The wisdom of German philosopher, Friedrich Nietzsche, is often overlooked due to an unfair reputation that precedes him. Let’s explore his thought-provoking concepts that can nourish our soul – the will to power, his conception of Apollonian and Dionysian (explained ahead) and the endless return.
It challenges our way of living and invite us to live with bravery, joy and authenticity thus, it can be seen as advice for strengthening our spirit and to find our inner self.
The will to power, Nietzsche says, is what life is; and because we are life, we are also it. We are fundamentally will that wants to overcome its limitations, to rise from the obfuscation to lucidity, and to go on with our life in a merry way.
If we are made of such wonderful matter, where does the weakness of our spirit come from? How come there are times when we feel down and unable to take control of our own existence? If we are a guest of honor in this cosmic symphony of beauty why aren’t we acting like it?
Nietzsche writes in his famous book, ‘Thus Spoke Zarathustra’ a powerful metaphor where he describes the three transformations that our spirit undergoes. In the beginning we are a camel: we live an arid life carrying a tremendously heavy burden: the moral – that is, all the dos and don’ts of society. We go around doing what others tell us to do, and we behave how we are supposed (conditioned) to behave. In this stage, we affirm life, but by doing and believing stuff that does not spring from our own will.
When the camel gets tired of bearing all the weight, he rebels. He no longer wants to do what others tell him to do: his spirit screams for authenticity. Annoyed with the values that are subscribed to him, he becomes contumacious: a lion. In this stage we fight the world and all its rules. We say a firm “no” to the moral, making it a stage that negates, characterized by its rebelliousness and ferocity. Perhaps, now, life is no longer heavy, but rather a problem that needs to be kept at bay or fought against.
Once we get tired of being gruff; when we see that there is no point rejecting everything, the final moment of this metamorphosis comes – it’s glorious and super fun! The child. This transcends the former stages as we no longer think in terms of whether what we are doing is morally correct or incorrect, or is imposed or comes from within.
Our actions have now acquired a very distinct characteristic: we do what we want because we want it! Like a child on a playground who has genuine fun not because he is told to (camel) or because he doesn’t want to do what he is told to do (lion) but because he finds a great deal of joy in doing it.
The things that have to get done are no longer heavy nor something that we have to fight against, the categories proper-improper, correct-incorrect dissolve and we are left with a delightful game. The world turns into music, and we no longer walk or talk, but rather dance and sing. There is nowhere to get to or nothing to be attained, for you are already there and having everything that you could ever need.
Our actions no longer need justification, they are all grounded in what we want to do, just by the mere fact that we want to do them! We need not make logical arguments or rank it in terms of how proper it is, there is just an unfolding delight.
The video below is a short film on Nietzsche’s philosophy and life –
There is a Zen story that I think exemplifies very well to be in a state that goes beyond the moral dichotomy-
A senior and junior monk were walking down a path until they encountered a river that had a strong current. There they saw a young and beautiful woman who wanted to cross but was not able to. Upon seeing this, the senior monk offered to carry her on his shoulder, and he eventually did. Gently he dropped her on the other side and said good and parted ways. The junior monk was furious!
Many hours pass until the junior monk, not being able to withhold his anger, said to him: “As monks we are not supposed to touch women, how could, let alone touch her, but carry her?!!”-The senior monk replied: “As for me, I left the woman hours ago by the river but you seem to be carrying her still.”
There is thus a strong emphasis that Nietzsche, among other thinkers and tradition, puts on overcoming the mind, or what he calls our Apollonian side (name taken from the ancient Greek god of the sun – representing reason), for it cannot even come close to grasping the depth and marvel of our emotions, creativity and ultimately our own will: our Dionysian side (name taken from the ancient Greek god of wine – representing the extemporaneous manifestation of our being).
It is a loving passion and not reason that should govern us. Too many thoughts can weaken our potential; its like caging a wild bird, limiting all its possibilities of living, by confining it to a small place.
But if we have to make choices to use our head in important life-changing decisions or even, to try and find criteria by which we could discern which path to follow, there is a powerful experiment that Nietzsche puts forward: the endless return.
If you were to live your life, over and over, again and again for the rest of eternity, what would you do here and now, in order to find this very moment be worth living for an eternity?
Nietzsche says: love your fate that you construct! Embrace every part of it! Be bold and fearless! Turn yourselves into someone who could face eternity and shout to it: I am this and I love the life that I am living!
So, to summarize, how can we strengthen our spirit? Be innocent and forgetful like a child: do not let your mind cage your spirit and make decisions that could withstand being done over and over for an eternity.