Internalizing Externals and Fighting One’s Way Out

The true warfare with the Giants takes place in souls: whenever reason and intellect rule in them, the goods of the Olympians and Athena prevail, and the entire life is kingly and philosophical; but whenever the passions reign, or in general the worse and earth-born elements, then the constitution within them is tyranny.

Proclus, Commentary on the Parmenides, Book I, 692-693, trans. Morrow & Dillon

Every pleasure or pain has a sort of rivet with which it fastens the soul to the body and pins it down and makes it corporeal, accepting as true whatever the body certifies.

Socrates, Plato’s Phaedo, 84b

I came across the designs I made in Canva for the nurselingofkronos Instagram account again, and I was once again struck by these passages because pleasure and suffering have been on my mind with increased frequency recently.

One of my 2022 goals is related to ensuring that my habits — the habitual virtues — are consistent with the values that I have and the lifestyle I deem appropriate and sustainable across my whole lifetime. While the first thing that may come to mind when someone reads the two quotations I selected is to believe I am about to make a lengthy post about the importance of asceticism, what comes up for me in reading these passages is the value of ensuring that we are properly dealing with ourselves and administering the care we need, not pacifying ourselves in ways that are not good four our long-term health.

This comes after years of deprogramming from things I accepted as a younger adult. When I went off to college, I assumed that the other young adults knew what was going on. After all, I had grown up almost friendless in a very rural part of the United States, albeit in the company of my parents’ friends whenever I did socialize outside of the 8:30-3:20 school day. These other young people, many from cosmopolitan areas and blue states, certainly had better understandings than I did of everything, and their framings were definitely backed by a more complete understanding of the world. This, of course, was wrong. Sometimes, I felt shame about how easily people and certain ideological mindsets manipulated me (to enact behaviors that I now understand as toxic) due to my naïve outlook about others and about the sources of truth and authority; at other times, I am just thankful for the experiences and happy that nothing worse happened.

In The Soul’s Inner Statues, I say at one point that having realizations that one’s outlook was wrong (or that parts of it were) happens to many people, and the gut reaction is to throw in completely with some other ideology, jumping around belief systems so fast that one gets whiplash. Honestly, the best thing to do when one realizes that one had erroneous positions is to just calm down and work through everything one step at a time. Had I come to this realization without doing that, and had I jumped into some kind of reactionary mode of whatever variety, it would have been just as dangerous and horrible as the lack of critical thinking I exhibited as an eighteen-year-old girl, especially since there are real issues (like the legacy of the past 500 intensely fucked up years) that need to be addressed on an individual and societal level.

What our goal is as people is to become as Godlike as possible, and part of that is understanding the messiness of materiality, ranging from the physical world around us to the social and political structures we inhabit. We often outsource our own inner wars by jumping into something extreme (regardless of what it is) because we are self-soothing, and we project our own insecurities about ourselves onto others outside of our groups in order to avoid dealing with the Giants plaguing us within. We internalize the externals in turn, backflowing it into ourselves. This, I argue, is a form of pleasure-seeking because it is done to avoid discomfort. Real self-care is being there for oneself and engaging in self-compassion as we shape our lives and overcome our inner struggles. We need to be the hand helping ourselves up the mountain, not abusing ourselves for finding the mountain hard and not diverting our attention towards some false hope of making that mountain easier.

Modern communication systems like social media make this much harder. One of the things I have noticed about social media is that people are quick to judge those outside of their perceived ingroups, or on the margins of their ingroups, while in fact they are engaging in the same behaviors and just don’t realize it. For example, some people pull Platonic teachings into self-soothing fantasies about conservative hyper-traditionalism (do they realize how many brilliant Late Antique Platonists were Hellenized people from North Africa and the Middle East?), and others do radical reinterpretations that, while I think it is important to harmonize textual teachings with the nature/matter of the current conditions of our lives, seem to have reached a hyperbolic escape velocity (which is less common, but still present). Others are extremely resistant to actually forming something living — breathing breath into it, giving it a heartbeat — that evolves from, and is in dialogue with, the texts in ways different from what scholars with academic appointments do.

Especially after doing hiatuses and being away from social media noise for the first time since I was 18 — the first time I could think for myself without constant, fast-paced inputs — I have found this contemporary environment of zeitgeist bubbles and the no-person’s-land outside of them extremely deflating, especially as I have found myself to increasingly occupy that in-between, idiosyncratic space. While I know that I would probably not be allowed in Proclus’ school if I time-traveled unless I were to become celibate, that has no bearing on my life right now as a mid-30s lesbian reading Proclus fifteen hundred years later, in 2022. The fact that I cannot reconstruct specific theurgic rituals doesn’t prevent me from honoring the Moon in my own way, or exploring contemplation, or praying at my shrine. We deal with the Giants inside of ourselves. We confront our own pleasures and our own pains. During a compassion meditation, I had a realization about Apollon, and I gave him the epithet Lord of Abiding Compassion, to express the absolute care of harmonization, the idea that we can cut sickness out of ourselves, that we can heal ourselves, that we can come into the tension of harmony, that we can be in that internal pain, and that the God will see us through it to steadiness if only we trust and learn to separate our own inner war from what is external to us.

Jaron Lanier, in Ten Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now, characterizes social media as a system that rewards extremism, violence, and absolutism (being an asshole), not the kinds of human relationships that are nourishing and lasting (or even just interpersonally respectful — I mean, the bar has gotten very low lately). Social media definitely does not nourish the kinds of reflections that can bring us towards wholeness without sacrificing our common humanity and compassion for one another. His ten reasons, which he explains in great detail in his book, are:

1. You are losing your free will.

2. Quitting social media is the most finely targeted way to resist the insanity of our times.

3. Social media is making you an asshole.

4. Social media is undermining truth.

5. Social media is making what you say meaningless.

6. Social media is destroying your capacity for empathy.

7. Social media is making you unhappy.

8. Social media doesn’t want you to have economic dignity.

9. Social media is making politics impossible.

10. Social media hates your soul.

I find that these reasons resonate with me and can think of multiple examples that characterize each of them — especially what happened in November 2021 that left me crying for days, so upset that I had to force myself to eat, and that still gives me bouts of grief — the apex culmination of where my years of deep anxiety about fitting in versus doing the right thing were headed. I read Lanier’s book a few years ago, during one of my Twitter hiatuses.

Now, having written The Soul’s Inner Statues, I have come to a realization that most of the reasons I am on Twitter are obsolete. What do I have to offer to conversations about practice when I have written a guide expressing my down-to-Earth perspective on this? What other encouragement can I give to people looking to worship Gods than the advice in it, which is the same as the advice I give my midsis when she calls me on the phone? What would it be like to no longer think about content balance, the idea that I need to ensure that I write some personal posts to avoid others depersonalizing me to the extent that they would without those posts? What would it be like to exist in a space where simple things I say like “I like wearing masks” or “plastic pollution is bad” or “let’s go solar” or “let’s think about this” or “maybe this is more complicated than it’s being presented as” weren’t taken as some kind of partisan loyalty statement? To just be and be well, enjoying the good moments and relishing privately in the photographs that ossify them, and finding support and love from real friends and family in the bad ones?

The reasons that remain involve (1) doing social sharing of things I find interesting and things written by friends; (2) seeing all of the neat slice-of-life moments from other polytheists, especially those moments that focus on religious practice; (3) learning new facts and trivia; and (4) direct messaging. I don’t routinely give out my phone number to strangers, and I use my real name on Telegram, but my email address does exist (🙃). I could do sharing on WordPress. I can engage with my TBR more and learn new and exciting things. The slice-of-life stuff is hard. I remember how, before I quit Facebook in 2016, I would often just post to social media instead of blogging about something; after quitting, I started putting more slice-of-life and practice things here, and those posts are still read because they’re discoverable in search engines in a way that old social media stuff is not. Maybe others who have blogs, yet post on social media, are impacted in the same way.

“Social media hates your soul” feels a lot like saying that social media is tyrannical.

I am done with Twitter, at least for now, although I will keep my account active. The auto-post connector from WordPress to Twitter is still on. I’m thinking of ways to ensure that The Soul’s Inner Statues continues to find people who need a free, basic guide to praying, as announcements are ephemeral, but that won’t happen until after I do the revision and make a print copy available. A print copy with no royalties (meaning, the cost of the book will be materials and the self-publishing distribution fee) is possible with the distributor I used for Acts of Speech, which makes this much easier than it would be, as I do not want to benefit financially from The Soul’s Inner Statues.

May you all be well, whichever inner wars you are fighting.

2 thoughts on “Internalizing Externals and Fighting One’s Way Out

  1. The social media balance is hard. I enjoy social media for the “slice of life” aspect, especially since I follow friends who do not have blogs, but I also heavily, heavily curate my feeds. (I did quit Facebook years ago and only wished I still had it a couple of times since then.)

    I have thought before that I ought to post more of my own slice-of-life commentary on my blog instead of on Twitter, but I struggle to feel like what I want to write is enough for a blog post. Sometimes 280 characters really is all I need to say what I want to say! How do you decide what deserves a blog post and what does not, when it comes to sharing these little slices of life?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. One way I’ve been doing slice of life here is by doing monthly updates. I can take notes along the way during the month and share general updates. I started analog journaling again recently (right before bed), so a lot of things that I used to share are there instead, and it’s easy to look back through entries (and through Google Photos) to see if there’s anything I would like to share on my blog.

      Apart from that, the framework in Chapter 4 of Keep Calm and Log on (https://direct.mit.edu/books/book/4656/Keep-Calm-and-Log-OnYour-Handbook-for-Surviving) has been very useful for me. Andrews encourages people to ask the question, “Is this something that needs to be broadcasted, or is it more of a fit for sharing with a smaller group of people?” I’ve been using my family group chat or texting/emailing individual friends much more often. Social media is definitely the default way that many people do the parasocial > acquaintance > friend pipeline nowadays, and her guidance also got me thinking about how, if we’re serious about developing close acquaintanceships and friendships, establishing contact with individual people off of major platforms and investing time in those relationships is truly aligning intention with action. Andrews focuses less on private platforms like Discord and Slack in her discussion of online communication, and I think this may be because the size and goals of a server influences whether the environment is close or parasocial.

      Liked by 1 person

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