An Everlasting Itch

Believing the world to be flat, long-ago people must have feared falling off the edge. 

edge of the world

Imagine the courage it required to embark on a voyage toward the unknown.  Yet men did.  It’s a paradox—we want to live—yet we put life at risk to live better. 

Listen to Herman Melville:

“As for me, I am tormented by an everlasting itch for things remote.  I love to sail forbidden seas and land on barbarous coasts.”

For some people that’s counter-intuitive.  For others, that flirtation with the dark side is an impulse to be ignored only at great peril.  One thing’s for sure—the stories we love concern heroes who are blessed with Melville’s itch.

Even still, I keep running across people for whom the concept of a “journey into darkness” is unnecessary.  These upbeat folks insist that they would indeed be happy reading a book called “The Valley of the Happy Nice People” (see recent post).  In such a valley the “dark side” equals evil, and for this reason such people avoid their own subconscious.  

To those who happily live on the surface of things, may I present Helen Keller:

“Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet.  Only through experience of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, ambition inspired, and success achieved.”

When presented with the evidence—biographies of eminent people—in which maturity consistently ensues from a struggle of some kind—the superficialist would nevertheless prefer to rewire the human race than face the deceptively wonderful facts of life.    

The truth of our existence—if that’s what we’re after—must fall more on one side of this argument than the other.  Are we creatures of light who occasionally plunge into darkness?  Or is it the other way around?  Are we magnificently ignorant, ever striving for the light of understanding?  I vote for the latter because it explains our thirst for truth.  

Would religions have arisen if light wasn’t in such short supply?  Would our appetite for stories be so voracious?  My point is this:

A story is invariably a journey to the dark side.  So is a full life.    

Anchors aweigh!

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  1. says

    It seems you are quite correct again, PJ.

    I see this attractive tendency floating around the world even on FaceBook. Everyone wants to tell their sad story; is there enough sympathy around to slather all the burned toasts?

    Others like to brag about their children or grandchildren. Nobody, on the other hand, wants to hear about a happy love life, especially in marriage; They have effectively sewn my lips shut.

  2. McGoo says

    What if we seek the light because we know it’s our nature but have lost it along the way? If we didn’t know it deep in our bones, wouldn’t we just carry on regardless? Knowing can be blind and our faith in it is so deep we don’t need to see where we’re going. We just go! In the direction of the light.

  3. says

    Very interesting questions here and I’m immediately hearing the voice of Buckminster (Bucky) Fuller, whose tome “Critical Path” contains the following in its foreward, written by Mr. Fuller himself. (Just read it recently…the foreward…not the whole book.)

    “Since complementarity is essential to the success of eternally regenerative Universe, the phenomenon identified as the opposite of “positive” cannot be “negative”, nor can it be “bad”, since the interopposed phenonmenon known heretofore as “good” and “bad” are essential to the 100-percent success of eternally regenerative Universe. They are both “good” for the Universe.”

    I think an argument can be made for the fact that most humans are psychologically scarred, even if it is subtle and gentle in some cases, such that we wind up falling more on one side of the argument than the other as you suggest. I think the trick may be not to fall at all, to walk the razor’s edge of drawing no conclusions, and remaining deeply vulnerable to both the light and the dark side, within and without. We are just that “good” and just that “bad” – all at once.

  4. McGoo says

    Living on the edge! Very freeing not identifying with the ‘good’ or the ‘bad’. Though when we act, or are faced with a choice, don’t we start weighing up what’s good and what’s not and wait for the scales to dip on the ‘good’ side. The human dilemma!

  5. says

    Good stuff! “The human dilemma.” I love it. Our dilemmas are the sea we swim in. As for me, I am tormented by an itch to “walk the razor’s edge” with great vulnerability. But I would question whether I am able …until I’ve earned the kind of equanimity that allows me to see as unreactively as Rick is suggesting. In the meantime, the human condition is the stage upon which we fight for the light and the equanimity and all that. If I have a point to make, it’s that our journey toward accepting such dichotamies as good and bad is a journey into the unknown. The dark side.


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