Recently I feel I have lost the sense of leading my own life. It feels more like life has been leading me. I have been feeling weighed down by the weight of it all: what a gigantic task it is to try to influence the world even a little bit; how hard it is to sort out my emotions enough so they don’t end up pushing me into the rabbit hole of running away from it all (playing Diablo III, online chess, or just sleeping…); feeling the weight of missed potential in previous years; feeling the weight of envy of others who are doing great things or producing beautiful things; feeling weighed down by not having an active lifestyle – spending most of my days in front of a computer indoors or sitting in a car.
But the hard truth underneath it all is that it is only myself who is responsible for lacking the sense of leading my own life. One of the things I have learnt from doing therapy is that it is me who has to get on top of my own challenges. You go to therapy hoping deep down that the therapist will save you, or improve you, but the big lesson you learn is that it is just down to you (you and your relationship to your own emotions, the non-conscious parts of you, and to the true good and beautiful things that inspire you in the world). The therapist can do some helpful things but they are only ever on the sidelines to your own life – your own soul – like everyone else is.
There is a line from Jay Z in the awesome song Renegade: ‘Raising my fingers to critics, raising my head to the sky’. The first part of this to treat status as a tool and a motivator, not the highest good or something which beats us down. To get started on anything, and to keep going, we have to give an inner ‘fuck you’ to critics and everything that might weigh us down. The second part is to keep our eyes fixed on what is truly inspiring and good: an ideal that is worth fighting for. If you can keep focus on what you would really like to bring about in the world, and what really is worth loving, you can group all rest of life together into one category – the negative voices, fears that are groundless or out of proportion, even disasters – and see it for what it is: noise.
First we have to clear away everything that is weighing us down, to make space for the desire: the pull towards something. Then we have to find hope: the pull towards something, plus the sense the one might actually get there. And how do we know we might actually get there? We have to see that what is ‘realistic’ is different from what is ‘normal’. It is normal to be stuck by our own emotions, to let our time and energy be sucked up by the capitalist machine, to forget what matters, what is heroic and inspiring, and just let life tick by day to day. We shouldn’t feel bad that much of life gets spent like this. It is normal, because we are not divine beings, we are humans. But we shouldn’t let his reduce our sense of what is realistic. Plato spent a lot of time playing the equivalent of checkers in the town square. St Augustine got constantly distracted and found himself lying around feeling down a lot of the time. Marcus Aurelius wrote about his constant struggle to get out of bed in the morning. And the Romantic poets or the Bloomsbury Group were just a few people trying to use the most popular media of their day to influence how people thought, and ended up shaping much of the modern world.
It is realistic for society to shift dramatically and for us to have a significant influence over this. It is realistic for a person to gain self-knowledge and confidence, to make use of the ‘wasted’ time and transmute it into valuable creations and action. This time is a period in history too, where the fate and potential of things hangs in the balance. It is realistic for heroic and glorious things to happen, even though we might not call them that, and they may rarely feel like that from the inside.