“One must become a sea to receive a polluted river without becoming unclean.” –Nietzsche
I have had a number of disappointments in the last few days. Friends who have let me down, an organization I belong to treating me shabbily and then there’s always the evil in Washington, not only making policies that will make innocent people suffer and even die, but the extra layer of those smirk smiles of Trump and Ryan when legislation is passed by their morally bankrupt criminal partners disguised as public servants. How to cope?
Nietzsche got it right. The only thing that ever has helped me is to grow larger than my small identity so that the barbs and arrows and slings of outrageous fortune don’t sting as much. The toxins in the polluted river are still there, but the larger sea has some capacity to absorb them. While still writing letters to Congress to stop dumping in the rivers. I never want to dismiss that side of things, but also know that hoping for change on the political level will not solve the larger issues of betrayal and hurt and being shattered by one’s own disappointments. The work has to happen on multiple levels and the one most in our control and ultimately most effective is to decline getting too involved in the small battles and choose the hardest struggle of fighting with one’s own demons and conversing with one’s own gods.
One of my favorite poems by Rilke (The Man Watching) says it clearly:
What we choose to fight is so tiny!
What fights with us is so great…
When we win it’s with small things
And the triumph itself makes us small…
This is how (we) grow: by being defeated, decisively,
By constantly greater beings.
And Nietzsche again:
There is more valor when one refrains and passes by, in order to save oneself for the worthier enemy.
So instead of fretting with my small disappointments, I turn to do battle with that worthiest of enemies, jazz piano. Tonight I will perform and share my decisive defeat (but glorious!) with a room of 15 people in a House Concert. If all goes well, we all will become large enough for an hour or so to bear up under the constant assault of this thing called living and float in the larger sea of our hope and beauty.