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Phoenix Flight: The Art of Ascending from Trial by Fire


No trauma is your keeper. It is your exclusive ownership of the most formidable force you’ve ever faced and survived. Be reborn in this trial by fire and make the flame a source of fuel.

Got pain? Good. Ever been to Chuck E. Cheese or Dave and Busters? You’re there now. Which one? Doesn’t matter, could be either. That pain? Tickets you won from the games. What can you do with them? You can redeem them for some pretty damn attractive prizes, but only if you allow yourself to believe those tickets in your hand are actually tickets. Up until that point, you might have just referred to those tickets as trauma. Valid, but only one way to pronounce it.

In Nietzsche’s description of The Shadow, he describes a source of necessary darkness in every heart that must be acknowledged lest it slowly but silently consume the one that cast it whole.

A common theme in Buddhist schools of thought is the concept of fundamental darkness, a sort of vital cord to things from the negative spectrum of being that must be so in order for enlightenment to exist.

This fight with the so-called anti-ideal self, the ruined state of being that begets the brightest, something that’s as old as the earliest epic classics. If art mirrors life, then humanity’s art has mirrored its relationship with the necessary dive into a shadow state in picture-perfect clearness.

3 am on a Saturday morning. We’d just gotten a breather from spending the past 3 hours in the thick of a drum and bass jungle. A 24-hour diner materialized on the horizon and we warped into it at the speed of still kinda buzzed. We were in good company. The place was packed with kindred spirits looking to cool down from their decisions to let bad habits die hard.

It was at about the third or fourth mini-bacon cheeseburger before the topic of conversation got real.

My buddy was a veteran. Off-duty, looking to regain a sense of civilian life after spending the last three years making friends with mortar shells and a few brave men to fire them.

In the things that he told me about his tour in those oversea sands, I was struck with the feeling of something between gratitude and profound what-the-fuckitude. A sense of weightlessness in this watery void of wishy washy non-obligations and non-issues we use to color in our first world while others live and die by the whim of stray bomb strikes.

He tells me a story about the casual event of a hand getting chopped off for something interpreted as disrespect, and not far out of earshot, I hear a twenty-something year old bird mournfully sing about the dirt that found its way on her heels.

In that instance, the bacon and cheese picked up just 10% more flavor. It’s the flavor that would normally go unappreciated were it not for the direct contrast to a very real world where such flavors are a complete non-factor. A dark world only described by an ex-military EDM fan, not visited, but still visceral enough to slap the right thought processes into place for the right perspective.

Then again, while I got that momentary visit through the window of story being told by a friend, that visit isn’t something that needs another person giving you a ticket to take. Such a trip to the other side of the fence is possible purely in the revisit we make to our own darkest hours after they’ve passed. When they’ve passed.

When he finished his story and we went back to chatting about how much we missed those terribly dubbed kung fu movies, I couldn’t help but marvel at the ridiculousness of the moment. How ridiculously resilient this thing called the human spirit must be to face things that toe the line of its destruction a billion times over and still retain room to chat shit about a Kung Pow: Enter the Fist by the end of the week.

So you may have never had to dip for cover while projectiles with enough force to rip the roof off a brick house touch down above you. Still, for those who have lived and learned enough (and are still living in learning) there are other things that can present as much of a seeming challenge as being under enemy combatant fire.

Your challenge in the search for direction after spending time aimless.

Your challenge in the search for clarity after inexplicable, tremendously abrupt disaster.

Your challenge in the search for belonging after heartbreak.

Your challenge in the search for self-ownership after feeling that such ownership has been compromised by circumstances beyond your control.

These things that tear a human being down to the rue of their essence are what fill the pages of life’s darkest chapters, and for thousands of years, they’ve forged some of humanity’s finest.

I’ve had countless conversations with people from all walks of life who’ve suffered all manner of things that can’t be written from scratch. I’ve spoken with younger men and women looking to make sense of what feels like the most dire crisis of their lives. When I speak with them, I tell them, what you feel is the inverse measurement of your current level of power to conquer your purpose.

All that you survive to see the next year through is a not a medal or a trophy, but a bestowed power of control over forces that can eat people alive. This fire burns you? Yes, and it also informs you. It informs you with the severity of its heat. It informs you of good news. Every degree that each of lick of flame burns you with represents the level of strength that you can have access to for enduring and thriving in spite of it. Even without having literal bombs lobbed into your encampment by insurgents, this is a force not to be taken lightly when wielded by the impact of your own life circumstances.

It compels me to think of all the tales out there of men and women alike being put through the grinder of ill fate in a way that could make the most talented tragedy writers sweat, and yet still manage to see the start of their day with a smile at the small things.

One principle of stoicism is the ability to exercise completely pragmatic investment. Investment, in this sense, means the spending of energy in how things turn out. If they turn out. After all, what is the sense of dread at all if not a full-on state of investment into the uncertainty of how something that has not yet ended, will turn out?

Such an investment, while it may masquerade as reasonable, is unnecessary. What’s more productive, instead, is to invest only in what stems from the immediate jurisdiction of one’s own control.

All the things from the past that collected into this supposedly immovable force that drills down to the darkest reaches of your soul: in this moment, you own those. They belong to you, not the other way around. Feel their power to warp, corrupt, obfuscate and destroy; that’s your own ability, merely turned inward in a temporary moment of confusion.

They say that those who can conceive of evil have the ability to perform what they conceive. Well, you may not have any plans of stealing free condoms out of a vending machine for no reason any time soon, but consider the implication that this makes for what darkness might invade your mind during recollections of things that summon it.

These are the reminders of what totality there is the human spirit’s power to perceive and advance. Every single iota of trauma is a power cell you own that’s so ridiculously strong that you yourself feel as though it’s wielded against you rather than by you. Recognize it as an invitation to seize something terribly strong for yourself, the manifestation of your own despair given form, and turn it into a familiar. A giver of energy. Not darkness, but a bright and hot flame that kicks you up and over the hill to new beginnings.

Contemplate the impact that your own negative experiences have on your current state of mind, see how little they stop you from taking the smallest of actions in your immediate reach, and know that this is your strength over them.

Cause and effect. Choice and consequence. The courage to pick up a burger and eat it with conviction. The audacity to revel in what good there is to savor in life when things that are not still linger. The immersion in the human experience that is as unashamedly vivid in its high points as were the pains of the lows. That is what it means to be fully reborn in life’s trials by fire.

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