In ancient Greek mythology, Zeus, the supreme god, forced Atlas, a Titan, to shoulder the weight of the celestial skies for eternity. In classical art, Atlas is depicted as exhausted, stooped and virtually crippled by his burden.
The word shoulder is an apt metaphor to describe the responsibility that weighs heavily on us—the subjective load of our autonomy.
None of us can avoid the heavy lifting that accompanies being responsible for ourselves. Yet the Atlas myth serves as a warning about bearing too much weight. Happily, we who study the philosophy and practice of behavioral sovereignty, very aware of Atlas’ fate, have learned how to reduce the excessive load of our subjective burden.
As you know, our path to this achievement took us outside the box of our usual efforts. We began a quest to re-describe the prevalent perspective that grounds our subjectivity. This culturally transmitted dualist perspective is wrongheaded and often useless in the face of addressing such conditions as emotional pain, errant thought, anomic behavior, and barely tolerable circumstances. It is a point of view that adds the weight of error to our subjective load.
Why? Because it invests itself in an unexamined and metaphysics-based convention that denies the simple fact that human flourishing is a matter of a down-to-earth mastery of our behavioral sovereignty.
Think about it. When our biological, linguistic and historical awareness is unexamined, the condition hides our errant perspective. The truth is concealed behind the error. As a result, we don’t realize how much our point of view compromises choice, decision, and judgment. This lack of awareness creates two problems.
The first: when confronted by the vicissitudes of existence, we tend to think “why me” and saddle ourselves with heavy layers of anxious speculation instead of meeting contingency head-on and dealing with reality as in fact our conditions and circumstances warrant.
The second: we let our emotions hijack our creative resources. We don’t recognize that our success with negotiating reality depends on creative command of our behavioral sovereignty. How often when we create our goals, do we think of the discipline involved in rising to the occasion, overcoming timidity and persisting when the chips are down?
Thanks to our shift in perspective, we are attaining sufficient regulative virtue with which to effectively manage the subjective load of our autonomy. Our newly found autonomous perspective is no-longer-based-on metaphysics or head-in-the-sand naiveté.
This has helped us not only to avoid a common ailment, i.e., feeling useless and unfulfilled, but also to attain a good measure of humility. Importantly, it has helped us acquire the ethical and moral ability to adhere to normative behavior—that is, to be good to people as we would have them be good to us, to treat them equally and to be concerned with their suffering.
Our perspective has an impact and not just on our own flourishing. In these turbulent times, a significant contribution we can make to our country is to recognize and shoulder the demands of behavioral sovereignty because the informed and autonomous individual is the ultimate center of America’s nationhood.
Finally, great joy accompanies mastering this perspectival shift; we don’t want to squander our utility and contribution by a too-easy acceptance of a so-called comfort zone. We don’t want to shoulder a needless subjective load simply because it feels familiar. Such indulgence obscures the message of the Atlas myth. My message is clear: use this philosophy to wisely manage your subjective load.
As always, I appreciate your growing ability to shoulder and exercise your sovereignty in any given instance, at any given moment, on any given day. I wish you good luck in 2019.
Arnold Siegel is the founder of Autonomy and Life and the leader of its Retreat Workshops and Advanced Classes. Visit autonomyandlife.com for more information.