By Danielle Randall-L’Estrange
Kierkegaard posits, “If I were to imagine two countries bordering on each other, with one of which I was fairly familiar and with the other was quite unfamiliar…I would travel to the boundaries of the kingdom I knew and follow them constantly, and as I did so my movements would describe the contours of that unknown land; in this way I would form a general idea of it even though I had never set foot in it. And if this was a task that greatly occupied me, and if I was indefatigable in my accuracy, it would no doubt sometimes happen that, as I stood sadly at my own country’s boundary and looked longingly into that unknown land which was so near me and yet so far, some little revelation might fall to my lot.”i
What is my country, my sovereign, that I have travelled to the boundaries of and turned my back on? What is it that I have guiltily abandoned in the feeble hope that I could be somewhere else, someone else, if I could but cross that untraversable border that I look across longingly? Whilst Kierkegaard achieves the lightness of revelation, my heart is heavy. My movements that draw the contours of this unknown land are the frantic and obsessive steps of the dance of relativity, of comparison. If one takes meaning and understanding of one’s life, one’s existence, from this outward-facing dance routine then one cannot escape the morose feeling of longing, of emptiness. This dance draws shapes in the shadows and defines life’s form in the absence of light.
This dance knows no bounds when one lacks personal purpose, lacks unique goals. We can spend a lifetime hobbling through life wearing someone else’s shoes. We can even become afraid to walk as we stare into the light of other people’s lives, becoming impossibly uncertain as to where a life for ourselves fits amongst these ill-fitting shapes. We try to gain clarity, feverishly rubbing at our eyes hoping to see clearly, but cannot depart the state of confusion, discomfort, unrest.
I find myself at the border in a formless and numbing no man’s land. Dancing in the shadows.
Each of us has an individual sovereignty. The common abandonment of these homelands creates a world of discontent. Our attempts at conformity to a mis-shapen reality of consistency produces wealth but not realisation. It produces volume, not meaning. The disconnect, the abyss, between this common project and the individual steps of exploration we must take within our own selves, along our own path, is so vast that we are compelled to morph completely into a common form and abandon self. The world around us promotes the image of this common form and all it has to offer. We are told we must be reborn unshaped, abandon our sovereignties and try in vain to mute the voices of our private thoughts and matter which cry out for nourishment.
Our personal sovereignties are essential in nature and defy the limits of language. To this end, the experience of turning away from oneself is a soul-shaking experience of deep and despairing emotions. When one finds themselves in a self-destructive mode they may in fact be trying to destroy the disfiguration they have undertaken in an attempt to return to themselves. Or trying to silence those inner voices that cry out whilst we stifle them in a futile attempt to achieve unshapedness.
My personal experience of my sovereignty comes to me in thought and contemplation, stillness, quiet and unrest. I am unsettled because the noise outside, the external reality I have so passively and soullessly participated in, consists of heartless actions and trivial achievements towards someone else’s goals. I have shied away from music – why? For fear of becoming lost in my innermost thoughts and feelings. From venturing inwards to a point of no escape. From being eternally consumed by an awareness of all that is real and yet futile.
As I stand in these shadows and look into the light that comes from beyond the border, I am blinded. Everything is over-exposed, nothing is clear, because I gaze in vain at the choices, life shapes, and realities of others. If I turn around I have the light’s support behind me and my vision becomes clear. The substantive matter within my own reality takes distinct shape.
Audre Lorde helps to inspire the courage to turn around. “The quality of light by which we scrutinize our lives has direct bearing upon the product which we live, and upon the changes which we hope to bring about through those lives. It is within this light that we form those ideas by which we pursue our magic and make it realized”.ii
We all must turn around at the border, take the light on our backs and look inwards at the distinct forms that we have created through our choices and indecisions. Whether we do this and look upon our lives directly, or timidly dance out our lives in the shadows, our lives continue nonetheless. An absence of one’s personal intent produces outcomes led by others.
Society will continue to offer comparisons, but these need not become burdensome. Experience your satisfaction, fulfilment and joy in its immediacy. Not in the shadows that relativity casts, not from the no man’s land where silhouettes form the shapes of what is excluded by other realities’ positing.
Agency belies sure-footedness which in turn requires the backing of light to reveal the path and guide your way. Turn inwards, look upon your kingdom and be the agent of your life.
i Either/Or, Kierkegaard, 1843
ii A Burst of Light and Other Essays, Audre Lorde, 2017.