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Revolutionary or reformer—the error is the same. Unable to dominate and reform his own attitude towards life, which is everything, or his own being, which is almost everything, he flees, devoting himself to modifying others and the outside world. Every revolutionary and reformer is a fugitive. To fight for change is to be incapable of changing oneself. To reform is to be beyond repair.
A sensitive and honest-minded man, if he’s concerned about evil and injustice in the world, will naturally begin his campaign against them by eliminating them at their nearest source: his own person. This task will take his entire life.” Fernando Pessoa, The Book of Disquiet
Once we’re able to see this world as an illusion and a phantasm, then we can see everything that happens to us as a dream, as something that pretended to exist while we were sleeping. And we will become subtly and profoundly indifferent towards all of life’s setbacks and calamities. Those who die turned a corner, which is why we’ve stopped seeing them; those who suffer pass before us like a nightmare, if we feel, or like an unpleasant daydream, if we think. And even our own suffering won’t be more than this nothingness. In this world we sleep on our left side, hearing even in our dreams the heart’s oppressed existence.
Nothing else… A little sunlight, a slight breeze, a few trees framing the distance, the desire to be happy, regret over time’s passing, our always doubtful science, and the always undiscovered truth… That’s all, nothing else… No, nothing else…” Fernando Pessoa, The Book of Disquiet
The more we live, the more convinced we become of two truths that contradict each other. The first is that next to the reality of life all the fictions of literature and art pale. It’s true that they give us a nobler pleasure than what we get from life, but they’re like dreams which, though offering us feelings not felt in life, are none the less dreams that dissipate when we wake up, leaving no memories or nostalgia with which we could later live a second life.
The other truth is that, since every noble soul desires to live life in its entirety—experiencing all things, all places and all feelings—and since this is objectively impossible, the only way for a noble soul to live life is subjectively; only by denying life can it be lived in its totality.
These two truths are mutually exclusive. The wise man won’t try to reconcile them, nor will he dismiss one or the other. But he will have to follow one or the other, yearning at times for the one he didn’t choose; or he’ll dismiss them both, rising above himself in a personal nirvana.
Happy the man who doesn’t ask for more than what life spontaneously gives him, being guided by the instinct of cats, which seek sunlight when there’s sun, and when there’s no sun then heat, wherever they find it. Happy the man who renounces his personality in favor of the imagination and who delights in contemplating other people’s lives, experiencing not all impressions but the outward spectacle of all impressions. And happy, finally, the man who renounces everything, who has nothing that can be taken from him, nothing that can be diminished.
The rustic, the reader of novels, the pure ascetic—these three are happy in life, for these three types of men all renounce their personalities: one because he lives by instinct, which is impersonal, another because he lives by the imagination, which is forgetting, and the third because he doesn’t live but merely (since he still hasn’t died) sleeps.
Nothing satisfies me, nothing consoles me; everything that has been and that hasn’t been jades me. I don’t want to have my soul and don’t want to renounce it. I want what I don’t want and renounce what I don’t have. I can’t be nothing nor be everything: I’m the bridge between what I don’t have and what I don’t want.” Fernando Pessoa - from The Book of Disquiet