Famous Zen monk Takuan Soho said in his book: “The Unfettered Mind:”
“If you follow the present-day world, you will turn your back on the Way; if you would not turn your back on the Way, do not follow the world.”
Much like other religious texts that talk about “the world,” Takuan is not talking about civilization or the planet itself, but rather “that which is of the world.”
In our present era, this means things like trends, politics, news media, pop culture, the shifting goal-posts of what is currently acceptable, or labeled “wrongthink,” and so on.
This presents us with a unique challenge- that is, we must exist *in* this world, while remaining apart *from* the world on a mental and spiritual level.
How are we to exist within this place, the illusory confines of the internet and mass-media, the street level hysteria that every flashing screen tries to inject into our veins every minute of the day we spend surrounded by this teeming, confusing global culture?
How do we maintain our separation, our values and our codes of conduct without running off to a cave in the hills?
The solution I present is an alchemical mixture of three things:
Compassion. Fortitude. Forest Passage.
First, when I say “compassion,” a word which I used with venom in my younger years, I don’t simply mean some kind of “turning the cheek,” allowing others to scornfully or abusively treat you while you exercise “universal love.”
I mean understanding of others in a way that allows you to grasp their suffering, their anger, their bitterness, even their ignorance- and to identify with it in a way that makes it both personal and impersonal at once.
To be able to relate to them, even if you wholly disagree with them. To forgive them, even, for their standpoints or what you perceive as their failings, is to release your grasp on the situation as a personal attack on you.
It calms you. It makes you understand that not everything must elicit an emotional response from you- and through learning compassion, you can then be something else: Impassive.
They say that a great deal of fear and emotion comes from man’s reaction to the unknown. To have compassion is to make all human behavior relatable, and to be able to grasp the “why,” of it.
When we understand something, we are released from fear and emotion toward it, and we can act impassively, tactically, rationally.
I have also been surprised many, many times in my life when compassion turned the tide of a disagreement, or even an individual’s life.
By feeling understood or heard, the fire went out of their emotional aggression.
I have seen people change their whole life from compassion, but not often from violence or anger.
We must understand that this life has scarred, damaged, injured and twisted many of the people in it, and likely, ourselves as well in some way.
From this place, we can operate with our values intact and our hearts correct, rather than from malice and fear.
Second, we must have fortitude.
The dictionary defines this as “courage in pain or adversity.”
Courage is the product not of a lack of fear, but a mastery of self. An overcoming of the fear is not the same as an eradication of it.
It has been said by many that bravery and courage first require that one is afraid- from there, only, can they show bravery.
Fortitude comes from the same root as the word “fortress.”
In the face of the world’s many, many poisons, our walls must be strong, and protect those who take shelter behind our fortitude- but how do we remain like castle walls against the constant siege this world puts against us?
We cultivate fortitude by resistance. Every time we choose the right thing- every time we choose loyalty over betrayal, honesty over falsehood, strength over weakness, we place another stone in our walls.
We mortar them together with action through adversity. Every strong thing in this world is forged by time, tension, pressure, and resistance.
Every day, we are provided ample training grounds to increase our fortitude. Adopting, in some cases a harsh “just say no” approach to anything not in line with our personal codes of morals and conduct- we will resist, and we will strengthen.
In some cases, we will face much more trying situations. We may be asked to betray friends and loved ones in various ways.
We may be asked to sacrifice integrity for money.
We may be asked to sacrifice our beliefs for freedom.
It is in these moments we will find out if we are courageous, if we have fortitude, or are merely a crumbling wall, long neglected, forgotten by time.
Third, the Forest Passage.
Junger’s concept of this in his wonderful book of the same title shows us that his archetype of the “Forest Rebel” is not an escapist- overwhelmed by the world into abandoning it.
Instead, he is someone who becomes free in a world of bondage simply by maintaining his awareness of resistance, his ability to continue resisting, and his connection to a mythic narrative that drives his actions and fills them with meaning.
For me, the community itself is this Forest Passage, also.
The legendary cadre of rebels and guerillas, finding companionship, strength, and meaning in their shared resistance and unflinching brotherhood.
Building community is critical in order that our social capital be issued from the correct place- by peers who share our Weltanschauung, rather than having to “correct” ourselves to be proper citizens of Empire with all the empty benefits therefrom.
I used to say, and have tattooed on my body: FUCK THE WORLD.
My vision has been tempered by age, by sorrow, by love, by the strength and continued inspiration of a life that I have attempted to live mythically, full-heartedly, without regret or holding back.
I’ve left nothing in the tank for “later,” so here’s my advice to you now:
Do not be broken by this world.
Do not be embittered by it.
Do not allow its poison and ugliness to make you poisoned and ugly yourself, nor its lies to make you abandon the Truth.
Resist its illusions and cruelties, its brutalities and injustices.
Be strengthened by it, and strengthen others in turn.
Finally, do not abandon the world- it needs you.
BRAVE THE WORLD, instead.