What follows is the second piece in an ongoing project I will add to with works in various formats that will combine into a coherent whole.
It will lay out a kind of “hero’s journey” for the modern age, in an ordered process, as well as tools needful for the way.
Whoever you are, I hope you find it useful.
If you’d like to support this endeavor directly or follow me on other platforms you can do so at the link below:
When I was young, I believed only in the concept of Might is Right- at the expense of many other things.
Perhaps might is right, as in, might is the final say in this world, but these days, I prefer the slogan that I’ve repeated many times:
“Those who have suffered understand suffering, and thereby extend their hand.”
The line comes from what seems an unusual place- the song “Rock N’ Roll N***er,” by seminal punk artist Patti Smith.
The full lyrics from that section of the song are as follows:
“Those who have suffered, understand suffering
And thereby extend their hand
The storm that brings harm
Also makes fertile
Blessed is the grass
And herb and the true thorn and light
I was lost in a valley of pleasure
I was lost in the infinite sea
I was lost, and measure for measure
Love spewed from the heart of me
I was lost, and the cost
And the cost didn’t matter to me
I was lost, and the cost
Was to be outside society”
These lyrics have spoken to me very strongly for a very long time. I find them beautiful, intense, and extremely moving.
There’s a lot of truth in them, and the feeling of being completely lost, destroying oneself in the pursuit of pleasure, drowning in the vastness of sorrow and lack of direction, with an immense amount of love to give, but no direction for it…
I can relate.
The final lines “I was lost- and the cost didn’t matter to me…and the cost was to be outside of society,” these spoke volumes as well.
I came to understand that in order to “find my way” I had to build an alternative to what the world offered me, but that if I did, I was signing my death warrant in normal society.
As I write this, I have been de-platformed many times from all popular social media, permanently banned from nearly every online payment processor there is, and shunned in many different circles by people who know that those who are different, those who espouse views and beliefs that don’t line up with the status quo, are the “n***ers” of the day.
I’m waiting for “blue check only” water fountains.
I am, of course, not comparing my “struggle” to that of black people, although in the context of the song, it’s easy to see what Patti was talking about, and the comparison she was trying to make.
(Don’t worry, she’s been targeted by the thought police in more recent years for writing the song at all, even though the message was one of attempted unity and understanding- the gatekeepers of this society don’t actually want any of that, thank you very much!)
The lines at the beginning are where I want to focus for this piece.
“Those who have suffered understand suffering and thereby extend their hand.”
(Perhaps “therefore” would’ve been more correct English, but correct English isn’t very punk rock, and that’s beside the point.)
The point is- compassion.
My earliest works were intensely flawed, as are the works of many young people, by a narrow viewpoint colored by an overfed ego and a wording style that was merciless, brutal, and cruel.
This was because at the time, I was all of those things, and in many ways, to myself more so than anyone around me.
Filled with self-loathing that overflowed and became a more general loathing that spread to everything I touched, everything I saw, everything that existed.
I had no forgiveness for myself, no compassion.
I had self-interest, self-aggrandizement and narcissism in spades, but these were all facades, and underneath was a very ugly interior, hiding weakness and uncertainty, insecurity and fear behind what I hoped was a more and more formidable exterior.
I am reminded of the line from the New Testament,
“…for ye are like unto whited sepulchres, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men’s bones, and of all uncleanness.”
I was lost, and I couldn’t understand at the time that the way forward was not to brutalize myself, but to first understand myself, to know that these issues were rooted in specific things, things that could be let go of, fixed, undone.
I believed their only antidote was merciless austerity and harsh living that, due to a lack of control, was punctuated by long periods of recklessness and self-destruction targeted like a nuclear weapon directly at the core of my being.
Surges of aimless rage and violent outbursts almost landed me in prison several times.
The rage would bleed out and be replaced by a despondency, a bleak despair so complete, seeming so endless, that I would feel strongly that self-annihilation was the correct choice.
I opted for demise by substance abuse and truly riotous living.
I almost died multiple times- two cardiac arrests and a few related ER visits before the age of 30.
It took me a long time, and I’m still learning, the wisdom of the line in Hesse’s “Siddhartha:”
“I will no longer mutilate and destroy myself in order to find a secret behind the ruins…”
I’m not saying this because I want you to feel sorry for me- there’s nothing to feel sorry for.
I’m saying it so that you can understand that I feel compassion for you.
I don’t care who you are, reading this.
I don’t care where you’re from, I really don’t care what color you are, or what your beliefs or politics might be.
I don’t even care if you despise me.
If you’re struggling that awful struggle with the hydra of meaninglessness, of despair, of anger, of self-destructive nihilism and existential dread- I feel for you.
I really do.
I know how hard it is, and I know how easy it is to fall into the losing side of that battle, to turn to substances, to crutches, to losing yourself in promiscuity, or whatever your poison of choice.
To feel only further emptiness, and disconnection.
But that ain’t the end- at least, it doesn’t have to be.
I hope that even if we don’t know one another, or can never be friends, or see eye to eye on everything, that you can still learn that compassion is one of the highest kinds of strength.
To build yourself up into a quiet and calm kind of strength for those in need of it- like a great unbreakable stone at the center of an apocalyptic storm, offering protection and refuge to weary wanderers.
To stop talking shit all the time, and feeding your own ego for external validation, and to help someone, instead- to understand suffering and thereby extend your hand.
I think we can save the world- one life at a time.
But what has to come first is compassion.
A destruction of the false and unhealthy ego;
A cessation of the constant criticism of everything around us to make ourselves seem bigger or better.
The fear of being seen as weak or soft for preaching a message of love instead of hatred.
Love for what we believe in, love for what we find beautiful, and meaningful, and truly worth building and preserving in this world, instead of just tearing everything down and leaving it all in rot and wreckage.
Love is loyalty. Love is honor. Love is meaning.
To believe in and practice this kind of love, to stick to your guns, to place the Truth and its preservation above your own…this is to be outside of society.
Our work must stem from this gratitude and love, or it will all come to ruinous end.
And finally, a disclaimer:
Compassion must be practiced intelligently.
Love must be practiced under will.
We don’t live in a just world, we just live in a world- and because of this, we must understand that not everyone is pursuing a righteous path.
There are many who will oppose us and try to do us harm while we set about our work.
We can still feel compassion and understanding for them as we rise up with a vengeance to protect ourselves against those who rise up against us, and look to destroy us.
The golden rule is a beautiful ideal, but in a world of lead, it is sometimes akin a bridge over treacherous water- once one side is burned or broken, it no longer serves its purpose, and trying to cross over from our end is a fool’s errand that will lead to dangerous results.
Let us proceed with compassion…but compassion that is tempered by awareness and worldly wisdom.
Let’s be outside of society.
“They’re waitin’ for me…”
Thanks for reading. I hope if you enjoyed this, or found it valuable, you’ll consider sharing it with others.