This is actually a very practical idea.
When people get into goal-setting they have to get their heads around the idea of what’s attainable vs. not. Then there’s the limiting beliefs thing. Basically there are things you could attain if you believed you could, and there are things where believing isn’t going to help you. In the latter category, there are things that simply aren’t going to happen. For example, I will never fulfill my true goal of becoming a ninja turtle. And if I did, by inventing the necessary surgeries, I would find that it doesn’t really make me happy.
In situations like this, we have to ask ourselves this all-important question:
What does this represent to me?
The thing I really want isn’t the representation, it’s the thing(s) being represented. Ninja Turtles represent adventure, comradery, mastery, and happiness. If I can’t/shouldn’t become a Ninja Turtle, then I should look for something else to aspire to that represents these things.
This goes for attainable goals too, by the way. They are merely representations of a higher good. In the Christian tradition, all good things are merely representations of other good things until you eventually reach the highest good thing in God. The difference being that they are good to pursue, so you don’t have to play chutes and ladders with the abstractions to find a healthy outlet. Also, “Don’t let the perfect become the enemy of the good.” If your kids starve because you were praying, you’re doing it wrong.
Now let’s talk about how this is the story of Guts and Griffith in Berserk. Griffith fails because he clings to the representation at the expense of the thing itself. He has his vision of a castle on a hill, which represents glory, riches, etc. All the accoutrements of kingship. To throw a bone to MM, this is his “second world”. In Nietzschean terms, it’s his self-constructed morality. His pursuit of the vision justifies and motivates his behavior in real life, and weaker men cling to him for lack of moral confidence.
His failure is that he already had, in a limited sense, what the vision of the castle represented. He already was a king in essence, to a limited extent, and the accoutrements were starting to accumulate as a lagging indicator. He was a conquering hero and had just been knighted and had legions of men who would die for him. His real betrayal was in choosing the representation over the thing itself. This manifested as a betrayal of the men under him. After falling off the tiger and being tortured into a useless manlet, the correct choice would have been to process the loss and let go of the representation and enjoy the thing itself.
There’s a crucial scene in the Eclipse where Griffith is imagining a humble life with Guts and Casca. This is the love and companionship he truly wanted, the abstraction of the kingship that was an abstraction of the accoutrements of kingship. Processing loss requires making this kind of jump. Catharsis is about emotionally re-centering on a different expression of the same good thing that’s been bound up in a dysfunctional representation. Failing to make that leap, Griffith clings to the vision and sacrifices the thing itself to get it. That’s the nature of the Faustian bargain, e.g. the behelit.
The story of Guts is about (among other things) his struggle to move on after being betrayed. The Band of the Hawk was the thing itself, the true expression of love, companionship, and so on, until they were betrayed and killed. When he loses them, they became merely the representation of these things. By clinging to vengeance, he’s clinging to this representation, his vision of a time he can’t have back. (MTs in particular have to watch out for this kind of thing where they identify with something they’ve lost and start thinking “I am Nemesis” or similar. That’s not mature!) The fantasies of vengeance become Guts’ second world, and again the moral confidence this gives him attracts people into his orbit.
He gradually realizes he can’t have both things, which is why the Conviction arc is so good despite being so dark. Or actually because it’s so dark, in reality Kentaro Miura’s genius is expressed in horror. In leaving to pursue vengeance, Casca gets into trouble, and he realizes he can’t have both. I’ve previously said she represents his innocence (as in “innocence lost” posts), but she also represents the love/companionship/etc. that he wants. She’s the thing itself where vengeance and the dead companions are the second world representation.
As the story progresses, Guts begins to use his vengeance fantasies in service of the companions he’s acquired. He channels his rage to protect them with superhuman feats of strength and ferocity. This is represented in his use of the Berserker armor. Using it exacts a toll on him and threatens to swallow him up, but it’s also shown to be a material necessity at times. More often than he’d like, even. It’s like he’s playing with fire, and riding on the ragged edge of disaster, but that’s a very good representation of the sanity-bending process of accepting loss and re-centering on something good.
Eventually after a lot of not-very-good filler, he chooses the real thing over the representation, arrives in paradise, and gets Casca back. Another representation of this that you may enjoy is the final episode of Gungrave. Very different, but essentially the same story. And quite touching tbh. If I were in charge of writing the final showdown of Guts and Griffith, that’s how I would do it.
Anyway, this “letting go” thing is why you have to practice letting go when you’re doing the goal attainment visualization thing:
This last step is the catalyst in the process. Release the situation completely. Let it go just as you would if someone you trusted said that he would take care of it and that you need not ever think about it again.
Being honest for a moment, this goal is not important. God loves you regardless. Imagine being before his throne and telling him this was how you spent your life. Think about how petty and insignificant your achievements feel in that context. If you got hit by a car tomorrow and this oh-so-important goal didn’t get done, it wouldn’t matter. A hundred years from now, nobody would miss it. The people who care about you most would miss you, but it would have nothing to do with this. It’s not about the goal, it’s about becoming the sort of man who accomplishes things like that. If you don’t make it, it’ll just have been training for the next thing, a stepping stone to becoming that man. Just write down what you learned, what you’ll do differently about it in the future, the silver linings, and then move on to that next goal. Don’t worry about it because it doesn’t actually matter.
There are two reasons for doing this. First, it reminds you not to get too serious about it, which makes you tense up and lose it. And second, it reminds you that the goal is just a representation of the thing you’re after, a signpost in the direction that you’re headed. It’s essential because “to have something you must do something, and to do something you must become something.” If you don’t re-center your view on the horizon, you may end up fixated on the waymark and, upon reaching it, lose track of which direction you were trying to go.
Really appreciate this post. You wouldn’t believe how much of my internal world is preoccupied with wondering when, how, and if I’ll achieve success and recognition for my work, and what I’ll do if it never comes to pass and what that ‘means’ if this thing I’ve put a lifetime into doesn’t reach the fulfillment of it’s gestation. This line in particular resonates with me:
‘If you don’t make it, it’ll just have been training for the next thing, a stepping stone to becoming that man’
I know, or at least I believe, God keeps a record of everything, so nothing is completely in vain. And my work has sustained me in a way nothing else could have and has redeemed and given grace to matters and events in my life that at the time felt like nothing but senseless cruelties or harsh, mechanical happenstance.
Anyhow, in regard to the thing vs the representation – it really gestures to the phenomenon of an act ‘selling out’. Before they take the deal they’re the genuine article – they are the living embodiments of the talent and creativity they exemplify in their craft. After signing their creative license away, they’re more often than not reduced to a shell or placeholder of their former glory. Pursuing the representation comes at the expense of the thing itself.
“to have something you must do something, and to do something you must become something.”
What art is to me, and ultimately what all pursuits become taken proximal to a level of seriousness bordering on monomaniacal obsession, is a point where the practitioner is nigh indistinguishable from the practice. They become as close to the living embodiment of that thing as one could imagine – the quintessential artist or musician or surgeon. Your beliefs, attitudes, approaches, heuristics, cosmology…it’s all transfused into the work. Being in that mode of quintessence is so rewarding in and of itself it doesn’t require the accoutrements the representation would beget. Expression becomes the reason and end in and of itself.
But there is a sense of dissonance – how does no one know? Can anyone else see it? Am I deluded? It strikes one as preposterous. Ultimately though, this concern is a trifle compared to the richness of experience and depth of immersion that comes with BEING in the mode of your work.
Another good saying I thought of recently that may help you is “Success is a lagging indicator.”
what an atomic bomb of wisdom