Whoever . . . scrutinizes his mind . . . will find his own natural work, and will find likewise his own star and daemon, and following their beginnings he will thrive and live happily. Otherwise, he will find fortune to be adverse, and he will feel that heaven hates him (Ficino 169).
The daimon is a sort of inner mentor, dissuading us from taking certain paths in life. Heraclitus adds that our ethos is our daimon. In this work, the emphasis will be on my own personal search for a place in life.
Marsilio Ficino, obviously influenced by Greek tales of the daimonic, makes some very precise statements concerning the consequences of following or ignoring one’s daimon. The search for one’s place in the world is often overshadowed by many things, such as the quest for affluence, worrying about what others think, or being pushed into a certain vocation by one’s family. Ficino gives a seemingly simple plan for ensuring a fulfilling life. But if it is so simple, why do we see so many miserable people in the world? Surely it isn’t because most people have never heard of Marsilio Ficino. The truth he brings seems self-evident. Some find their niche naturally by simply following their heart, even if they have never read Plato or Ficino or any of the other thinkers who have advised us of this truth. For these, it is instinctual.
In my personal situation, I got off to a good start, but became very confused as life progressed. In elementary school, I was considered very bright, possibly even gifted. I received straight A’s until I was in the seventh grade. By the time I was sixteen, I had lost most of my interest in school. My personal reading was much more fascinating. It fueled my inquisitive nature while school bored me to tears. My teachers seemed imbecilic, and my parents had no idea people could actually choose a vocation which coincided with their natural inclinations. Needless to say, I had no external guidance. By the time I married at twenty, I was thoroughly misplaced. I had a factory job which was akin to slavery, at least in my mind. I was enslaved to the grind of the routine machine.
I worked second-shift, three to eleven. When I would get home at night, I would sit up into the wee hours reading. This was the only free time I had and I cherished it. I began reading about things that interested me. It was just light stuff, something to get my mind off my miserable job. After a few years, I found myself going to the library and checking out books of a more philosophical bent. After awhile, I got involved with computers and online discussions. This is really where I discovered how much I loved philosophy. At that time, I made up my mind, with the help of the daimon, to study philosophy.
I suppose my main point in all of this is to say that my reading caused me to enter into an inner process of scrutinizing. If something fueled my imagination, I read everything I could find on the subject. By doing this, I found out something about my daimon, my character, my natural inclinations. I have been in situations where I did not follow my inner voice and it is not pleasant. Just as Ficino says, it felt like heaven was against me.
Even though I believe I am now following my heart, sometimes I feel guilt. Here I am, middle-aged, and still have no idea what I will do with the rest of my life. I suppose I feel that my life’s work should already be established, and, in part it is. But, because I have already experienced life without Soul, I refuse to return to the miserable existence of ignoring my natural inclinations.
Ficino, Marsilio. The Book of Life. Irving: Spring, 1980.
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