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Harmony Through The Mingling Of Opposites

What I'll Be Covering..

1. Diminishing Happiness Levels

Critical thinkers and even those with a smidgen of common sense will tell you happiness levels have been diminishing recently. Statistics, inaccurate perhaps, but approximately true, reveal rates of mental wellbeing have plummeted, with the proportion of those saying they’re “very happy” falling from around one third of Americans to less than one fifth in recent years. 

Add to that research suggesting that global rates of anxiety and depression rocketed by nearly a third in 2020 alone—the largest increase ever recorded—and it’s clear that the defining mood of the modern era has become one of disappointment and disillusionment. 

Share of Americans saying they're "very happy" or "not too happy" 1972—2021

And I think this raises an important but often overlooked question. What exactly is behind this decline in satisfaction? Culturally, you might point to the decline of the family, collapsing marriage rates, and an empty culture of brand and commodity-worship. Economically, you could argue that decades of wage stagnation, alongside the more recent spike in inflation, have, taken together, eroded living standards. Biologically, you need look no further than unhealthy eating habits and sky-rocketing rates of addiction. Beyond all these things, however, I would like to draw your attention to the growing disconnect between passion and purpose, between desire and demeanour, which has come to define the modern psyche. This is the dynamic that I’ll be exploring today.

2. The Modern Disconnect

Biologists and anthropologists might tell you that thousands of years ago we humans lived in perfect harmony with nature. The expression of our instincts was pure, they would go onto explain, without any sign that we felt resentment, deceit or shame towards ourselves or others. 

But as we developed greater awareness, we turned against nature and against the animal in ourselves—against our own desires. No longer able to express ourselves with the purity of animals, we grew ashamed of who we were and learned how to hide our deepest desires from ourselves—and from each other.

“You aspire to free heights, your soul thirsts for the stars. But your wicked instincts, too, thirst for freedom. Your wild dogs want freedom; they bark with joy in their cellar when your spirit plans to open all prisons.”

While this domestication was fundamental for civilization’s rise, it also created an oppressive malaise that has prevented many of us from reaching our fullest potential as individuals.

The result of this process has been a disconnection from our true selves and, as a result, we have become unable to experience life fully. Our lives—and those of the people around us—have become filled with stress, anxiety, and depression. We feel disconnected from nature and find it difficult to express ourselves authentically.

At the same time, we are seeing an increase in mental health issues. Mental health professionals believe that this crisis can be attributed to our inability to access our true feelings and accept them for what they are: valid expressions of our natural instincts. 

It turns out the struggle to conform and repress our animal natures has taken a deep toll on us all. And while therapeutic treatments or medications can be helpful coping tools, they shouldn’t take precedence over self introspection; after all, accepting our animal nature is a key factor in restoring mental wellbeing.

For in being suppressed and forced underground, our animal instincts  did not disappear, rather they “turned inwards, against themselves,” breeding dissatisfaction with life, resentment against being and shame at our own existence—a toxic legacy that continues to haunt us to this day.

The movie American Psycho explores this concept in more detail. Patrick Bateman, the main character, works as an investment banker on Wall Street. He is a man filled not only with anger but also with the sadistic desire to enact his most violent and twisted fantasies on other people, especially on those whose lives he does not see as having value.

As his mental health deteriorates and his relationships with those closest to him become strained, Bateman’s inner turmoil becomes increasingly difficult for him to control.

American Psycho dives deep into the dark recesses of human nature, examining what happens when our suppressed passions take on a dark shape. From its eccentric protagonist to its twisted exploration of repressed emotions, the movie is a powerful exploration of the human condition and how seemingly normal people can harbour darkness below the surface.

The question then becomes how do we face our own inner animal? More than this, how do we reconnect with our instincts, put an end to our domesticity, and regain the wisdom and will-power to deal with the problems we’re seeing across the modern world?  

After all, if we’re to confront the issues facing us today, it’s not just a matter of calling on our courage and strength – but also getting in touch with what lies beneath. 

3. Lessons From Greek Mythology: Apollo & Dionysus

To help answer this question we can look back to the ancient Greeks who—rather than denying their instincts—celebrated them through their gods, particularly Apollo and Dionysus, who have long been championed as powerful symbols of the human experience. Even today, the stories of these iconic deities—one representing order and rationalism, the other representing chaos and instinctual emotion—serve as a reminder of man’s complex nature and the duality between chaos and order.

Apollo

Apollo

Apollo stands for order, truth, logic, & reason. He was a figure of reason and intellect, associated with everything from music to healing arts.
Dionysus

Dionysius

Dionysus represents divine intoxication and pleasure. He serves as a reminder to live in the moment, celebrate life and enjoy it fully despite its struggles.

And the thing is, these two gods were often intertwined in various stories involving one another. In one example, Apollo attempts to gain access to the underworld by taking on Dionysus’ form. He fails miserably, with Hades, the god of the dead, recognising him before he could even step foot into the underworld. The story highlights the importance of embracing chaos as well as structure in life, reminding us that it is only through the conscious acknowledgement of our natural instincts that we can regain a more complete sense of identity.

“These opposing tendencies run in parallel to one another, for the most part openly at variance; and yet they continually incite each other to new and more powerful births, which perpetuate the antagonism; till by a miracle of will they appear coupled with one another, creating a form of aliveness that is equally Dionysian and Apollonian.”

In another tale, Apollo and Dionysus rise to battle against their common enemy, namely the giant Typhon. Together these two gods overcome the giant and prevent the destruction he would have wrought upon the world. This story is seen as symbolic of how order and chaos—when brought into agreement—can triumph over seemingly unassailable odds and establish harmony amidst the contrasts and contradictions of everyday life. 

4. Harmony Through The Mingling Of Opposites

In a world where chaos and order often seem at odds, the relationship between Apollo & Dionysius serves as a reminder that living a deep & fulfilling life comes from embracing both chaos and control—and finding the right balance in-between.

The logic being that it’s the friction generated between these two things that supplies the conditions needed to thrive in this world—like Summer and Winter. Eternal Summer would burn the world up. But eternal Winter would freeze it to death. It’s the fact that they oscillate between one another that allows life to grow and flourish.

What I think is remarkable, and sad, about modern society is how few people understand this. Those who follow @apollo_life tend to be unemotional, perhaps a bit boring, but at least down-to-earth and reliable. Those who follow @dionysian_life, prioritising passion over pragmatism, enter into the dizzying highs of human emotion, yet fail to create the frameworks necessary to shield themselves from its abysmal lows.

“He has lost and destroyed his instinct, and can no longer trust the ‘divine animal’ and let go the reins when his understanding falters and his way leads through deserts.”

In fact, it goes beyond this, because modern technology has enabled people to strive for pleasure and comfort at the expense of personal growth. From being able to shop online, to getting food delivered straight to our doorsteps, everything is at our fingertips. But with this convivence comes drawbacks. We don’t grow. We don’t learn. We aren’t challenged. And we lead lives without passion, without drive, without ambition… without any real purpose.

To put it simply, we’ve become a society of people who’ve forgotten what it means to move between both ends of the spectrum. And why bother pushing past discomfort and embracing uncertainty when you can just relax, play video games and watch pornography from the comfort of your own bedroom? 

This world of comfort and convenience has caused us to become “smaller” people, less capable of fulfilling our potential. As Henry David Thoreau put it back in 1854: “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with the song still within them.”

5. Chaos & Order: A Framework For Better Living

Taken together, Apollo and Dionysus each represent a balance of creative energy and power—one focused on order and rationalism, the other on freedom and release. By allowing the balance between Apollonian and Dionysian forces to work within us, we can achieve a more holistic understanding of our lives and the world around us. The important thing to remember is that  we need to actively seek out both ends of the spectrum to fully understand ourselves and our place in the world around us. The relationship between them is what helps preserve harmony in this world and keeps life interesting, reminding us that sometimes balance is best achieved through the blending of opposing forces.

“Here was a being gene-coded to perfection. A reflection of humanity’s royal paragon. Russ bled authority without effort. And without the need for purpose or pretence. For he made barbarism a controlled trait: something noble—to be understood and mastered. Not a state of primitive regression.”

What this means in plain English is doing things that make our heart race, that require us to journey outside our comfort zone, that tap into our wilder and more chaotic energies; but, at the same time, combining these more savage appetites with the civilised and controlled: taking care of ourselves, planning ahead, establishing a rigid framework of order & discipline.

And this, more than anything else, is the lesson that I want people to take away from all this writing and all this research: By recognising that there are two opposing but equally important sides to our natures—order/reason, chaos/passion—we can strive for a balance between them. This concept of combining opposing forces can be used to help preserve harmony in the world and keep life interesting, reminding us that that the most creative and meaningful lives were those that contained both Apollonian and Dionysian elements, as opposed to living a purely one-sided existence.

sometimes balance is best achieved through the blending of opposing forces.

 

us lead more balanced lives in various areas, such as our interactions with other people and understanding our own psychology.

 

The relationship between them is what helps preserve harmony in this world and keeps life interesting, reminding us that sometimes balance is best achieved through the blending of opposing forces.

enable us to live healthier and more meaningful lives, with greater self-realization and harmony.

we humans exist on a spectrum between chaos and order, passion and purpose, structure and freedom; and if we’re ever to move forward, reconnect with our instincts and redefine our collective purpose, then we need to be willing to embrace both ends.

We need to start getting out and about, engaging in things, talking with people, getting our hands dirty. But at the same time, we need to have enough structure and discipline in place to ensure that we continue to make progress towards our goals.

To do so, we must now aspire to acquire once again the nobility, amorality and pure expression of life and the instincts which is extent throughout nature. We must reconnect with our genuine desires and let them restore the vitality and enthusiasm we need to chase after our goals.  

Rather than cancelling each other out, opposite forces — brought into agreement with one another — create a balanced and efficient whole.

Once we grasp this fundamental point—that life, in fact, involves a duet between order and chaos, reason and passion, structure and freedom—we can begin to accentuate this paradox rather than bury it under routine and immediate gratification. The idea, in theory, is that it’s the friction generated between these two sides of living that opens up new possibilities, expands new horizons, and allows us to reach greater heights of creative expression than ever before.

Too many of us fall down here. We approach life through stagnant, fixed goals: things like wealth building, material acquisition, security etc. We don’t like uncertainty—not being able to predict what might happen next. And it’s also true, I think, that we seek to minimise struggle and discomfort.

However, if we’re not careful the sense of stagnation that arises from these choices can lead to a dull existence; where we’re feeling like something is missing and we have no idea what it is. We have to be willing to move between the extremes—passion and purpose, chaos and control, structure and freedom—to regain a sense of meaning and purpose in our lives. Only by doing so can we truly overcome the nihilistic stagnation that has overtaken the modern world.

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