Start with the End.

Open tombs

{ Introduction to a book in progress, titled ‘becoming king’ }

Let's start this journey at its end. Let's start with the moment you step into your grave.

I want you to read this paragraph, and then close your eyes. Close your eyes and look at yourself as the person you have become in the last moments of your life. What do you see? Who do you see? Which qualities shine through? Which scars do you hold - and what have you made of them? The Ancient Egyptians had a curious way of looking at emotions. According to their logic, whatever you felt in the presence of another person weren't your emotions. They thought of emotions as emanating from the person who caused them - not the person who perceived them. Thus people could be considered to be love-exuding, fear-exuding, bitterness-exuding, etc.

Now, close your eyes again. And look back at yourself as you are stepping into your grave, one more time. Who have you really become? Consider each day a handful of emotions you have fed this future version of yourself. What do they exude now? What do they cause in others? What do they cause in you, the silent observer, as you sit still behind your closed eyes, observing them...

Still no clear vision? Then try this. In your mind's eye, see a group of children running up to your old self. Children are experts in picking up the emanations of people. As the small group gathers around you, what does the first child ask you? Through their child's eyes, what do you have authority over? What do you hold authenticity in? Which aspect of life do they perceive you a story-teller of?

Since time immemorial the mysteries have started by stepping into one's own grave. Today we tend to mistake such ritual act as a symbol, a cipher. When what it really has to become is a sensual, first-hand reality - for its echo to take effect. For the grave to take away the person who is blocking access to a nobler version of ourselves. Because it is in the grave that our current life will fade away, and where we reconnect to the black soil that holds the cup of all other seeds in its womb.

Osiris is a black god, the Ancient Egyptians knew. His mysteries do not begin with glory, good fortune or acquiring might and powers. They start with falling at the hand of his enemy, with being dismembered and descending into a hundred graves at once. You, on the other hand, will only need to step into a single grave. And that is where your mysteries begin.

Beholding, seeing clearly, the person you aim to be by the time you die is of critical importance for your life's journey. I was fortunate enough to first witness my 'ancient self' in a workshop organized by the wonderful John Harrigan of the FoolishPeople. We were lying stretched out in a cellar room, lights dimmed, eyes closed, John's voice guiding us. I felt myself lifted out of my body and rise up through the cellar ceiling, through the stories of the house above, into the evening sky and higher still. Then I shot forward in time, further and further still, a long distance over many decades. Until I slowly descended again into the same street I had lifted away from, only much later in time. John asked us to observe the street, to stand still and look around. Until we see our 'ancient self'. -- I first saw myself standing at the entrance to a small alley, in front of a stained red-brick wall, a tall, slender old man. I had lost all of my hair, and wore a white, patchy beard. I walked closer and looked at myself. The sight of my 'ancient self' completely took me by surprise: My current self was young at the time and had anticipated so see some kind of sign of success on this person, some kind of emblem of accomplishment or accolade of whatever sort. Yet, there I was, a humble old man, slightly bent over. The man exuded something monkish. Yet, most prominently was the calm, the quiet happiness that I felt when seeing him. I don't think I had been that happy for a very long time? Seeing this person, I realised, he clearly had learned how to be content. There was a fluid quality about him, that I absolutely did not know from myself at the time. I sensed an ability to make due with whatever situation life threw him into. Yet that ability was not based upon survival skills, virile perseverance or grit. Instead it seemed to be based upon the ability to flow. On the ability to flow forward like water, playfully, around or underneath any obstacles, rather than fighting them head-on. My old self seemed gently at ease, like a deserter from the fight against himself and others, and yet still deeply engaged in life. -- Irrespective of the many years that have passed since that evening in the old Treadwell's souterrain room, that vision of my old self has stayed with me every day.

Once we behold the person we want to be when stepping into our grave, we are empowered to take control of our lives. Only then can we fashion every single day as a step on the journey that will ultimately lead to us becoming that man or woman. Choices of career, of family planning, of relocation or financial investments - they can then all be tied back to becoming this ancient version of ourselves. Rather then asking what it will take to achieve a certain professional position or pay-grade, the question becomes if these experiences would be valuable contributions to pulling that future self out of the soil of our everyday lives? If I pursued this job, if I founded a family, if I relocated to that place X - which character traits would these experiences shape upon me - and are they in line with the face that I saw at the edge of the grave? If we consider each day a chissel and a hammer set upon the stone that we are - are our days chipping away stone at the right places to become our old self? On that day at the edge of our grave nothig else will matter at all. But how we engaged in life - in order to leave it in a version of ourselves that we are in peace with.

So, to start at the end. To turn yourself into black soil, a black god, and back into a mortal again, there is only one question worthwhile truly wrestling with. And that is: which virtues are you willing to draw out of yourself? In this royal art of transformation, where you are the artist, the art and the artifact, nature holds the seeds of everything, but it will not bring it to perfection without a human's helping hand. Yes, nature can perform the full alchemical cycle all by itself, and produce gold in the athanor of the natural world. Yet, it takes millennia to do so and results in tiny flakes of gold alone. To produce an entire human heart of gold - and within the short life-span we are given - we have to turn ourselves from the passive object nature's forces work upon, into its humble, yet conscious co-creator. The gold we will create as a result of this arduous process, however, is not a mundane currency at all. In fact, rather than making our lives easier, more comfortable and convenient, it will often get in our way, make us stumble or be expelled. The gold we are talking of are virtues that we weave into the fabric of our selves. The gold we are talking of is a high character and goodness.

If this kind of gold doesn't weigh heavy enough in your hands for an entire life to be dedicated to its creation, there are only two options. Either you are not an alchemist, and then this journey is not for you. Or you just need to spend a little more time in this world, and observe acutely. Look around you. And see what we do to this world, what this world does to itself, in the absence of decency. And decency itself is far from being our gold - it is the passive sibling of any virtue only, originally describing the respite of combat, i.e. the calm composure to take time to think before we act impulsively. A virtue is knowing how to create peace, not to delay the attack.

In essence, this will be the journey of this book. To teach ourselves how to produce gold and weave its threads into our hearts. Because for anyone of us to become a king, we first have to become of high character.

Repeated experience finally makes the good distrustful, and small is the step from from the love for mankind to the hate for it. It is therefore necessary to adopt teachings on human prudence, to protect the good heart against deceit and spite. Hard it is however to frequent such teachings of prudence, as most of mankind possesses the kind of prudence which one generally calls politics, and which in itself is nothing but the art of betrayal. (...) Hard it is to walk the middle-path in great states and at the courts; not to depart from the true prudence, and never to descend to false politics. The good will always ask: what is it that needs doing? And one can only reply: That what noble people have done - to walk the paths of virtue at the hand of prudence. (Karl von Eckartshausen, Klugheit vereint mit Tugend, 1790)