This strategy is a minefield of philosophies and theologies. So beware if your goal is to ‘find what will work for me’. This is quicksand for the soul and the place from which alchemy and witchcraft have been selling their wares for centuries. You will find a thousand sites on the internet offering you the keys to self-mastery—for you! of course.
But if your goal is—at any price—to love God and your neighbour and to go with what stands the tests of truth, sanity and grace, you are in a much more objective position and far less likely to crippled by self-interest. You would do well to consider deeply the teachings of the New Testament and the ‘heart-music’ that sings when you experience the birth of a child, falling in love, or even the burial of a beloved family member.
For myself, one such body of ‘heart-music’ has been the first and last of George MacDonald’s fantasy works: Phantastes and Lilith. He is regarded by many as the father of mythopoeic fantasy and has much to say to the post-modern mind, which (although he lived almost two centuries ago) he understood and deeply sympathised with. Below are some excerpts and commentary on his insights on the matter.
‘Anodos enters the cottage of the Ogress, she is reading: “So, then, as darkness had no beginning, neither will it ever have an end. So, then, it is eternal. The negation of aught else, is its affirmation. Where the light cannot come, there abideth darkness. The light doth but hollow a mine out of the infinite extension of darkness. And ever upon the steps of light treadeth the darkness; yea, springeth in fountains and wells amidst it, from the secret channels of its mighty sea. Truly, man is but a passing flame, moving unquietly amid the surrounding rest of night; without which he yet could not be, and whereof he is in part compounded.” This strange speech discusses the source of darkness, associated with evil in Christian imagery. The Ogress asserts the substance of darkness, of evil,and suggests that man’s existence is grounded in the darkness. Yet the fact that she is an Ogress implies that she is somehow evil so her words must betaken not as MacDonald’s own view, but as the opposite of it.’
‘Inverted, this speech outlines the Augustinian conception of substance and goodness (light). Darkness and light are in opposition, but light is substance and darkness is the absence of substance. … Although the inversion and falsity of her speech is confusing, her chant points toward the meaning of evil as the absence of good. Anodos’s acquisition of the shadow illustrates MacDonald’s Augustinian conception of evil and the self. Unfortunately for Anodos, his perverse impulse, his disordered desire, motivates him to open the door of the closet … out of which his shadow, evil, `finds him. After he sees a figure travelling towards him, he “looked round over [his] shoulder; and there, on the ground, lay a black shadow, the size of a man. It was so dark, that [he] could see it in the dim light of the lamp, which shone full upon it, apparently without thinning at all the intensity of its hue” The shadow has no independent existence, does not have its own substance,but is the negation of light, of good. It lives as a parasite on the self of Anodos. After gaining the shadow in the “Church of Darkness”, Anodos’s vision of the world is distorted by it. When he sees a child with a magical toy, “straightway he was a common place boy”9 …
‘Anodos visits a town where if he gets too close to people they appear terrifically ugly when the shadow falls upon them. Eventually his self and his shadow are tangled up together, and he cries, when at the Fairy Palace:“‘Shadow of me!’ I said, ‘which art not me, but which representest thyself to me as me; here I may find a shadow of light which will devour thee, the shadow of darkness!’”. Yet there is no evidence or implication that the shadow has a self or a substance separate from Anodos—the shadow was “in[his] heart as well as at [his] heels”. Anodos’s loss of the shadow reveals the relationship of self and evil.’ …
‘When Anodos focuses on himself, when he ignores the advice given to him by others, the shadow begins its terrorization of him when it comes from the depth of the darkness. In that shadowed state, Anodos no longer tries to seek the ideal, but only seeks to serve himself. This turning to self instead of looking toward God, the true ideal, is what Augustine pinpoints as the invasion of evil into the self. All the things which the self-centered try to achieve are good in themselves, but have been distorted by the disordered desires of an evil will which turns to the self, the lower good, rather than focusing on That Which Is, on God. Anodos escapes evil when he turns away from himself and toward the true ideal, making his journey a working through of what Max Keith Sutton calls the “disorders of a narcissistic personality…’10
The book of Proverbs tells us, “Keep your heart with all vigilance for from it flow the springs of life.” (Prov 4:23) This ancient book is filled with remarkable wisdom collected over thousands of years — via oral and then written history: Proverbs 24 is a great example, filled with proverbs on ‘the fool’. It warns us that not only do we have a ‘shadow self’ and a self to be treasured and guarded but that there are people out there who have remarkable powers to get a man or a woman to first devalue their body and soul and then to throw it away.
But don’t be fooled, this road starts close to home. The big and obvious temptations out there: drugs and sex for example, are red herrings in some way. For very few of us ever sit down one day and say, ‘I’m going to wreck my life.’ The first step will come from close to home via a family member, a friend or a leader you trust: ‘beautiful, good and decent’ leaders in your local community, churches and schools—and they (not the drug dealers and film stars) are the ones who will most likely get you started on this pathway. They are the ones Jesus spoke of as the ‘children of the devil’: the ‘life, child and family destroyers’. And it all starts when you get deeply hurt by one of them. Then comes despair, and then comes the temptation to self-destruct, which is where the drug dealers and others come into the story.
So, remember, “You can’t get done over if you are not on the playing field whether it’s bitterness or drugs.” You can decide how you want to live and that you are going to set tactics and strategies in place so that it’s extremely unlikely that you will be one of their casualties. Stay away from their turf. As CS Lewis says; ‘I really think that Christians should avoid wherever possible, the company of liars, cheats, bullies, and the immoral, not because we are too good for them, but because we are not good enough.’
The letter of James has this to say: ‘Do you want to be counted wise, to build a reputation for wisdom? Here’s what you do: Live well, live wisely, live humbly. It’s the way you live, not the way you talk, that counts. Mean-spirited ambition isn’t wisdom. Boasting that you are wise isn’t wisdom. Twisting the truth to make yourselves sound wise isn’t wisdom. It’s the furthest thing from wisdom—it’s animal cunning, devilish conniving. Whenever you’re trying to look better than others or get the better of others, things fall apart and everyone ends up at the others’ throats.
Real wisdom, God’s wisdom, begins with a holy life and is characterised by getting along with others. It is gentle and reasonable, overflowing with mercy and blessings, not hot one day and cold the next, not two-faced. You can develop a healthy, robust community that lives right with God and enjoy its results only if you do the hard work of getting along with each other, treating each other with dignity and honour.’11
11 James 3: 16 – 18 The Message Version