“It's tragic how few people ever possess their souls before they die. Nothing is more rare in any man, than an act of his own. It is quite true. Most people are other people.” ~Oscar Wilde
Don’t be an automaton. Be autonomous. Don’t allow yourself to remain a fear-filled creature hiding in a fear-based culture. Ram the gates. Seize the night. Take a leap of courage. Choose a courage-based lifestyle.
The conveyer belt of life won’t stop for you. It will keep churning. It will keep forcing you toward oblivion. The void is everywhere. It is behind you, mincing pre-existence with random persistence. It is ahead of you, mocking your short life. It is beside you in the form of Death whispering in your ear. It is inside you in the form of your shadow bobbing and weaving in and out of repression. You are drowning in it, in time-crushing gasps of “this is real” “this is true” “this is life.”
But “real” “true” and “life” are illusory at best and delusions at worst. The only sound strategy is to double down on “I don’t know” and see what happens. Yank tragedy from the jaws of comedy and create mastery. With enough honesty, humility, and humor, you just might achieve the uncommon ability to take possession of your soul despite the soul-possessed world that outflanks you.
Step 1: Destroy your illusions
“Sometimes people don't want to hear the truth because they don't want their illusions destroyed.” ~Nietzsche
In the delusion-generator that us the human mind, there is no more effective way to stay ahead of the curve than by destroying your cherished beliefs. Be ruthless. Be fierce. Be daring. Your Self, which holds your Soul, is buried beneath heavy layers of cultural, political, and religious dross. It’s hidden inside the trash heap of cultural conditioning. It’s guarded by comfort, placation, ignorance, and cognitive dissonance.
But the Infinite has no time for such finite games. Pettiness is too heavy of a weight for soul-caliber recalibrations. Get out in front of the game by playing the infinite game instead. Recondition your conditioning. It’s time to usurp thrones. It’s time to topple empires. It’s time to murder Gods. Only you can do it, for you. Nobody else can do it, for you.
It’s all a song and dance, and you’re both the singer and the dancer. It’s all a cartoon in the brain, and you’re both the artist and the thinker. It’s time to out-sing yourself. It’s time to out-dance yourself. It’s time to create art outside your comfort zone. It’s time to think outside the box. And it is high time that you do it and not just say it.
You are a fallible creature perceiving an infinite reality using finite faculties. Own it. Honor it. Respect it. You think you know, but you do not know. The sooner you can admit that you do not know the sooner you can begin the difficult task of knowing more of what you can never know.
As Gustave Flaubert said, “The more you approach infinity, the deeper you penetrate terror.” Indeed. The quicker you can get to the terror, the sooner you can integrate it and make it a part of you (courage) instead of allowing it to be separate from you (fear).
Get out there. Stay ahead of the almighty conveyer belt. Destroy your illusions.
Step 2: Inflict yourself with philosophy
“Philosophical thinking that doesn’t do violence to one’s settled mind is no philosophical thinking at all.” –Rebecca Goldstein
If you want to continually remain ahead of the curve and become the sole owner of your soul, there is no better method than self-inflicted philosophy.
Self-inflicted philosophy is a discipline of persistent self-interrogation. You “inflict” philosophy on yourself to break through your barriers, biases, cognitive dissonance, cultural conditioning, political brainwashing, religious indoctrination, and, most of all, to stretch your comfort zone.
With self-inflicted philosophy you are armed with a question mark sword. This sword symbolically slices through all perceived truth. Nothing is off limits from its cut. As Hattori Hanzo said in Kill Bill, “If on your journey, you should encounter God, God will be cut!”
But this is no walk in the park. Self-inflicted philosophy can be existentially painful. It hurts to cut through what you imagine is true. But it unearths the mystery from the misery. It even gets out in front of mastery by planting curious minefields in the mind field of certainty.
When you inflict yourself with philosophy you are one-upping your fragile ego with your antifragile soul. In the throes of self-infliction there is no place for self-preservation, only self-overcoming. Laurels are wasted on the philosopher who challenges him/herself to next-level heights of conscious awareness.
Where the ego wants certainty, the soul craves curiosity. Rather than certainty, self-inflicted philosophy instills curiosity. Better to remain curious rather than certain. For certainty only bolsters the fragile ego. Certainty builds walls around the ego’s codependence. Certainty buttresses comfort zones. It reinforces boundaries and bolts down the horizon.
Curiosity, on the other hand, transforms boundaries into horizons. It unleashes the ego. It lets the soul breathe. It keeps the otherwise existentially lazy human animal on its toes. Rather than stopgap religions it offers opensource spirituality. Rather than fragile one-dimensionality it offers antifragile multi-dimensionality. Rather than the illusion of surefire certainty it offers flexible yet fiery uncertainty.
Curiosity is the cure for certainty. It cleanses the slate of self-seriousness. It cleans the plate of overindulgence. It rinses the ego if itself and unleashes the soul.
Step 3: Create a new order of things
“There is nothing more difficult to take in hand, more perilous to conduct, or more uncertain in its success, than to take the lead in the introduction of a new order of things.” ~Niccolo Machiavelli
When given a choice between the path most travelled and the path least travelled, choose neither. Choose your own path instead.
The best way to create a new order of things is to reorder things by choosing your own path. In order to truly see the forest for the trees, you must become the forest despite the trees. This means subsuming the path by becoming the path. It means cultivating the seed that you planted with your self-inflicted philosophy and allowing it to grow into a proactive life lived to the nth degree.
Understand: you are never limited by the paths listed on the signs held up by culture. There is always another option: create your own path. The only thing preventing you from forging your own path is you.
But, traveler beware, striking out on your own is no easy task. It requires brutal self-honesty and a unique flavor of rebellious courage that most people lack. That’s why it’s called a leap of courage and not a stroke of comfort.
Try this: always imagine you are at a crossroads. We’ll call it the Existential Crossroads. Here, you are forever the pivot of purpose, the elbow of the universe, the hinge of high humor. From this sacred place you are the path, and the path is you, forever traveling, forever in the throes of allowing the journey to be the thing.
Your passion becomes your purpose. Your life’s mission is born. Your immortality project becomes a reality. You feel it. You fall in love with it. Through and through. You become hungry for further heightened states of awareness.
When you look back at the well-trodden path, the typical path, the all too boring and predictable path of the passive and fixed state of being human, your breath catches in your chest in sheer amazement at how you somehow could not have seen that choosing your own way was just a leap of courage away.
Step 4: Revaluate all values
“The man of understanding dies every moment to the past and is reborn again to the future. His present is always a transformation, a rebirth, a resurrection.” ~Osho
There is a war going on inside us all. It is a war between Being and Becoming. An act of being is a fixed state. An act of becoming is a fluid state. An act of being is an act of vanity. An act of becoming is an act of vitality. Stay vital. Be fluid. Be flexible. Become the whole. Don’t be the whole.
Possessing your soul means becoming whole. Becoming whole means integrating the whole. This means becoming cosmos through transformation, not being cosmos through stagnation. Being, in and of itself, is too rigid for the anti-rigid soul.
Becoming cosmos, on the other hand, is flexible, it’s adaptable, it’s lighthearted. A state of becoming is an action verb. A state of being is an inactive verb. Don’t merely be, mightily become. This is where the ego melts into soul. This is where shadow and light dissolve into the Middle Gray. This is where rightness and wrongness evaporate into truth. This is where good and evil collapse into the Middle Way.
This is where all values are revaluated. Armed with the question mark sword, standing vigilant at the existential crossroads, this is where those who would possess their own souls become the path and reassess the dynamic of constantly becoming, rather than never being, connected to all things.
Step 5: Surpass all virtues with a profound sense of humor
“The vitality that can stand the abyss of meaninglessness is aware of a hidden meaning within the destruction of meaning.” ~Paul Tillich
At the forefront of becoming, at the tip of the spearhead, at the pinnacle of rebirth, there is the seat of the soul. It is forever ahead of the curve. It is eternally self-overcoming. It is infinitely transforming.
But it is never out of reach, even if it seems like it at times. For those who have destroyed their illusions, inflicted themselves with philosophy, discovered their own path, and revaluated their values, it is always right there for the taking. It is low-hanging fruit for those aware of the branch.
For those who can consistently climb the Ladder of Virtue the soul is always ripe for the plucking. This is because climbing the Ladder of Virtue builds character. It transforms being into becoming. It creates resilience that compounds itself into robustness.
A robust character hinges on eight core virtues: courage, moderation, wisdom, justice, curiosity, honor, humility, and humor. These virtues are vital rungs on the Ladder of Virtue.
Where courage frees character, moderation balances character, wisdom guides character, justice stabilizes character, curiosity grows character, honor unifies character, and humility grounds character, humor overcomes character.
Humor is the only virtue that is transcendent. It sees how character is just that: a character caught within a tragicomedy, strutting itself across an all-too-mortal stage. It sees the character’s feet of clay. But it also sees the character’s wings. It honors both through a laughter born of levity.
Such levity creates a powerful gravity. The self becomes magnetic. When you are flexible in humor you mold the world to yourself. Possessing your soul is no longer a matter of choice. Neither is it a matter of thought, belief, or luck. It is a matter of attraction.
Having a good sense of humor is the crowning achievement of good character, and the soul is the crown. It’s the golden crown chakra of character, sparking in the eternal night, a beacon of hope in the dark, a beacon of darkness in the blinding light, a symbol of recycled mastery that honors the Great Mystery despite mortality.
About the Author:
Gary Z McGee, a former Navy Intelligence Specialist turned philosopher, is the author of Birthday Suit of God and The Looking Glass Man. His works are inspired by the great philosophers of the ages and his wide-awake view of the modern world.
This article (How to Possess Your Soul Before You Die) was originally created and published by Self-inflicted Philosophy and is printed here under a Creative Commons license with attribution to Gary Z McGee and self-inflictedphilosophy.com. It may be re-posted freely with proper attribution, author bio, and this statement of copyright.