🪟 11 - Peaks and troughs
Frame & Axiom #11
Table of contents
Peaks and troughs
Life is a constant repetition of heroes’ journeys. The boy stands up to a thousand little dragons, cowering away or slaying progressively potent dragons as he develops in wisdom and stature. Often he loses ground, and sometimes the hero in him comes of age and slays the dragon in its lair.
It is inevitable that he will lose ground. He will never stop falling face flat on the ground and sustaining scratches and mutilations. He will never stop failing in what he sets out to do. And when he fails hard enough, he will become disillusioned. At some point in his life, the boy must learn that he cannot conquer all his dragons, and he must learn instead to contend with them. They are a great too many of them, and his will is tied to his feeble nature. To fight eternal battles; that is the nature of life.
🪟 11 — Peaks and troughs
The Fog Warning (1885) by Winslow Homer (Source)
It is inevitable that you are going to have bad days, as much as you have good days. As the nature of humanity is complex, an incomprehensible sum of known and unknown causalities, so our mood is left to unknowns. Indeed, we find ourselves oscillating between faith and doubt at all times, between self-actualisation and disillusionment, between dualities of all sorts, all at once. This is only natural.
To contend with perpetual imbalance, we must take into account what we do not know. Rationality alone is insufficient for effective framing. This is clear, given we are made up of a great deal more than whatever we think we are made up. To move beyond rationality is not to undermine it, but to attend to what proves empirically effective, through which new considerations may be reaped by deduction.
The irrational answer to the problem of eternal dragons is to accept that they must exist as an order of reality. That is to acknowledge at once and without hesitation the goodness and evilness in the human soul, the beauty and ugliness in all things, the extremes of all dualities.
Dostoevsky writes: “In twenty-four hours I begin to hate the best of men: one because he’s too long over his dinner, another because he has a cold and keeps on blowing his nose.” Yet in the same book, he writes: “Look around you — the clear sky, the pure air, the tender grass, the birds; nature is beautiful and sinless, and we, only we, are foolish and we don’t understand that life is heaven, for we have only to understand that and it will at once be fulfilled in all its beauty, we shall embrace each other and weep.” Sometimes we feel an irk arising in us at the most trivial of matters. Sometimes we feel ease and a lightness of burden, and find joy and wonder in equally trivial matters.
And we can hardly point a finger to why or how we oscillate between moods! Certainly, we may come up with sufficient rationalisations at each swing of the mood, such as the quality of sleep, but they are merely picked out reductions of an infinitely complex reality. Another may come up with an equally worthy rationalisation, such as the state of the weather. A thousand angles may be uncovered and be deemed all correct at once. Have I not mentioned — beliefs are malleable to the degree that they are reductions?
Simply put, we hardly understand ourselves and our moods, and may as well frame them as products of chance. To contend with them then is to acknowledge with heart the perpetual disarray of living, and to go from there. It is to not withhold acceptance from anything and anyone, particularly from the self. Anonymity with the self will only harm the self. Certainly, we always work instinctively toward an ideal self, and we may only hope that a criminal will by her conscience work towards something that is true and good, but to work effectively towards her ideal self requires the acceptance of her starting point, lest she indulges in a barrage of self-loathing and anxiety. Is it not the case that the boy will keep losing ground to the dragon he fights unless he is firmly rooted? The pursuit of self-acceptance must come before the pursuit of grand ideals.
Accordingly, I have found peace in such unknowns. To accept all things in totality is to accept the wavering moods warranted by human nature. Some days, you will notice the colours, textures and terrains around you. It will put a smile on your face, as you look up to the heavens in a sense of wonder and joy at living. On equal other days, you will feel miserable. You will find no beauty, only mundaneness, in everything around you, no matter how hard you try.
My antidote is, again, to accept all of reality in totality, in which your own states are constituent. To accept in totality is to live the peaks and troughs. What is the use of concerning oneself overly with one or the other? Human nature requires miserableness and lacklustre. We must contend with it and live it without fear, for an infinity of interdependent dualities is necessarily erratic. Act on remedies and wholesome counsels you know to work, test levers that might influence your moods, and meditate on such things with curiosity. Ironically, one can find pleasure too in introspections of this sort.
A great majority of the time, moods are best left to the final explanation: “peaks and troughs”. Indeed, that is a thought I retreat to in my darkest days and forget in my brightest. In my private journals, I tend to rank myself on such oscillations, and diagnose myself on the rare occasions I stumble upon patterns. In my peaks, I indulge in the thought: “How beautiful it is to live! How green is the grass, how nuanced are the textures and terrains, and how graceful is the light that dances with shadows!” In my troughs, I think thoughts such as this: “Ah. Here comes the trough. What are peaks if not for the troughs? What can I do to make this one more bearable? Play some slow jazz, make some tea, treat myself to a nice meal.” On my worst imaginable days, I have another new day to look forward to. There is a heartfelt message from the Old Testament that my mind loves to recount: “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.” (Lamentations 3:22-23)
And it is to other people as it is with ourselves! Sometimes we will treasure the company of a loved one, sometimes we will be irritated by their idiosyncrasies. Sometimes we will find beauty easily in others, and sometimes it will be the most difficult task of all. We lie eternally in search of more, something deeper, something novel. To approach such gratuitous oscillations with a deep curiosity and a spirit of experimentation, a second-order spirit of artistic freedom — that is what keeps the dragons at bay.
(I expand further on how I frame the oscillating nature of life in next week’s axiom.)
Till next time,