by Paul Waggener
Nietzsche said once, “he who has a why to live can bear almost any how.”
I have always loved these words, and they have inspired me to keep the steel in my spine, the frost in my blood, or just “hold it together” at various low points in my own “how.”
By clinging to what I saw as my “why,” my greater purpose, my holy mission, I was able to view the various degradations of poverty, injury, betrayal, and so on, as stumbling blocks placed in my way as a test of some kind. By persevering through them, I progressed toward my ultimate goal and grew stronger as a result.
Much harder than dealing with these “hows,” though, are losses of “why.” True dark nights of the soul shake our “whys” to the foundations, and leave us questioning whether our purpose really is what we have perceived it to be, or if there is any point to life at all.
These are the dying times.
The moments where our lives seem to exist on the edge of a razor- everything is precarious, slipping, threatening to fall out of the balance and into the abyss of obscurity, despair, and blackness.
What have we been working for, or toward?
Does anything matter?
Do our lives here have any meaning beyond that which we arbitrarily attribute to them?
These existential crises during which existence itself is often the crisis- the sheer weight of going on, of moving forward, seems crushing, hopeless, and, ultimately, utterly pointless.
Those who have experienced the loss of their why will know exactly what I refer to here when I say that at these crossroads, the horizon appears as vast, cold, and grey as the relentless Pacific. Wave after wave of lassitude and lethargy crashing upon an empty shore.
This is the ultimate struggle of the man who lives a self-examined life- in endlessly searching for the great truth, he will at times come face to face with the horrific possibility that there is, in fact, none to be found. The state of emptiness, of isolation and cosmic solitude that this can produce is staggering, and for many, leads to a surrender to passive nihilism.
Possessed with the futility and dread that the examination of their lives has stirred up in them, they submit to the idea that because they are experiencing this futility and dread, that it is TRUTH with a capital T. It exists everywhere, for everyone, at all times- nothing is sacred, nothing is true, nothing is worthwhile or meaningful.
This passive nihilism is, in fact, a product of rampant ego. Those overcome by it think that because their beliefs have been shattered with the hammer of experience, of “reality,” that this means ALL belief is likewise shattered.
Instead of summoning up a manly approach to what is destroyed, and seeking to rebuild with new material, their entire existence becomes a metaphorical crying over spilled milk.
As Nietzsche suggests, in his “Will to Power,” the only answer for these dark days is to look within, as well as to continue exerting the will without, and to be reminded that our true purpose, our great meaning, does not exist as some golden edict, dictated to us from an alien intelligence without.
It is created by us, on the forge of existence itself.
He says: “The nihilistic question “for what?” is rooted in the old habit of supposing that the goal must be put up, given, demanded from outside – by some superhuman authority.”
These crisis periods are what make us. They remind us that we shape our own lives. We are the hammer and the anvil, and the material upon it. We cannot look to the universe to provide us with our answers- we must be men! We must find beauty in the rawness of life, in its brutality and in its emptiness.
From stone, we must create sculpture and fortress. From steel, we bring forth sword and suspension bridge, or we destroy them. From sorrow, we must distill a song that resonates within our hearts of victory over it.
In “Thus Spake Zarathustra,” Nietzsche says that man will go through three metamorphoses- from the Camel, to the Lion, and finally, the Child.
As a camel, we must seek out the heaviest of experiences, the hardest of truths, the most crushing weights in existence- we make of ourselves a beast of burden, because we see this as the truest way to connect to the deeper veracities of being. We walk alone with them, out into the wilderness, into the great desert of the unknown, bearing these awful cargoes to sustain our journey.
“What is difficult? asks the spirit that would bear much, and kneels down like a camel wanting to be well loaded. What is most difficult, O heroes, asks the spirit that would bear much, that I may take it upon myself and exult in my strength?”
Somewhere along the way, we will either lay down and die with our burdens, or we will assimilate them into ourselves, and cast some away, and we will transform into the lion.
We will stake our claim to territories vast and savage, and with ferocity and roaring, thunder our challenge to the world. As the lion, we make war on everything that threatens us, or provokes our wrath, or encroaches on the borders of our domain.
Our worldview is completely our own- and it brooks no adversaries. We have become alienated, strangers from the world, and the enemies of man. This is the point during which we began this piece- the Lion is in this state of existential crisis that he must overcome. He is faced with the possibility that there is no great truth, or meaning in life, save that which he can give to himself in an act of supreme self-creation.
“Here the spirit becomes a lion who would conquer his freedom and be master in his own desert. Here he seeks out his last master: he wants to fight him and his last god; for ultimate victory he wants to fight with the great dragon.
Who is the great dragon whom the spirit will no longer call lord and god?
“Thou shalt” is the name of the great dragon. But the spirit of the lion says, “I will.”
“Thou shalt” lies in his way, sparkling like gold, an animal covered with scales; and on every scale shines a golden “thou shalt.”
My brothers, why is there a need in the spirit for the lion? Why is not the beast of burden, which renounces and is reverent, enough? To create new values—that even the lion cannot do; but the creation of freedom for oneself for new creation—that is within the power of the lion.
The creation of freedom for oneself and a sacred “No” even to duty—for that, my brothers, the lion is needed. To assume the right to new values—that is the most terrifying assumption for a reverent spirit that would bear much.”
As the Lion, we take our destiny into our own hands, and we destroy the false god of external rulership- the lies and plastic virtues of the modern world.
We become our own men only when we begin to create, and to see life by our own set of values.
To become the Child- a man must obliterate all rules, and create his own game.
“But say, my brothers, what can the child do that even the lion could not do? Why must the preying lion still become a child?
The child is innocence and forgetting, a new beginning, a game, a self-propelled wheel, a first movement, a sacred “Yes.” For the game of creation, my brothers, a sacred “Yes” is needed: the spirit now wills his own will, and he who had been lost to the world now conquers his own world.”
Rather than seeing territories and battlefields, he sees a playing board.
Rather than opposition and enemies, he sees characters.
Rather than misery and suffering, he creates his world in the way that he sees fit, and plays within his own game, understanding that the key to life is in the act of creation itself.
He is free.
He is wild.
He is playing the greatest game of all- a man, within the wonder of shapeable existence.
Go and do likewise.