In Progress, oil on board
Permanent marker and gold leaf on cardboard
In the coming weeks and months I am going to roll out a series of essays and stories about a topic that I believe is the key to a life well and authentically lived. I don’t believe that it has ever been explored in quite this way before, and my art and blog are dedicated to it. The three topics of Meaninglessness, Rebellion, and Joy are closely interlinked. Take a look at Joseph Campbell’s quote:
“And in this life-creative adventure the criterion of achievement will be… the courage to let go the past, with its truths, its goals, its dogmas of “meaning” and its gifts: to die to the world and to come to birth from within.” — Joseph Campbell, ‘The Masks of God, Volume IV’ page 678.
Campbell placed the word meaning in quotation marks. What a grand and understated nod to our central condition in this life! I want to expand on this for months, maybe years, but the gist of it is that meaning, that meaning which so consumes those who strive to live consciously, is not a foundation or a solid rock. Rather, it is more like a useful model of how to live here, and what to do to live well and truly. Meaning, so to speak, is a structure which gives form and impetus to a life. Obviously, a life without meaning is unbearable. Yet, meaning itself is not a thing. It does not exist as anything. There is no meaning or meaninglessness at all, unless someone chooses one or the other. In other words, the basis for the meaning of our lives is just a choice to have meaning in our lives. There is no deeper ground.
Now, I can hear the protests of the religious saying that the ultimate ground of meaning is God. Sure, I too believe in God. But God notwithstanding, it is still your choice to give meaning to God. God gave you the freedom to choose, but he did not give you meaning itself. It may very well be that the great abhorrence toward atheism and nihilism by the religious is nothing more than an unrecognized dread of this truth about meaning—that is, that it begins and ends with us alone. God or no, I must face the universe myself.
At birth and throughout life, everyone gets a package of ready-made meaning. Meaning is presented as something real, as truth. And generally, rebellion against the myth is not tolerated. Enter Rebellion and meaninglessness. To live truly, you must rebel. We are on a “life-creative adventure” and the chief achievement will be “the courage to let go the past with its truths… its dogmas of ‘meaning’”. The rebel is the one who sets out from the warm hearth of his inherited meaning. She ventures away from meaning and crosses through meaninglessness– “I walk through the valley of the shadow of death”. There are many wastelands, but this is the ultimate. It is also the one most worthy of being crossed. You must “…die to the world and come to birth from within”. So the rebel crosses the valley to new meaning, to truth and authentic life. That is the process: Rebellion, Meaninglessness, Joy.
In a certain country there lived a ruthless commander of the King’s army. This man had established a rigid law, and any infraction was punishable by death. Although the army lived in dread, their obedience and conformity led them to many victories. They moved and fought with one mind, like a school of fish darting here and there.
One day, it came to the commander’s attention that the enemy was hiding somewhere deep in the woods near the borders of his country. This news came to him from the sole survivor of a scouting party that had left a week before. “What happened to your comrades?” the commander asked. “Sir, we ran low on supplies and the others ate some large mushrooms that grew in the woods. I was ill and had no appetite. The mushrooms were poisonous and the others died.”
The next morning, the commander sent for his two best scouts, known for their loyalty and unquestioning obedience. He said to them, “This is my command: Find the location of the enemy. As I command you to survive, you must not eat the mushrooms that are in the forest.” With that, the two scouts ran into the woods.
After two weeks, the commander believed that the scouts had died like the others. However, one of them finally returned, looking exhausted and dirty.
“Tell me,” said the commander, “what happened and where is the other?”
“We went in different directions, but I soon got lost, and so, it appears, did my comrade. I found him lying dead in the field of mushrooms, his stomach bloated and flies on his face. As I had also run out of food, I too sat down and ate the mushrooms, and they kept me alive.”
The commander, who was inflexible in his law, ordered some other soldiers to take the scout over to the wall and execute him. Before putting the scout to death, the commander said to him,” You knew me to be ruthless and inflexible. Why did you break my rule?”
The scout looked up and replied,” I broke your rule in order to obey your ultimate command, which was to survive and locate the enemy. When I was a boy, I lived in the woods and my grandmother taught me which plants were poisonous, and which ones were good. Others died because they broke your rule. But because I broke your rule, I lived. Furthermore, the enemy lies in ambush on a bluff nineteen miles to the east”
The commander turned to his officers, “Untie this rebel and give him a commission. He will be second only to me.”
It’s two months today.
I hope to exceed 100 followers sometime today. I hope that’s good for two months in here. WordPress has been amazing. It gives us a vast, dynamic, and energetic community for sharing work and ideas. It’s so motivating to have an audience who can actually see and react to our work. I’m used to filling up sketchbooks and piling up paintings that hardly anyone will ever likely see. But here, I am excited every morning, work day, and evening to see what I can come up with that might vibe with someone. I have tacked away from painting for these two months because it is so fun to try to smash out a drawing every day, to see if my audience can grow.
I am part of the audience as well. Due to the competitive nature of WordPress, I find that I am exposed to ever more creative, engaging, informative, and up-to-the-second posts on anything that interests me. It stokes my imagination like a hurricane.
WordPress I love you. Thank you.
To those who have chosen to follow this blog, thank you for participating and I will do my best to make it worth your while.
To those I follow, thank you for you hard work and relentless creativity.
To everyone else, wow!