broaden our perspective and empower us towards personal growth and transformation. Both types — being mindful of our time and experience, and our capacity for growth and love ~ AND ~ the way of response to the necessary tragedies of our existence — feature a dip into the tandem ponds of order and chaos.

The difference between these two agents, and their presence in our lives, comes with regard to the nature of our choices upon their advent:

Tragedy is inevitable, as unavoidable as our next breath; tragedy is a daemon that unconsciously awaits us upon our path one way or another, again and again; our choice comes in our attitude at its arrival and our response to its furious release into our experience;

{Tragedy example): the death of a loved one inspires one to start living and chasing dreams with heretofore unseen boldness; a grand conflict forces one or many to rise up to meet it; a loss of a faculty enhances all the others in its stead.}

Mindfulness itself is a choice; being in the solitude of our hearts and minds while being mindful of our time and our relationships, seeing the subjective quality of inner experience, reflecting on those yearning passions and the steady creation of our lives through a series of conscious states ~ It all requires continuous effort; it demands the compounding payments of time and attention. There are a series of conscious movements and choices within the flow of our existence. In this regard, mindfulness is a choice we make every moment of every day, as often as we take our breaths. Sometimes it is the only choice we can make. 

{Mindfulness example) — *do meditation* “my thoughts are just thoughts.” I am a mountain, and my thoughts are clouds changing my mind, changes my world changing my world, changes the world.”}

~ for a near perfect synthesis of the power of tragedy + mindfulness in a life, read Victor Frankl’s account of survival, hope, and self-transformation – Man’s Search For Meaning (1946)

It is perhaps without any remaining mystery at all, that both a sense of mindfulness and an experience of tragedy also make up arguably the most powerfully, viscerally meaningful foundations for artistry, creation, storytelling. And therein, wisdom.

All too often, art is produced via introspection and via conflict. After such profound inner and outer experiences, and changes in consciousness afforded one in their consideration, one can give a voice to their self and their story. Expression comes in books and paintings, song and dance, with body and with language. Articulation via art, and a tap into our truest self-expression in this way, enables our suffering to become beautiful – and meaningful – to us, and therefore more capable of being borne, for as long as we need to bear it. Through reflective and dramatic art-making, one relates their own personal story. In the special solitude of creative endeavor, we are trying desperately, passionately to communicate it as best we can, to find some form of catharsis. We live, we dream, we experience – mindfully, tragically. And in post, the demarcations of one’s experiences and transformations of consciousness along the way are painted upon their personalized canvas in some way.

To put it as dreadfully, finally poetic as possible ~ Through mindfulness of the tragedy of our existence, we turn our experiences into power.

“He who has a why to live can bear almost any how.
~ Friedrich Nietzsche

“When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.”
~ Victor Frankl, Man’s Search For Meaning

“Writing and reading decrease our sense of isolation. They deepen and widen and expand our sense of life: they feed the soul. When writers make us shake our heads with the exactness of their prose and their truths, and even make us laugh about ourselves or life, our buoyancy is restored. We are given a shot at dancing with, or at least clapping along with, the absurdity of life, instead of being squashed by it over and over again. It’s like singing on a boat during a terrible storm at sea. You can’t stop the raging storm, but singing can change the hearts and spirits of the people who are together on that ship.”
~ Anne Lamott

Stories conduct an understanding of our suffering in a meaningful way, towards a purposeful endgame. There is nothing more integral to our sense of well-being than a sense of purpose. And I would argue there is no better actor for the role of achieving this sense of purpose than the earnest experience of storytelling, whether as a cause or an effect, as artist or audience, writer or reader.

Shakyamuni Buddha – 18th century

Eastern spiritual traditions succinctly surmise that ‘life is suffering.’ This seems true, at first glance. A bit cynical, yet true nevertheless. Its truth comes in higher sense than most take the word to mean. In this proclamation, ‘suffering’ is not sheer pain, purely negative and without solace; it does not mean that ‘life is hell.’ Simply, it means that everything within life is impermanent and ever-changing, ambiguous and imperfect; it means that we, as human beings, will constantly embody this restless yearning to strive for more. And we will never get everything we want {we may get nothing that we want}, and yet we will still always want. Thus, suffering is this series of unrequited desires that we call life. We will experience this suffering as a matter of course, subjectively, in varying forms and degrees of intensity, all throughout our lives and our steps throughout the world, until we inevitably shed the mortal coil. From this perspective, we can understand life and suffering are one and the same.

From an augmented perspective, suffering is simply our base case, the mainline nature of our existence as mortal beings. As conscious creatures, wielding some semblance of real or imagined free will, we are able to change and transform. Or remain the same, in a stasis of endurable misery. Or be destroyed by our collected misbehaviors. And so, we are thus capable of going above or below this mainline, all the way to either ‘heaven or hell.’ Recall from mythology, that Man is seen as a culmination of angel and demon, God and the Devil. If yet imperfect, tempted, and capable of great good or evil, continuously so, we can choose our own fate.

From this philosophical standpoint, simply knowing all this — without question — means you can move on with your existence, both burdened and strangely unburdened with the knowledge in hand. From the right perspective, there is freedom in this proclamation of ‘life is suffering.’ Alternatively put: things will always be incomplete. Knowing we are mortal in this way does not at all indicate that it’s all foolish or doomed or meaningless. In fact, life not being suffering, or life being endless, might just become the hell we fear and we are just too small-minded to consider it. {Some say that Hell is simply getting exactly what you want.}

The Wheel of LifeTsuklakhang Chapel and Monastery

That being said, this burden might also bear its weight a little more harshly upon the shoulders of neurotic beings such as we. From a certain rationalist perspective, it’s not difficult to see why some might consider this crucial development of consciousness as a curse. Consciousness, seen from a wider, more wayward lense, is nothing but a ceaseless engine of suffering. Our existence is an inescapable fire, lighting us up and burning us without end {unless we snuff ourselves out, our cells stop regenerating, and we pass on}.

We are so aware of our singular self, so capable of imagining our pleasure {our Dream}, ourselves as somebody, that we feel the worst kinds of existential pain when we inevitably discover ourselves to be nobody. Here, from this hill, life is meaningless because we will inevitably die in the end, we will be forgotten, all of our trials and tribulations simply dust in the wind… And on top of that, it’s pure suffering all along the way due to our damned consciousness’ tendency to yearn for things in this unfair, endlessly threshing and ever-decaying world falling into entropy all the time. Clearly, life is hell, and there is no salve.

Perhaps consciousness was a tragic misstep in evolution. We should all just stop reproducing and walk hand in hand into extinction, one last midnight, brothers and sisters opting out of a raw deal. Maybe just maybe, Rust was right.

“Consciousness brings about uncertainty, which means multiple paths can be taken. This cultivates instinctual fear … And here we are beset by an all-too-human fear that consciousness — our Promethean conquest — may in the end not be able to serve us as well as nature.
~ Carl Jung

Satan Exulting over Eve – William Blake – 1795

Within the discourse of Eastern traditions, however, there is a kind of solution accompanying this incessant problem of suffering: an embrace of ‘nothingness,’ or Śūnyatā. It is a ‘solution’ in the form of a balanced, elevated perspective to engage with while sailing on this ambiguous and chaotic sea that we call life…

One could say everything happens in life — as individuals and as groups, internal and external of ourselves — upon this spectrum we keep seeing: at one end is chaos and at the other is order. Dark and light, moon and sun, feminine and masculine, ☯ Yin and Yang, the shadow and the self, the unconscious and conscious, death and life, evil and good, the finite and the infinite, the unknown and known, etc. Each of these aforementioned signifiers being merely the extremes, with a whole world of experience along the grey gradient in between them.

Naturally, let’s extremify it to the utmost absolutes anyway:

~ On one hand, we all will live and die in relative irrelevancy. All our experiences, all our struggles and triumphs will be forgotten to the sands of deep time. From a cosmic perspective, this is true even for the most extraordinarily noteworthy among us {i.e. Ozymandias}. Notwithstanding a beneficent, mortally concerned creator God and any kind of associated afterlife, the end will mean a return to the void from whence we came.

~ On the other hand, wielding our known transience here in the world, as conscious beings capable of change and transformation and love, means that everything we choose to do with our time is infinitely more meaningful. With this perspective, we are less cornered, moreso empowered. Mortality and impermanence, and the associated knowledge of our only possible endgame {💀}, means that we are equipped with the freedom to to create our own meaning. This is our greatest power as human beings —this power to create. And it comes entirely from the perspective of our self-awareness, and from a changing of the guard within our consciousness itself. It arises from an interesting and useful retelling of our story we keep telling ourselves. And its profound challenge enhances its power.

“Inanna and Ereshkigal, the two sisters, light and dark respectively, together represent, according to the antique manner of symbolization, the one goddess in two aspects; and their confrontation epitomizes the whole sense of the difficult road of trials. The hero, whether god or goddess, man or woman, the figure in a myth or the dreamer of a dream, discovers and assimilates his opposite (his own unsuspected self) either by swallowing it or by being swallowed. One by one the resistances are broken. He must put aside his pride, his virtue, beauty, and life, and bow or submit to the absolutely intolerable. Then he finds that he and his opposite are not of differing species, but one flesh.
~ Joseph Campbell, The Hero With A Thousand Faces.

Again, in the mode of Eastern tradition, this solution — the perspective of this balance — ultimately comes from melding these opposing forces together within us. We must try to order our chaos; we must live with death {“Amor Fati”}. It involves seeing these dualities — these opposites, ambiguities, contradictions — in your self and in others and in all things, as they truly are — as one. Everything is absolutely, indestructibly interconnected. The sooner we take on this perspective, the better off we are {Conclusion: “one is all, all is one}.

Simple, right?

Truly embracing nothingness, more aptly — no-thing-ness — as the Buddha eventually did under The Bodhi Tree in the story, means nothing short of achieving enlightenment. As one of Oneness, you face up with the sublime and draw from it. Summarily, this oneness means to embrace the amplifying chaos of the unconscious world alongside the bounded order of consciousness, no longer falsely identifying them as separations. It means to integrate one’s shadow, to bind together the light and darkness we observe and experience every day in a worthy way; it means to “annihilate the envelopment of consciousness and become one free of all fear, beyond the reach of change”; it means to become akin to God.


~ art by brocksart

Sure. Now we understand that “enlightenment,” in this sense, is aspirational. We are not destined to become immortal, divine beings {at least, it’s unlikely, or well beyond our mortal understanding}. Similar to a full self-actualization, it is something that a person might strive for, but never attain; the real value is in the striving, the betterment, and the process itself, all coming before any such outcome. In a commitment to trying to balance our perspective to the unconscious/conscious meld, and a sincere embrace of nothingness, we move forward in spite of ambiguity and impermanence and suffering. The movement is everything. We are to contemplate that enlightened state for ourselves and move towards it as best we can. The plan is imperfect, the gauntlet is full of seemingly insurmountable snags and obstacles, the actions are ever in need of adjustments and fine tuning. As soon as we start to move, everything changes. We observe and try to change with the world, modifying our movement to best alight us back to our chosen path. We are moving even when are standing still. As soon as we overcome one obstacle, achieve one triumph, another more challenging quarry arises to meet us. And all along the way, we are growing old, more or less effective over time, moving inevitably closer to the end of our lived opportunity.

All of it is happening imperfectly and inconsistently, with or without our will. This is the point of this balanced perspective, and the embrace of ambiguity — to understand simply that the movement is everything. Keep moving forward. Always.

The movement is the meaning; the striving is Oneness and not the Oneness itself; as opposed to the peak of the mountain, it is the climb.

A paradox. But a worthy one. Just like every other thing about our consciousness amidst the matter of this strange Universe we inhabit.

ParadisoGustave Dore

So wait, how best do we move? Where do we move? Why bother with any of this, these long-winded and complex and verbose and ultimately useless explorations and articulations upon the state of our mortality?

This is all good on paper, but really how do we endure the seemingly damning effects of impermanence? How do we go about continually ‘changing the guard’ of our consciousness, transforming it, bettering it, and expanding it to be able to best meld our conscious and unconscious dreams, ultimately readying it for even a single moment of this ‘enlightenment’, this Oneness we speak and Dream of? How does one make life … not suck?

I think we already know the answer. Or at least one of them, one of the many:

We move via introspection, via conversation, via community, via mindfulness, via drawing, via reading, via writing, via mythmaking, via knitting, via meditation, via running, via breathing, via cooperating, via building, via solidarity, via empowering oneself through tragedy, via ascending through hell, via triumphing over evil, via love, via self-expression, via sincerity and authenticity, via striving, via creation, via seeking our why, forevermore.

Via telling better and better stories.

Via living a better and better one.

Via crossing the threshold of transformation.

Via The Hero’s Journey.

Soria Moria – Theodor Kittelsen – (1857-1914)

It’s always your call which of these kinds of journeys you engage yourself upon. One must try and find which forms of movement call upon your precious, inner passions— your Dream. In this discovery comes a transformation of your story. From its telling, one’s consciousness changes, never to be the same again. And no matter our age, our place, our time — we can all undertake our hero’s journey. Something within us demands that we do so. We must bring our Inside to the Outside.

We must tell our story.

The endgame? Compassion. Change. Creation. Heroism.