March 26, 2010
Plato compared the possessions earned by a businessman to the paintings of an artist. He said both were symbols of accomplishment and the result of one's specific talent.
This might explain the phenomenon of a salesman who after many years of trade finally buys the car of his longing, drives it home and stores it in the garage like a statue in a museum. He visits it perhaps, each night after work, and as he opens the hood seeing his reflection in the finish, he drowns for a moment in the beauty of it, the vague sight of himself seen in the glare of the hood. His family, who may take part in the nightly ritual, crouches peeking by the entrance, whispering at the foolishness of it all—unable to ever understand the purchase of something one does not use. However, according to Plato’s insight, the car was never meant for common use, never meant as a tool for transportation.
It would seem our self-indulgence, if taken in moderate doses, would remain relatively harmless, and we would probably not drown for falling in love with our physical reflection, would probably not endanger our true identity when such love time-expires and transitions, horizontally, so to speak, into a self-love of outer identity. But still, vanity kept unchecked seems at least capable of inflicting a compromise of quality upon our lives, so in close of this article series it would seem appropriate to examine the difference between harmless self-indulgence and perilous self-worship.
It would seem those who have received acclaim instead of those who have earned it may stand greater risk of inner decay and material squander. Specifically, those at risk of danger from excessive vanity are those who receive recognition undeserved; those who receive it through physical beauty, those who receive it through a pretty singing voice, those who receive it through the luck of winning a lottery, those who receive it through trust funds and family inheritance.
The problem seeming to surface from “receiving” such riches stems in part from its instantaneous nature, which as result may facilitate a hidden compromise of character—a short-cut to a wasteland of wealth—receiving without merit seems to cultivate not only the poisons of vanity but also seems to invite the remaining 6 of the 7 ‘deadly sins’ as well—ending at best with an abundance of hollow and a thinly plated character. (Pandora’s little party.) Character is like an insurance policy used in times of our greatest hardships and torments—a policy that must be earned instead of bought, but one that still can always be lost—a policy we will always at some point realize we need.
Moreover, let’s say character is created in four stages, beginning with a potential substance within us—prima materia—like a mound of clay imparted within each of us at birth. Over the course of adolescence and young adulthood our inner-clay slowly transforms by way of experiences endured. We work consciously or unconsciously toward the goal of our “purpose.” Often, of course, it is a process that is unclear and is seldom simple. Trial and error, discipline and overcoming, risk and sacrifice, tenacity and surrender—all seeming posed in opposition of our slow transforming clay. But we endure, even though we may not see a ray of purpose upon the dark of our inner horizon. But still within us has formed our clay, which has somehow in the depth of our seeming invisibility taken form, turned color—turned from gray to bronze—a dim glow of purpose, unseen in the distance, but radiating warmth and wonder around us, moving us forward, perhaps, into an even hotter enclosure of darkness, blowing against us as storm of steel rain. We may be tempted to turn back and return to the place of our bronze darkness already earned. But as we turn inward for the final verdict, we find our inner-material has once again transformed, having turned now from bronze to silver, and is no longer just a glow but a radiant counterforce rising up against the firing rain. In the heart of the storm we come to realize we no longer search for purpose, but instead carry on for the beauty of transformation; somewhere beyond our newly found silver we may find gold and discover a pure form of Being. (The symbolic laws of alchemy in its highest fruition)
Perhaps we will not know the true value of our character until things begin to disappear. The sum of what remains would appear the measure of its purity, the density of its essence. Moreover, the more we stand to endure transformations, the more we solidify and develop our character—the heart of our essential value—the sum of our actual beauty. And the greater this sum, the greater it would depreciate the value of our old goals, our whimsical dreams, our underdeveloped insight of purpose. In exchange, we may receive an authentic encounter with a beauty still undefined, a beauty that may be unconditional, a beauty extending beyond the borders of what we are presently able to perceive.
Of course, we have the option of simply waiting. Many believe we will one day rise almost automatically to a place of divine beauty. Wait and see--if the beauty of that place of last resort is imagined or real. Perhaps in the meantime, in our short and our busy lifetimes, it might seem best to keep our Self hidden, to keep it silent, our own little unknown—a nothing more a nothing less.