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Updated: Aug 5, 2022

When I was fourteen, I wanted to become a lighthouse keeper.

The idea of being alone with my thoughts in an isolated place away from people for long periods of time with a straightforward repetitive duty to perform, was quite appealing. And in this job, making ships and the people in them steer away on seeing the lighthouse is considered a good result. I am not sociopathic, just an intuitive introvert - everything that really matters lies inside.

Thankfully it did not turn out that way and now I know that it would not have worked. I do not have the emotional stability or discipline needed to endure those lengths of isolation. I would have given up in two weeks. It doesn't also help that most lighthouses are automated now - they don't need a person there just to turn the lights off and on.

So it is the idea that was appealing to me, not the thing itself. The rest of this post is about ideas of that sort.

It is not difficult to see in retrospect that this was a life-denying idea in itself, not one that affirms it - one is meant to engage with life and people, not withdraw.

However, the path of individuation that asks of you to disentangle yourself emotionally from people, places and things so that you may become a whole individual, is exactly what is needed to become comfortable with yourself and be capable of performing lonesome but necessary tasks.

However this path paradoxically lies through engaging with the challenges of life and absorbing that experience.

Wheels within wheels.

We all have an idea of paradise - a place where we would finally be at peace and the world would be perfect - to be reached in this life of the next. Sometimes this is thought of as an achievement (say, a certain amount of money) or a position in society. If we could just get that or get there, everything would be just perfect.

On the other hand, there is a particular type of warning sounded in many myths. There is the story of the Lotus Eaters in the Odyssey about a land where people just want to eat the lotus and be at peace there with their fellow lotus eaters. They forget about their family and homes and never return. Why would they? They have already reached heaven. They think they have already attained that which they were seeking and lose their sense of destiny and purpose.

Is either of them right? Or wrong? Or are both right? Or wrong?

In Lord of the Rings too, the Ring is a thing of magnificent power. But again and again, men are fall in love with it and and are held in fascination within its power until they fade and become the undead. Only the Ring Bearer knows that the Ring's true destiny is to be returned to its Master and Creator and only when that is done can order and peace be restored to Middle Earth (note : when looked at from the perspective of Jungian psychology, one could say that Sauron is not evil, he is the dark side of the Self in the Unconscious. It is when men and elves and dwarves and everyone else in Middle Earth forget about him and become a little too comfortable that Sauron takes on that aspect. And that which came from him and that which is most precious, i.e. consciousness itself, must be returned to him in a manner of sacrifice so that a new balance can be found. )

So in each case, men fall in love with the thing itself (a place, a state of isolation, a promise of paradise, a ring, an achievement, a position) instead of seeking that which it represents. These things are are not evil or wrong in themselves, but what matters is our attitude towards them. These are Symbols.

Symbols are capable of attracting, marshalling and channeling our raw emotional energy (libido) in certain paths. But what matters is not the symbol itself and what it represents.

In each of the above myths (either of achievement or isolation), men are on an arduous heroic journey and each of these symbols are capable of making them think that they have finally achieved their goal and then they falter. It is a false sense and the journey to back to the Creator of the Ring as in the myth of Frodo, remains undone.

So one must strive for meaning, and symbols set us off on that journey by making us strive for them, but meaning does not lie in the symbol itself. It lies beyond the Symbol.

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