Who Do You Want to Be?
An actor recently wrote me seeking advice. He explained that he was absolutely determined to break through in his field — but he found himself harboring a great deal of resentment toward casting directors and others whom he felt had unfairly passed him over. From the perspective of effective thought and action, he wondered what to do. Should he “let go” of his hard feelings?
Frankly, I’m unsure whether any of us fully “let go” of anything. I told him that rather than pursue that elusive and perhaps unnatural goal, he might instead use their rejection as a goad to aim higher. I recounted the story of mystic Neville Goddard (1905–1972) who described journeying from his island home of Barbados at age seventeen to study drama in New York City. On the first day of class, a cruel teacher made Neville “the goat” and, alluding to the newcomer’s British-Barbadian accent, pointed him out as one “who would never earn a living using his voice.”
“But she didn’t know the kind of man she was dealing with,” Neville recalled. He used the humiliation not only to train his voice — which is now among the most memorable and mellifluous in twentieth-century spiritual oration — but he also went on to a career as a writer and mystic who influenced figures ranging from Carlos Castaneda to major-league pitcher Barry Zito. Today, Neville is posthumously becoming one of the most respected and widely followed figures on the alternative spiritual scene.
Forgiveness is important to manage relations with people close to us. Forgiveness should never be asked for; it is something that only the injured party can give. But forgiveness, acceptance, or “letting go,” as virtues, can also feel distant and unnatural. Indeed, an equally — or perhaps more — productive form of response is to use the harm suffered as a springboard to higher self-expression.
This is exactly what the figure of Satan does in early chapters of Milton’s Paradise Lost — and these passages reflect not only some of the most enthralling portraits of psychological self-determination in history, but, somewhat uncomfortably, also suggest a higher, more noble, and better way to live; a way toward which many of us may feel drawn but are also squeamish to acknowledge.
Consider: Milton’s Dark Lord neither bows his head in humility, crumples into defeat, or sets himself the task of regaining his former Master’s favor. Rather, he declares famously from his underground throne:
Here we may reign secure, and in my choice
To reign is worth ambition though in Hell:
Better to reign in Hell, then serve in Heav’n.
In summoning and reviving his defeated troops — those angels who joined him battling what is considered an overbearing and conformity-demanding God — Lucifer encourages extreme self-reliance:
The mind is its own place, and in it self
Can make a Heav’n of Hell, a Hell of Heav’n.
Satan’s unvanquished angels heed him. In a historically under-appreciated passage, the demon Mammon states:
To whom we hate. Let us not then pursue
By force impossible, by leave obtain’d
Unacceptable, though in Heav’n, our state
Of splendid vassalage, but rather seek
Our own good from our selves, and from our own
Life to our selves, though in this vast recess,
Free, and to none accountable, preferring
Hard liberty before the easy yoke
I am friends with a widely known political operative who recently suffered a public defeat. I was unsure what to tell him, until the words came to me in an email: “Hard liberty before the easy yoke.” My arrow seemed to find its mark. He replied: “Dude!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!”
One time I was telling a friend of mine, a thoughtful student of the teachings of mystic Edgar Cayce, that I felt my writing career was stalled — I was supplying free or near-free copy for a bevy of middling New Age magazines, which weren’t featuring my stories prominently. Rather than mew to me about non-attachment, he stated simply: “It sounds like you need to be writing for better magazines.” I could have replied: “Dude!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!” (But, not being a high school classmate of Brett Kavanaugh’s, I demurred.) Rather, I acted on his advice, and in years immediately ahead I had bylines in places including The New York Times, The Washington Post, and The Wall Street Journal. Not outlets noted as founts of occult passion.
Whenever you feel thwarted, assailed, or overlooked, maybe the way to the “high road” is through what is traditionally considered the “low” — in other words, be defiant, driven, unbowed, and purposeful. Consider the possibility that it really is “better to reign in Hell,” or least capture what you can learn from the ideal.