Beyond Optimism and Pessimism

posted by anton in sludge on 1/25/2006 12:00:00 AM

Does the optimistic and pessimistic philosophic polarity really have a place in occult thought? Just rambling because I seem to be swinging wildly between fatalistic pessimism and blind optimism in my life currently, with disastrous consequences for my emotional well-being. My thoughts in this article do not represent well formed ideas, but rather general musings about my plight.

To me, optimism and pessimism, in their absolute senses are both symptomatic of the same basic philosophic flaw, which is to say the polarisation of life situations into the desirable and the undesirable. Both the optimist and the pessimist are engaged in a war against the 'undesirable' which they have cast as a great threatening shadow against the backdrop of their lives. To an extent this is normal and healthy, because it is by evaluating and comparing different life situations and making choices about what we want that we can improve our lives and actively build the world we want to live in.

However, there comes a point where this polarisation becomes unhealthy. When it is taken as a literal fact that the 'undesirable' is an evil to be avoided at all costs, this is unhealthy. Nobody lives a life entirely free of undesirable experiences, events or situations. To expect that we should all be sheltered from such things is to live in some kind of unrealistic and quite childish fantasy world. Such a fantastic expectation of life leads directly to either the optimistic or pessimistic flaws in world view. When the polarity is taken beyond a simple life tool for improving ones lot, to a preconceived expectation of outcome this is unhealthy too.

The optimist blinds themselves to all undesirable aspects of their lives, expecting everything to turn out alright in the end. Unseen and ignored they are not processed and dealt with. Sometimes this isn't a big deal, but sometimes ignoring such things can lead to disastrous life situations where small problems that could have been dealt with easily in the beginning are ignored until they become large insurmountable problems that cannot be so easily ignored. In short, the optimist rides a wave of fantasy so high they are setting themselves up for a fall.

The pessimist however focuses entirely on the undesirable, blinding themselves to all the desirable aspects of their situation. Whilst the pessimist at least recognises that undesirable exists, they are want to sink into an unmotivated melancholy as they lose all motivation to try and improve their lot. Life becomes an endless and meaningless struggle with no hope for improvement.

Occultists often like to reconcile dualities, sometimes through harmonious union and other times through the constructive harnessing of their conflict, but it is worth remembering here that the root polarisation here is not between optimist and pessimist, but rather between desirable and undesirable. Pessimism and optimism only represent two of many attitudes towards this polarity and both represent unreconciled view points of it.

So the polarity we need to reconcile here is the polarity of the desirable and the undesirable. To reconcile this polarity through harmonious union would mean to simply accept life's highs and lows the same, so that all things become equally desirable and undesirable. This might be equated to the mystical Buddhist view of reconciling this polarity be eliminating desire (the root of the desirable and the undesirable).

However such a view point does not sit easy with magical thought, which is based upon the attainment of our desires through power, not their rejection in the name of some 'higher mystical aim'. Thus, for a magician the reconciliation of the polarity through the the constructive harnessing of their conflict might be a more worthy option. What does this mean?

First off it is in recognising that so long as we live we will have desires, because to not have desires would mean our lives would stagnate and become boring. Second we recognise that all desires create in our minds the very root of our subjective ideas of what we currently perceive as 'desirable' and 'undesirable'. Furthermore, if we desire something it means it is currently outside of our immediate sphere of experience and thus an aspect of this experience is undesirable. Thus the undesirable is not an evil but rather the very thing that helps us attain and fulfil our desires by reminding us they exist. In this way our lives become filled with the fulfilment of our desires and undesirable experiences have their part to play in building these fulfilments. In such a philosophy the undesirable is the very thing that inspires us to lead full lives.

It is through this latter realisation that I hope to solve my current drudgery and foolish pendulum swinging between blind optimism and lethargic pessimism.