Every now and then, as anyone who reads here a lot knows, I wander totally off the asana train and write wandering wanna-be-philosophical entries, kind of like those some ashtangis we know do, but always with less focus. Here goes.
In 2000, I taught a course on the Hollywood Blacklist. I think it was Lester Cole's book HOLLYWOOD RED that bore an epigraph from Virgil, translated into English as, "If I cannot get into Heaven, then I will raise Hell." I liked it on contact; I liked the flavor, the defiance, the promise of power. That epigraph has cycled around in my (sub) conscious for years, and recently it showed up again, and a Google search revealed that in its native Latin, it's actually much, much more famous as the epigraphic opening of Freud's INTERPRETATION OF DREAMS. So be it.
I like it related to the Blacklist, better. It seems more defiant there. The Latin is variously translated by various people (as anything is) but as written, it reads FLECTERE SI NEQUEO SUPEROS ACHERONTA MOVEBO, which I think is probably accurately rendered in English as, "If I cannot bend the Higher Powers, I will move the Infernal Regions." The flavor, however, which echoes with a whole set of archetypes I adore, is "if I cannot get an audience with those in charge, I will set the world on fire."
This echoes all through the "man with no name" empowering archetypes that I hold, in a self-aware degree, sacred. Robert Ray called this same type--and we see it everywhere, from westerns to DIE HARD to "Episode IV" of STAR WARS--the "outlaw hero." American pop culture LOVES its outlaw heroes--it would be easier to name those heroes who are NOT outlaws, than it would be to give examples. I'm serious when I say this is omnipresent: Buffy the Vampire Slayer, ALL "renegade cops" from screens big and small, ALL western "men with no names," virtually all Bruce Willis roles, virtually all Harrison Ford roles, ALL Eastwood roles, Marilyn Manson, Perry Farrell's stage persona, the refusal of "shoegaze" bands to acknowledge audience, on and on and on and on and on. A billion examples.
The outlaw hero is the solo rebel, walking that crusty desert earth of PARIS TEXAS. His soundtrack is Ry Cooder. His past is painful and his music is blues. His skills are the result of long focus and interminable desire. Tapas is his mark. He is on a quest, always. Obstacle-mounting is his nature, his very task. If he has no obstacles, they appear for him. Warriorship is the core of him. He is oddly in line with natural forces and deities. Thunder announces his arrival. His victory is always, always assured.
And yet none of this exists except in the archetype and the old stories. This guy is ink on the page. We know this, but still, we feel his footsteps in our muscles, we sense him, the same way we can feel blood move inside us when we're quiet enough to get in there. What is this about?
I think it's empowering futility; I think it's a way to see the divine, without having to surrender everything, without having to just spontaneously be naked before the impossible. No one can pull that without some kind of wrapping curtain to gradually surrender. Even the dancing goddess has seven veils. And so it isn't a being, it isn't about achieving victory and conquest.
But it also isn't about surrendering the conquering persona at "the end," that's a weak version of any mythology. If your hero-dom is something you can just take off like a bathrobe, you were never a hero. If you don't have to be killed, you're not heroic. Cuchullain doesn't disappear into the ether, he FIGHTS THE WAVES UNTIL THEY TAKE HIM. That, my friends, is hero-dom; that is what it is, and what it does. Harry Dean Stanton can NEVER stop driving off into that horizon, or walking that desert. Eastwood can NEVER cease to ride off into the sunset, run out of money, and have to conquer again.
All of this is theater; you don't vanquish the role when you're doing playing it, you leave it there until someone ELSE plays it. If it worked any other way, there could only ever have been ONE performance of HAMLET. And you'd die in real time at the end and then no one could ever perform it again. It would be like the "funniest joke" gag from Monty Python. Sure, you can read it, but it'll kill ya.
No, you leave the tools for someone ELSE when you're done. This isn't about human nature because there IS no human nature. Nicolai Evreinov said that back in the twenties, in his big play, "The Main Thing." And postmodernists think they invented performativity--hah!
WE ALREADY KNOW there's nothing but futility--but I can't LIVE KNOWING THAT, can you? I can't stare that down. And so I seize power at a galactic level, I wrap myself in mythologies and heroes and I fight everyone, everything. I go to freaking WAR on life. But it ISN'T war on life, it's the PLAY of war on life.
How does inner peace come? Through DEFEAT. Very importantly: NOT through surrender, but through DEFEAT. I could NOT make it up that 5.11d a few years ago, and I fought it with all of my intelligence, strength and proprioception. And when I'd sweated it out and taken that fucker on EVERY WAY I COULD, every freakin' way I could even THINK OF, I sat down on the floor mats, looked at it, laughed and realized the truth.
It's fucked up, to want to be killed every day, but that's what it is to REALLY achieve peace. Life as FIGHT CLUB (but only in its underground introspective phase, not in its public fascist phase).
There are a lot of ways to do what I've just described, the wrong way. Wrong meaning in a way that's backwards, ineffective:
1. The outlaw hero is NOT there to reinforce your ego. If you're not killed, you've lost your own game.
2. All the power you gain and discover--and there will be a lot of it--is for GREATER challenges, NEVER, NEVER EVER EVER, TO KEEP.
3. FIND your DEEPEST POSSIBLE levels of defeat. Actually TRY to be AS DEFEATED AS POSSIBLE, as DEEPLY as possible.
4. This has nothing to do with humiliation, surrender or negotiation. In this universe there are ONLY two things: VICTORY AND DEFEAT.
5. This WHOLE GAME is only for living OUTSIDE the present. In moments of non-dualism (on a climbing wall, a yoga mat, in bed or elsewhere (and yes, I just said that; do you need a lesson on those moments of non-dualism?)), this game SUSPENDS.
6. At ALL OTHER MOMENTS, this quest is on. Doctor's offices, road trips, writing papers, public speaking, ALL other moments. Cultivate your outlaw quest ALL THE TIME. There is no break from this theater; this show's run NEVER stops.
The birth of my child confused me because it took, from my schedule, much of my time to engage in "warfare," on climbing walls, on the mat, and in bed and other places. It didn't, as I first thought, assault me personally, my sense of myself; it took my PLAY TIME away. Took away my time to, quite literally, PRACTICE.
But the quest started to oddly re-manifest in activities like washing dishes or bottles, in driving to-and-from daycare, in being able to successfully hug (or not) the partner. The levels turned down--got householdier, less sweaty and endorphin-laden--but the game maintained. If I can read a few pages of a book before the child wakes, WIN! That sort of thing.
I've been trying to go 6-a-week in asana practice since he was born and I've failed, EVERY single week. For almost seven months now. And that's fine. It annoys me, but it's OK. I'm very keenly cued to my own failures now. Failures to regularly practice, failures to put him down successfully, failures to hear him at night sometimes, failures to get him early from daycare because I'm working on stuff, and a thousand other miniature household failures. I'm surrounded with them every day. And gradually I'm understanding that they ARE life. In life, one fails. That's what life is.
In householding, I don't HAVE to crave defeat and go looking in the hills for it. I'm defeated REGULARLY, sometimes several times a day. And as the partner does not cease to remind me, there are always more dishes to do, laundry to put in, and so forth. These challenges will outlive me. There are days when I quite literally see my own death as I wash a glass in the sink. I don't think she has ANY IDEA at all how my game works where this is all concerned.
I'm getting more comfortable with this less-mythical and thus less-protected look at mortality, but I really crave my nice cozy warrior sheath back. It is, as I said above, HARD to stare this down.
And it's funny and ironic: she was seeing life lived "under a bridge alone" before the kid was born, and now that he's born, I'm the one having the death trip. She's got comfort and I have moved significantly closer to staring Kali in the face than I was before. That's hilarious.
But in seeing the quest even in householding, finally the big binary between the two (let's call it play vs. work, for ease, even though that's ridiculous) falls, and that's really refreshing. Doesn't mean I don't want my play back, but I see continuity now, and that greatly reduces the pain.