One of the things that I’ve been known to say on occasion is that ma’at is about establishing right relationship – with the cosmos, with other people, and with oneself.
“Oneself” is, I sincerely believe, the hardest part.
Even if one doesn’t have a perspective of oneself as many aspects or components that function as a whole, and thus can think of those relationships as between individual entities and establish them appropriately, it’s hard. (That sort of interrelationship has some basis in ancient perspectives, both in the multiplicity of the souls and the diversity of the members of the body; I’m not just pulling it out of my ass.)
And one of the reasons that it’s hard is that the surrounding culture will often actively get in the way, at least in circumstances with which I am familiar.
Not that this is all a bad thing. If you read the wisdom texts and didactic literature, there’s a great deal in there that talks about how people are born to a place, fit in the place, and for the most part live and die in that place. While there was social mobility in ancient Egypt, it wasn’t precisely a common thing. The theoretical access we have to choice in the modern world is much larger – choice in everything from what we eat to, indeed, what religion(s) we may follow, including no religion at all.
(The practical access we have to choice is much narrower, however, depending on where we live, what our backgrounds are, and similar things. Suffice to say that I’m aware that I have access to a lot of options because of the consequences of my race and class background, and meanwhile lose some on the basis of my health. And, of course, that it’s more complicated than that, and fundamentally this is a thing about Right Relationship within a society, and is a place where the one I live in fails grievously.)
So, yes. A lot fewer pre-defined forms and constrictions on Who We Are Permitted To Be is a good thing, making space for a more genuine – and aligned with ma’at – Way We Are. But it also leaves us unformed and drifting until we get our shit together and speak ourselves into being, because – and here’s the problem – ain’t nobody gonna help us with that part.
Well, that’s unkind of me. Families try to help, but they don’t always know how. Other people try to help, and sometimes their methodologies of helping stink on ice.
I mean: I got a couple different flavors of “you will go to college” from my family, but I didn’t have a clue about what I might do when I got there or what I wanted to pursue if I did, so, frankly, when offered the chance to drop out … I did. I couldn’t get anything from staying there except approval, because I had no idea what I was doing aside from what I was supposed to. Fifteen or so years later, I have finally sorted that shit out, but it’s hard to imagine going back to school in current circumstances (whether ‘current circumstances’ refers to the whole student debt crisis which I would rather not dip a toe into or the fact that there are now small children in my life I leave up to the discretion of the reader).
Or I mean: when sex education consists entirely of “And these are circumstances in which you say no”, it both leads to people not asking in the hope that if they don’t ask, “no” will not happen, and to people not knowing how to say “yes”. And sorting out who to love, how to love, and how to express that love is not a minor part of living as a fully realised human being. (Am I being excessively political? Perhaps to some. But looking at how people can become fully people is a political question.)
I came into being of myself
In the Nun
In this my name of Khepri…
It’s hard to come out of chaos and become fully-formed. “Before there were two things” is not just a statement of happenstance – it understands that existence is a matter of reflection and differentiation. Me and not-me. (I am once again watching an infant start to learn these basics, and recognising that it is a difficult and painful process.)
And it is easy to fall into negative definitions: I am not this. I am not that. I do not like this. I am not like that. And that is a beginning, but for that to be the ending is not creation – it is, in fact, explicitly not-creation, which is a treacherous thing to invoke.
We must know who we are. “I did not put in their hearts to do evil”, Ra is quoted as saying, but do we know how to hear what is in our hearts? Have we learned to differentiate the impulses of all of our occasionally discordant members, to balance one against the other, to master the art of controlled falling that is walking in our personal service as who we are?
We carry the ka of the Creator. That is a fundamental thing. We are each Khepri, coming into being of ourselves in the Nun.
Have we done that appropriate honor?
We wrestle with contradictory social laws. On the one hand, the True and Important Thing is to Get What We Want; on the other hand, the True and Important Thing is to Sacrifice To Support Others. Desire is portrayed as overriding all consideration, and compromise as a weakness that undermines who we truly are; simultaneously, altruism is portrayed as an ultimate fulfillment, in which a good person will release all hope of achieving their dreams in order to allow others to succeed.
Ma’at, as always, lies in the balance. Because the heart holds care for the well-being of others as well as individual personal desires, and it is needful and valuable to achieve both. It is not a wholeness that discards one in favor of the other. We each have multiple members in our bodies and learn to reconcile and coordinate them; likewise, we have multiple desires in our hearts.
We need to know what we wish to bring into being, and we need to bring it into being whole and sound – which includes allowing for the space for things others are trying to bring into being.
And that includes ourselves.