Harmony Among the Light and Heavy
Ground your freedom in meaning, and leaven your fate by laughing in its face.
Garrett Kincaid — February 09, 2023
The most useful model I've encountered for the paradox of the human condition is the duality of the light and heavy. Lightness is freedom. Heaviness is fate. Seemingly opposites, the light and heavy are compatible, even complementary. Both are necessary, and either alone is ruinous.
We all have a proclivity for one side of this duality. Do you more often dream of far-off, solo adventures? Or more often of your family’s future and your career successes? Whichever dreamer you identify with, know that neither is better than the other. The only error you can make is to tilt too far toward one side of this duality. Here, we’ll explore the light and heavy through two Greek myths: the stories of Icarus and Oedipus.
Icarus and Oedipus are the archetypes of the too light and too heavy lives. They fail to find harmony among these forces that should be complementary. Icarus lives the too light life; he is buoyant on the promise of deliverance. Oedipus lives the too heavy life; he sinks on anxieties and certainties of the future.
Their stories both end in tragedy, but your story can be different.
Icarus Falls to the Freedom of Flight
From Icarus, we learn not to fly too close to the sun. But that moral is misleading. Icarus didn't think himself invincible. He wasn't arrogant or overconfident. He wasn't being disobedient. Icarus flew too close to the sun because he was intoxicated by freedom; all he could think to do was feel more of it. Icarus fell because he forgot what he was flying for. To understand his plight and the true moral of the story, we need the full context of the myth.
King Minos sentences Icarus and his father, Daedalus, to death. He condemns them to the island of Crete to be trapped in a labyrinth and eventually found and devoured by the Minotaur, but Daedalus is a genius craftsman and the architect of the labyrinth. He leads Icarus out of the labyrinth, escaping the minotaur. The two make it to the shores of Crete but have to remain hidden. They settle beneath trees and between bushes that line the shore, subsisting on fish.
Crete is an island, so there's no way to escape by land, and if they tried to flee by the sea, they'd be captured by those loyal to King Minos. Daedalus dreams up another way. For six weeks, he studies the flight of swans and collects their feathers from the sand, fashioning wings for himself and Icarus by binding the feathers with wax. Icarus, who is just a boy, spends that time helping where he can, fetching feathers and fishing for food — motivated by the promise of freedom.
When Daedalus finally completes the wings, he straps a pair to Icarus and gives a warning:
Icarus, I recommend thee to keep the middle tract; lest, if thou shouldst go too low, the water should clog thy wings; if too high, the fire of the sun should scorch them. Fly between both. 
Icarus has been sentenced to death-by-Minotaur, and he’s spent weeks of his life in hiding on some foreign beach. He hates what his life has become and longs to be delivered from it. The wings are his answer. All Icarus can focus on is his long-awaited escape, and he overlooks his father’s warning.
As soon as Icarus takes flight, he becomes intoxicated by his freedom, by lightness. He has no thought of where or why he is flying. His lightness sweeps him away as he chases a greater feeling of freedom. Then Icarus falls to his death for flying too high.
Icarus is the archetype of the too light life. When presented with freedom, he pursues it without regard for the risks. In the air, in the elation of lightness, Icarus forgets heaviness and betrays the duality. He forgets his fate — that if he doesn’t keep the middle path between the sea and the sky, he will die.
Freedom is worth pursuing but only if it is purposeful. Ground your freedom in meaning. Daedalus pursues freedom with a purpose: he creates the wings so that he and Icarus could safely escape Crete. Daedalus enjoys lightness without forgetting what he’s flying for. Fly like Daedalus, not like Icarus.
Oedipus Hangs on the Heaviness of Fate
From Oedipus, we learn that, no matter what you do, you can’t avoid your fate. At least, that’s the accepted interpretation. But it’s all wrong. The real moral of the story is: You guarantee your fate by believing it.
Oedipus spends his whole life avoiding his prophecy. Yet, it is by believing his fate that he creates the very conditions that make it possible. Oedipus forgets he is free and hangs on the heaviness of fate.
As a young man, Oedipus receives a prophecy from the Oracle of Delphi that he will kill his father and wed his mother. Determined to avoid this fate, Oedipus runs from it. He flees Corinth and vows to never see his mother or father again, as a way to prevent the prophecy. But, unknown to him, the Corinthian king and queen are his adopted parents. Oedipus’s biological parents are King Laius and Queen Jocasta of Thebes, whom he has never known.
Before Oedipus was born, Laius heard the same prophecy from the Oracle:
The child born to him by his queen Jocasta would slay his father and wed his mother. 
When Oedipus was born, Lauis and Jocasta bound his ankles together and sent him with a servant, who was meant to leave Oedipus to die in a distant pasture. The king and queen intended to kill their firstborn son to prevent the prophecy, yet Oedipus lived.
When he leaves Corinth, Oedipus heads towards Thebes, his birthplace. On the way, he unknowingly kills his father, King Laius, along with all witnesses. Not knowing he had killed the king, Oedipus arrives in Thebes to a people in search of a new leader. He wins them with his wit and assumes the empty throne, wedding Queen Jocasta. Without knowing they are mother and son, Jocasta and Oedipus have four children.
When Oedipus and Jocasta finally uncover the truth of their drama, they punish themselves. Jocasta hangs herself in her chambers, and, upon finding her body, Oedipus removes the broaches from her gown and stabs himself in the eyes, making himself blind. Oedipus asks his counsel to lead him out of the city (out to pasture), but he stops to warn his daughters of the horrid lives they will lead for having been born from the same womb as their father.
Oedipus is the archetype of the too heavy life. He spends his life running from fate, instead of realizing that he is free.
Be the Oedipus who stays in Corinth and becomes king, instead of fleeing to Thebes. Be the Oedipus who hears his prophecy and says, “No shot! I’d never have sex with my mother.” Leaven your fate by laughing in its face.
At different times in my life, I have embodied both of these archetypes. I have made the errors of being too light and too heavy — sometimes both within the same day. But of the two archetypes, I’m more like Icarus — drawn to freedom and aimless exploration at the expense of my commitments and responsibilities.
When I feel distracted and directionless, I remind myself that life is more meaningful when I’m committed and responsible — when I’m flying toward something rather than away from something. Freedom will imprison you if you use it as an escape.
When I am irritable, anxious, or too rigid in my thinking, I recognize it as an Oedipus-moment, and I remind myself of the pleasures of life and my freedom to do what I find enjoyable and meaningful. I remind myself that the future I envision is uncertain and that whatever I do next can change it. You'll be condemned to your fate as long as you're certain of it.
We don’t have to make the same mistakes as Icarus and Oedipus. We can identify with them and learn from them. We can find harmony among the light and heavy. Ground your freedom in meaning, and leaven your fate by laughing in its face.
For the Icarus-Types
- Reflect on the drawbacks of unbounded freedom: a lack of direction, purpose, meaning.
- Commit to something — a routine, relationship, habit, community, course, resolution, or goal.
- Draft a set of your top three or top five values. Is there something on that list — like diligence, reciprocity, or loyalty — that competes with your value of freedom? Determine how to find harmony among them.
For the Oedipus-Types
- Reflect on how it could be limiting to assign an expressed purpose to everything you do — how that could lead to monotony, stagnation, and a lack of creativity.
- Challenge what you believe your fate to be. Do something spontaneous, “out of character,” adventurous, even risky.
- Take stock of your commitments, and classify each as either meaningful, essential, burdensome, or regretful. Then develop a plan to cull your commitments to only those that are meaningful or essential.