There is an ancient alchemical dictum, In Sterquilinis Invenitur, which translates into “in filth it will be found”.
I believe Carl Jung initially meditated on this idea, which was later revisited by Jordan Peterson in his book Beyond Order: 12 More Rules For Life.
For the modern person, we may first analyze this statement in a material sense. We puzzle ourselves by trying to extract wisdom with this perspective, and rightly so because I believe this observation was not uttered as a statement of truth about the physical world.
Jordan Peterson expands on the statement by giving his interpretation:
In sterquilinis invenitur: in filth it will be found.
What does this mean?
That which you most need to find will be found where you least wish to look.
Many people have a desire to change and transform into better versions of themselves. But we are also hyperaware and conscious of the fact that the ideal version of ourselves has not yet come to pass.
When we look into the mirror, we find ourselves looking at a disparate reality — one that loses the glamor of the imagined reality, one that is oh so different from the one we form in our minds.
And so we decide not to face reality. We decide not to look into the mirror, and we distract ourselves by listening to voices that are not our own and looking at faces that are not our own.
But when we refuse to face reality, we do not erase the consequences of ignoring it. Rather, the consequences stockpile and gather into a monstrous size, and when it can no longer be ignored, it will crash over you like a tidal wave, consuming you in darkness and destroying any hope you had of redemption.
We fear the unknown because it holds dangers. And these dangers are nothing to scoff at because, at first glance, they seem like true threats to our social statuses in society.
What if we try exercising and we hurt ourselves, and to make matters worse, make a fool of ourselves while doing so? (Fear of social judgment)
What if we try starting a new company and we end up failing, or worse, burning through our life savings and going bankrupt? (Fear of social judgment + monetary risk)
What if we try writing or starting a new venture on the Internet and no one wants to read or watch my content? What will my friends and family think? What will strangers on the Internet have to say about me? (Fear of social judgment)
But we forget that the unknown holds not only threat but promise. The mythological story of the dragon and damsel in distress/gold depicts this idea clearly. The individual who dared face the dragon faced a terrible threat, one that could destroy them if they were not careful enough, but in confronting the threat they would have the chance to reap the reward of the courageous act.
And again, because we project our modern, empirical lens onto the story, we believe that the ancient people were trying to say that “winning the woman” or “winning the gold” was a mission for material gains.
But I believe the people who crafted these stories were trying to depict psychological truths (though they themselves were not aware of this). They were trying to tell the story of what happens when you confront what you is dangerous, what you fear most.
This goes back to the alchemical idea mentioned earlier in this article:
“That which you most need to find will be found where you least wish to look.”
What are you afraid of? Why are you afraid of it? What would happen if you took a step toward it?
Rather than wait until the object of fear grows too powerful to contend with, wouldn’t you want to gather up the courage to face it voluntarily?
And perhaps in your voluntary confrontation, you will find that what you were so deathly afraid of was not such a big deal after all.
In this act of facing what you fear, you’ve embodied the mythological hero, the one who attacks the unknown, embodied in the dragon of chaos, and gains the psychological reward of knowing that you are more courageous and stronger than you initially thought.
Take, for example, publishing your first piece of creative work. It may be a piece of writing.
You might have wondered for days, weeks, and months about the day where you finally sat down and crafted a masterpiece to share with the world.
You might have dreamed about the day where you would finally move your mouse to hover over that green publish button and slam the left click button.
But your fear kept talking you out of it. It told you that you weren’t good enough. It told you that people were going to criticize it, or worse, ignore it. It told you that you weren’t ready, that you weren’t deserving of writing, of putting your thoughts out into the world.
And somehow you convinced yourself that you should listen to it. A part of you wanted to deny it, but a part of you believed it to be true. Perhaps this part of your mind was wise and was saving you from humiliation. Perhaps this part of your mind was speaking the truth, and it would be silly not to listen to it.
But you must also give the same power to the creative side of you. Why do you long to create, to write? Why do you want to share your thoughts and words? Why do you want to share your stories?
Because that side of you believes in your competence, your power, your ability to inspire and touch other human beings.
And this side should be given an equal say in the battle for your soul.
So we come to an impasse. You believe that both sides have fair arguments. Now it is up to you to decide which one is more credible. It can’t be done logically or objectively. The decision to side with one always comes with a risk. It is a leap of faith with uncertain outcomes.
I believe when you come to these decisive moments in your life, you must go with the positive perspective of yourself. And obviously with this decision, you risk allowing the possibility of the negative side to prove itself right.
But when you decide to confront what you fear most, you learn a lot about yourself and the world.
You learn that publishing an article is not a big deal.
You learn that writing a story and not having it validated by other people is not a big deal. And if you were writing for validation, you should revisit your motivations and come back when your convictions are stronger than solely receiving claps and attention from others.
You learn that articulating your thoughts on paper is difficult, as it allows you to construct your arguments and forces you to be coherent and, to a degree, logically consistent. It is, however, a worthwhile endeavor because you learn that you are capable of formulating your thoughts. It also teaches you how ignorant you are and how many beliefs and assumptions you hold that you have not examined closely.
You learn that being vulnerable is actually not seen as a weakness, but a strength.
You learn that you have the courage to overcome your fears. You learn that you have the courage to take another step by writing another article. You learn that creative endeavors are, to a large degree, monotonous processes. Writing involves intense concentration and can be frustrating.
You learn so many things throughout the process and find that you change for the better.
You start thinking less about the doubts and criticisms and more about the ideas and stories you’d like to write about.
You start thinking less about the fear and find yourself taking the next step without even realizing it.
You start thinking about yourself in a positive manner, which allows you to tap into your intuitive, creative side and produce better work.
It does not matter anymore what the weak and negative part of you was saying. You’ve come to accept and see yourself as a hero, willing to confront chaos, willing to go where you least want to go, in order to develop as an individual.
You must decide to walk into the darkness, rather than wait for the darkness to consume you.
You must decide to move forward even when your mind tells you to retreat.
You must embody the mindset of the hero, the one who willingly takes the risk, knowing there is potential for threat and danger.
Self-initiated confrontation with what is frightening or unknown is frequently curative.
— Jordan Peterson