Good evening. I’m your host, Malachi Constant, and our guest this evening is once again Professor Ludwig von Helsing, noted author of such scholarly works as “Must Have Used The Wrong Hat!”
Welcome back, Professor.
Professor von Helsing: Good evening.
MC: Last time, you made a rather broad statement, which I was hoping you could delve into a little deeper. I quote:
“Our culture, our belief systems, all of our illusions about the nature of reality serve the purpose of relieving or masking our fear.”
PVH: The problem of a self-conscious mortal being is that sooner than later a certain question begs an answer: “Why was I born, only to die?” At this point we run headlong into what I consider to be the primary illusion–the idea of “purpose”.
We choose to believe that there is a “reason” for our lives. In other words, that our lives have meaning that transcends our actual time on Earth.
Even when we are unable to articulate or settle on a reason, this feeling is universal at some point in our lives. We can accept that the meaning is a mystery, but still we cling to the belief that there is a meaning. It is a direct response to our mortality. And so of course it tends to underlie our myths.
MC: But wouldn’t the Self be the primary illusion?
PVH: The Self is a Mystery to me. There have been many great writers on the subject–for what it’s worth. All I can say is that the internal dialogue apparently springs up unbidden in self-aware beings. That voice serves as the mediator between that being and the world–in that sense, the Self, the subject of the stories endlessly repeated by the internal dialogue, is a tool. One that quickly becomes quite literally indispensable. One of the testable hypotheses of sorcery is that we as humans don’t need the Self to function.
MC: Yet for most of us, our functioning revolves entirely around the Self.
PVH: I would say that the Self is the user of illusion. I don’t think that fear belongs exclusively to the Self, but that it is the Self which embraces illusion to deal with fear. If we can transcend the Self, we won’t need illusion. Conversely, if we lose our illusions, the Self loses its hold over us.
MC: How does one transcend the self? Are we talking Zen?
PVH: We are saying that the Self is not to be destroyed, but tamed. To transcend is to include and enlarge. The exceptionally aware being has all the benefits of the Self while avoiding its pitfalls. They are more than the Self. Not because they believe in some hopeful construct like the “immortal soul.” Because they are in perceptual contact with other aspects of their being.
MC: Does anybody escape the primary illusion? Are we all too cowardly to accept the possibility that our lives have no meaning?
PVH: I think most people become aware of Death fairly early in life, at a time when one is dependent and unsure of one’s own powers. So perhaps it is understandable that we seek to alleviate our anxiety.
MC: But we eventually grow up. Now that I’m real big, should I face up to my illusions?
PVH: To be sure, but as we discussed last time, gathering the courage required to dispense with the primary illusion is easier said than done. And only our core assumption that we would rather be aware than deluded justifies the effort. Pragmatically, what occurs in humankind of course is a multi-shaded spectrum of states of awareness. Still, the commonest response to the primary illusion, however aware one might be, is to align oneself to a myth.
MC: But shouldn’t we strive to live “authentic” lives? Isn’t living a myth like living a lie?
PVH: If we can in fact attain a given meaning, we make that meaning authentic. Truly living a myth is an authentic life. By “myth” I mean the stories upon which we base our meanings. The meanings we seek will perforce affect the things we do to attain those meanings. In the process of acquiring meaning, we structure our lives around the beliefs and ideas embodied by our myths. We amalgamate our myths into an internally consistent worldview. Any inconsistencies are glossed over through illusion. This larger mythology, our worldview, dictates our lifestyle.
MC: The artists, the creative, spin their own myths. The rest of mankind relies on the myths created by others.
PVH: Myth is an emergent property of humankind. That is, no single author is necessary — the unconscious agreements humankind makes spawn myth. But the primary myth is the myth of Meaning.
The story goes:
“Once upon a time I was born. At first I didn’t know why. I decided to find out. Then I found out.” Anyone who doesn’t believe that they have successfully lived this myth, or can’t feel themselves to be in the process of living it, is most probably in rather desperate circumstances. Meaninglessness can be deadly. This is so even though it also leads to freedom. It is a state for warriors.
MC: Let me ask you about that. A lot of our New Age friends find that term unfortunate, even overly macho.
PVH: Perhaps that’s true in their stories. But warriors fight by seeking discipline. They don’t fight others. In the myth of the warrior, Death is not the enemy, the predatory nature of the universe is not the enemy. These things are energetic facts, irreducible. We certainly can’t make them go away. There is no honest way to deny them or even affect them much. Warriors use these energetic facts as worthy opponents, in order to hone themselves, much as a boxer uses a sparring partner to get ready for the real bout. A warrior is a being at war with what can be usefully affected–oneself.
MC: How does a warrior fight that war? For instance, how do warriors deal with the predatory nature of the Universe?
PVH: By making themselves unavailable as prey.
MC: Well, yeah, Doc, you can’t hit what you can’t see. But like an old girlfriend told me, “Saying it doesn’t make it so.” How does one become unavailable?
PVH: By realizing that we can’t afford mistakes. The myth of the warrior rests on three inter-related propositions. The world is a mystery–we don’t know what’s going on. The mystery is unfathomable–we will never know. We are compelled to unravel that mystery nonetheless–we search for meaning even though we wouldn’t know meaning if we saw it.
MC: In other words, we are in a deadly dangerous Universe without a clue about how to proceed.
PVH: We are blind guessing. How can basing one’s life upon guessing be anything but ineffective? It’s absolute folly. But if folly is our only avenue, this suggests that to become as effective as possible one must examine any particular folly in order to decide whether engaging in it is the best one can do.
MC: Warriors aim to make their best guess….
PVH: Yes. So warriors do their bests to make themselves unavailable to all of the various catastrophes that can befall humankind. This does not guarantee that they will succeed, nor does it mean that doing one’s best has any intrinsic value in our hopeless situation. But the basic value judgment that we began with, our choice to be aware, leaves us with no other strategy than doing our best. To do less is to abandon our decision. Warriors must earn their status as exceptionally aware beings. They strive ceaselessly to be as aware as possible.
MC: So the myth of the warrior is that we are put here to be as aware as we can be?
PVH: The warriors’ way of life is to enhance awareness as far as possible, to fight to be an exceptionally aware being. “Why” warriors should be compelled to do so will always be a mystery. All a warrior can do is accept their task by practicing controlled folly, the art of doing one’s best.
MC: In other words, we must choose our illusions. Which brings me back to my original question—how do mankind’s illusions help us deal with our fear?
PVH: Well, again, the commonest response to our fear of death is the primary illusion that our lives have transcendent meaning. The myth of Meaning, the belief that such meaning can be found, is only the first of many based upon that illusion. It permeates the entire mythology of the vast majority of humankind. Therefore I would rephrase your question, and ask: “How does the mythology of modern man relate to the primary illusion?”
MC: Aren’t all of our myths based on the need to believe that our lives have meaning?
PVH: All of the most common are. The myth of Romantic Love, of Sexual Freedom, of Religious Salvation, of Material Power, of Hedonism–all have one striking thing in common. They are all predicated on the intrinsic value of the Self. The lover finds the one person “made just for me”. The sexual libertine believes that their personal sexual expression transcends the biological basis of sexuality. The pious believe that the Divine has a personal interest in their individual fate. The greedy believe that they deserve more than others. The hedonist finds their personal pleasure more important than anything else.
MC: It’s all about “me”…are there any myths which are not “Selfish”?
PVH: Well, Malachi, that is the question, isn’t it? Any answer one might give, I fear, would be fraught with semantic peril. After all, if we are not “the Self”, what are we? Isn’t it only natural that we should be concerned with whatever that is? Yes, replies the exceptionally aware being, but our value judgment reflects our conviction that we must deal with our existence honestly, in full awareness, not delusion. This leads us directly to the myth of the Warrior, because that myth is not about denial but transformation through responsibility.
MC: Could you briefly summarize the myth of the Warrior?
PVH: An absurdly simplistic telling of that story is this: “Once I was a Self-centered human being. Then I made a decision to take total responsibility for my life. So I found my true self.”
MC: Unfortunately, Professor, we are almost out of time for this week’s program. But could you quickly describe the true self?
PVH: Well, Malachi, realizing the true self basically amounts to dropping the illusion that we are the Self. We are more than that, part of something much larger and all-inclusive. We are not human beings experiencing the world. We are the world experiencing being humans.