Resolving the Paradox of Thymos – The Desire for Recognition

Don’t you know,” asked the Sage, “that important secrets must be hidden under an apparently trivial aspect?” Her-Bak

Nothing is as it seems. The more you learn about why we really make decisions, the more you realize what a complex web we are. There are so many aspects that influences our being in the world, how we live our lives. Yet so little do we know until we decide to live an authentic life.

To live an authentic life is much easier said than done. Layer by layer you have to uncover your true self. Uncover the webs of deception, of illusions that we have created to live in this world, and most of all to find the little Faustian pacts we have made with ourselves in order to avoid facing our fears. One of our most fundamental fears is that of change, because it represents the dark unknown. In reality we would rather live in pain and suffering than change. We fear change, but even more we fear the period of chaos that always precedes change. Yet to achieve self-actualization, our highest potential, to find the Holy Grail, we have to change. It is part of our growth process, part of our uncovering. We have to enter the dark unknown of ourselves to truly live.

I have not made any entries for a long time. I find myself in a time of transition When you find yourself in such a state of transition, you have to allow yourself to experience the chaos of transition before you can turn your energy towards the next stage of your life.

For me such times feels as if I have to let go go of all my present expectations. Throw it all into the blackhole of the future possibilities, and wait upon that which abides to settle around the attractor (the intent) of the next phase. That which remains is that which I still have attachment to, and is the basis of my next phase of growth and learning. We see some of this process in our dreaming. That which are most central to our lives at that point, carries through from our “awakened” state into our other reality. This is also what is said happens in the transition from life through death.


When the end of a Period arrives, one must know how to abandon that which sets its characteristic boundaries, so as to give free access to the Light of the new Period; one must know and hand over to destruction that which is corrupt, so that only what is indestructible should subsist.” Her-Bak


I know I am not alone, in this experience of transition. I look up from my inner contemplations and every where I look I see the chaos of transition. Every part of our lives are in a state of transition, all that we took for granted has been shown not to be what we thought it is. Even our Mother environment, nature have changed from an image of abundance, purity, and a sacred manifestation of the Divine laws, to an image of scarcity, pollution and degraded into a commercial venture. That which once seemed inexhaustible suddenly is at the brink of extinction. An image that comes to my mind is the scene of Jeshua in the temple chasing out the money lenders. This has happened in every sphere of our lives. Nothing is sacred anymore, everything has become something with a money value attached to it. We have forgotten the sacred meaning of why we value things. Perhaps we have reached this state to remember what we really value.

From a spiritual perspective nothing that is, is a without reason. When we speak of transcending or transmuting something, it means that we see the sacredness in something. The way of transformation is seeing the dual aspects of any energy, even though it at first appears as negative. The Way of Truth is realizing the spark of Light in everything.

It is much like the re-telling of dreams. Think about the relationship between dreams and physical life experiences, and how awareness in one affects the other. Night mares strikes us with such intensity that we have to take notice, we can interpret it as a dooms prediction, wallow in the horror of it, or we can see the opportunity to see the real issue, a guiding light for the future instead of a black pall on our future.

We as human beings are driven in this world by 3 basic aspects, whether we know it or not. These aspects are; desire, reason and Thymos. Thymos basically is that something that is in every human that desires acceptance, or recognition from others from which stems our self-esteem, or self-worth. Francis Fukuyama in his book ”The End of History and the Last Man”, goes into the desire for recognition in depth and how it operates almost in an invisible way throughout our history, in economic, political and personal spheres.

It all refers to man’s need to place value on things – himself in the first instance, but on other people, actions, or things around him as well. It is the part of the personality which is the fundamental source of the emotions of pride, anger, and shame, and is not reducible to desire, on one hand, or reason on the other. The desire for recognition is the most specifically political part of the human personality because it is what drives men to want to assert themselves over other men, and thereby into Kant’s condition of “asocial sociability”… Thymos is something like an innate human sense of justice; people believe that they have a certain worth, and when other people act as though they are worth less – when they do not recognize their worth at its correct value – then they become angry. The intimate relationship between self-evaluation and anger can be seen in the English word synonymous with anger, “ indignation.” “Dignity” refers to a person’s sense of self-worth; “in-dignation” arises when something happens to offend that sense of worth. Conversely, when other people see that we are not living up to our own sense of self-esteem, we feel shame; and when we are evaluated justly (i.e., in proportion to our true worth), we feel pride…

That the feeling of dignity or self-worth that is at the root of of thymos is related to man’s view that he is in some way a moral agent capable of real choice , … this self-perception is innate to or a characteristic of all human beings, whether they are great and proud conquerors or humble… Thymos provides an all-powerful emotional support to the process of valuing and evaluating, and allows human beings to overcome their most powerful natural instincts for the sake of what they believe is right or just. People evaluate and assign worth to themselves in the first instance, and feel indignation on their own behalf. But they are also capable of assigning worth to other people, and feeling anger on behalf of others … The desire for recognition arising out of Thymos is a deeply paradoxical phenomena because the later is the psychological seat of justice and selflessness while at the same time being closely related to selfishness… “

The subtle workings of Thymos is best understood looking at the classic example of the story of the greengrocer written by Vaclav Havel in his essay “The Power of the Powerless.”

The manager of a fruit and vegetable shop places in his window, among the onions and carrots, the slogan: “Workers of the World, Unite!” Is he genuinely enthusiastic about the idea of unity among the workers of the world? Is his enthusiasm so great that he feels an irrepressible impulse to acquaint the public with his ideals? Has he really given more than a moment’s thought to how such a unification might occur and what it would mean? …

Obviously, the greengrocer is indifferent to the semantic content of the slogan on exhibit; he does not put the slogan in this window from any personal desire to acquaint the public with the ideal it expresses. This, of course, does not mean that his action has no motive or significance at all, or that the slogan communicates nothing to anyone. The slogan is really a sign, and as such it contains a subliminal but very definite message. Verbally, it might be expressed this way: “I, the greengrocer XY, live here and I know what I must do. I behave in the manner expected of me. I can be depended upon an am beyond reproach. I am obedient and therefore I have the right to be left in peace.” This message, of course, has an addressee: it is directed above, to the greengrocer’s superior, and at the same time it is a shield that protects the greengrocer from potential informers. The slogan’s real meaning, therefore, is rooted firmly in the greengrocer’s existence. It reflects his vital interests. But what are those vital interests?

Let us take note: if the greengrocer had been instructed to display the slogan, “I am afraid and therefore unquestioningly obedient,” he would not be nearly as indifferent to its semantics, even though the statement would reflect the truth. The greengrocer would be embarrassed and ashamed to put such an unequivocal statement of his own degradation in the shop window, and quite naturally so, for he is a human being and thus has a sense of his own dignity. To overcome this complication, his expression of loyalty must take the form of a sign which, at least on its textual surface, indicates a level of disinterested conviction. It must allow the greengrocer to say, “What’s wrong with the workers of the world uniting?” Thus the sign helps the greengrocer to conceal from himself the low foundations of his obedience, at the same time concealing the low foundations of his power. It hides them behind the facade of something high. And that something is ideology.

From Havel’s depiction one can clearly see the Faustian pacts we make with ourselves subliminally to keep in tact our sense of self-worth. Francis Fukuyama comments further;

… in communist Czechoslovakia everyone understood that one was forced to do things one didn’t want to do out of fear. Fear itself, the instinct for self-preservation, is a natural instinct universally shared by all men: Why, then not admit that one is a human being and therefore afraid? The reason, ultimately, has to do with the fact that the greengrocer believes he has a certain worth. That worth is related to his belief that he is something more than a fearful and needy animal who can be manipulated by his fears and needs. He believes, even if he cannot articulate this belief, that he is a moral agent who is capable of choice, who can resist his natural needs for the sake of principle.

Interestingly in the Esoteric teachings of ancient Egypt the word principle refers to the Divine energies, or what is exoterically known as gods. Plato calls Thymos – spiritedness. So although within Thymos originates our material system of placing a value on everything, and has led to our degrading of everything sacred, within it, is also paradoxically contained the germ of our spiritual impulse. Let me lead you further down the path of my thought.

Fukuyama further elucidates …” There is a thymotic aspect to many other activities that are normally seen as instances of natural desire. For example, sexual conquest is usually not just a matter of physical gratification – one does not always need a partner for that – but reflects in addition the need to have one’s desirability “recognized” by the other… the deepest forms of erotic love involve a longing for the lover’s recognition of something more than one’s physical characteristics, a longing for what amounts to a recognition of one’s worth.”

It is clear how integral the understanding of Thymos is in our living an authentic life. It is also clear how easy it is for us to delude ourselves as to what our true intentions are, if we are not honest to ourselves about our fears.

” … for if I am afraid of not being liked or being rejected, or I fear persecution, can I be myself and speak truth to stand in my power – can I stand as a righteous warrior? It seems that I will only find myself sorely compromised when such fear is present, and likely bound to deception.” Tau Malachi

Fukuyame also concludes however, ‘ The decline of community life suggests that in the future, we risk becoming secure and self-absorbed last men, devoid of thymotic striving for higher goals in our pursuit of private comforts. But the opposite danger exist as well, namely, that we will return to being first men engaged in bloody and pointless prestige battles, only this time with modern weapons … How long megalothymia will be satisfied with metaphorical wars and symbolic victories (in the business world) is an open question. One suspects that some people will not be satisfied until they prove themselves by that very act that constituted their humanness at the beginning of history: they will want to risk their lives in a violent battle, and thereby prove beyond any shadow of a doubt to themselves and to their fellows that they are free. They will deliberately seek discomfort and sacrifice, because the pain will be the only way they have of proving definitely that they can think well of themselves, and remain human beings.”

These possible outcomes seems to me however, the result of a striving that is devoid of any spiritual content. We recognize deep inside ourselves that we will only feel our worth when we face our fears, yet on the other hand we strive to avoid our fear. When I look at this paradox, what comes to my mind is that paradox only exist in the reasoning mind, in the natural state, it just is. So here lies for me the root of illusion. We strive for recognition from “the other” in our belief of our separateness, yet we know spiritually that we are one. We also exchange energies and talents with one another based on the worth we place on those energies and talents. This too comes from the belief that we are separate and different from each other. I can exchange with you my energy in order for both of us to gain something we think we do not have.

The Biblical story of the Tower of Babel comes to mind.

The whole earth was of one language and of common purpose. And it came to pass when they migrated from the east they found a plain in the land of Shinar and settled there. They said to one another. ‘Come let us make bricks and burn them in fire.’ And the brick served them as stone and the lime served them as mortar. And they said. ‘Come let us build a city and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be dispersed across the whole earth. And the Lord came down to see the city and the tower, which the children of men builded. And the Lord said, ‘Behold, the people is one, and they have all one language; and this they begin to do; and now nothing will be restrained from them, which they have imagined to do.”Genesis 11:1-9

As one, with common purpose there is nothing that we can imagine that we cannot do. What prevents us from achieving our higher potential is firstly a belief that we are separate, that we are divided and not of common purpose. We have forgotten that all the people is one, and of one speech, that is common purpose, just because we cannot understand the “others”. Just as the outer world reflects the conflicts resulting from not being able to understand the other, just so the same applies to our inner struggle, and the struggle between masculine and feminine. What according to the story of Babel brought about this state of affairs, if you look deeper? They were already one, so why fear becoming scattered? Was this just an excuse for the real reason – to make a name for themselves? To find their self-worth, the rising of the desire for recognition – Thymos?

It seems to me that Thymos is both the seat for developing our individual conscious awareness and that of forgetting our true purpose, and our oneness. How is it possible for us to resolve this paradox so that we do not destroy ourselves in the process and become “last men” ?

I will give a very simple example of how I resolved it in my practical living. Whenever I pick a flower, a herb, a fruit from a tree, or even pull a weed from the earth, I give my thanks and blessings and something in exchange for the gift. In the beginning I used to give a gift of shards of gemstones. This brought me awareness and gratefulness for all of life. As time went on, I started to make another kind of exchange; my energy. I normally inhale the scent of the plant and that evokes in me the feeling of the spirit of the plant that puts me in intimate communion with the plant’s spirit. Only when I feel I made the connection do I ask for pickings and give my gratitude and blessings, at the same time I let my own energy blend with the plant’s energy. What this practice has done for me is brought an awareness of the plant life around me. I cannot see the plant as a lower life form than mine for I have been in intimate communion. Yes the plant’s energy is different to mine, and I have more free will but I do not see myself as superior. In fact through my knowing the plant intimately, I can see that in many ways I am inferior. At the same time I realize, know the oneness of all, and I see no need to prove myself worthy.

What is it that enables me to enter into intimate communion with something different to me, the other? Love of course. In the beginning I struggled to make the connection because I used my will and reasoning mind to try and connect, but unless you feel the connection, you have not. In my mingling I gained more than I set out to gain, e.g a flower, or a fruit. I felt the oneness of all, and realized that in reality I am never alone. All that separates me from the others, is my lack of awareness, withholding my life/love in the confines of my body. In reaching out to the other with your love, boundaries disappear. Who is the other from which I seek recognition, I seek to value, but myself.

I searched for my enemy
and found myself
I searched for myself
and found the Beloved.

In the Ancient Egyptian system there were 3 ways of higher living, or ascended living. Love, knowledge, and action.

Love means the expansion of one self from a limited selfish self to universal self that give without any expectations of taking back or having.

Knowledge means to unite oneself with the object, concept or idea one requires to understand. Knowledge means unity. You have to live day or night with an object, concept or idea to understand it, get closer to it, and get in tune. Within it is contained the concept of being.

Action is the execution of will. The will itself is a movement towards a specific goal.

These three ways of living are all intertwined together. Love works hand in hand with action and knowledge. The three are inseparable. If you love something you want to get closer to get more knowledge of it, which is an action.

Could we not say then that at the basis of our desire for recognition is a hidden source, that of love, within which is reflected the Oroboros? We seek for our worth through another but through our intimate communion with another, through the agent of love, we find our true worth. In fact we find that we never had to prove our worth at all. You can see the desire for wanting something as the other, a yearning for the Beloved. By getting, or rather by uniting with the other, you will receive that which you do not have. This is at present the basis of all of our exchanges in life. However, this is where the Divine Trickster comes in, because in gaining that which you desire, you might still find yourself lacking, and if you blame it on the lack of the other, you will miss the opportunity in seeing the real truth.

Do we love our whole self, in all of its contradictions, blindspots and filters of conditioning? It is by knowing our true worth, that we discover that self-love opens and empowers our capacity to honestly love others, and it is also through love that we discover our true worth and thus self-love. Love is also esoterically, the desire-energy – the Serpent power. To liberate the desire-energy from the dualism of subject/object relationship, thus seeing through the illusion of separateness, is to learn that love is fulfilling in itself, with or without any external expression.

Your soul becomes what you most love.”

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