Tuesday meditation on Nietzsche, and then some

me with a friend, in the sun

Friedrich Nietzsche acknowledged the will to superficiality–an embrace of the trivial and an avoidance of anything troubling, profound, or anomalous–as a healthy impulse and natural tendency in the human psyche. Nietzsche also thought this instinct was hidden beneath most claims in science. “Here and there we understand and laugh at the way in which [science], at its best, seeks most to keep us in this simplified, thoroughly artificial, suitably constructed and suitably falsified world.”

The instinct toward the false and flighty protects against the chance that one might “get a hold of the truth too soon, before man has become strong enough, hard enough, artist enough” to handle it. Nietzsche also believed that the seeker of knowledge was secretly “lured and pushed forward by his cruelty, by those dangerous thrills of cruelty turned against oneself.” This is something I’ve been confronting lately…and though I’ve never been a big Nietzsche fan, these thoughts resonate with me. I’ve been insisting on descending to the Grund in search of substantial truth.

Wasn’t that Sophia’s descent? Eve’s tantalizing bite? Isn’t the search for truth always a form of self-inflicted exile? And isn’t it necessary? Doesn’t all of creation begin with descent? Isn’t the creation of form in which we can then contemplate the Divine, a very reason for existence?

If ‘soul’ refers to the deepening of events into experiences, then it’s upsetting that the soul’s depression is often under attack by modern medical and societal conventions–for a society that does not allow its individuals ‘to go down’ cannot find its depth. Through allowing gravity we enter depths, and in depths we find soul.

Gravity is also essential as it brings refuge, limitation, focus, weight, and humble powerlessness. Nietzsche writes, “It might be a basic characteristic of existence that those who know [the truth] completely would perish, in which case the strength of a spirit should be measured according to how much of the “truth” one could still barely endure–or to put it more clearly, to what degree one would require it to be thinned down, shrouded, sweetened, blunted, falsified.”

Are we brave enough to really see?

Once we open the part of ourselves that is able to see things clearly, we can never return to our prior state of seeing again.

I asked Antolak to share his thoughts on living so closely to the truth. He said it was a fine aspiration, and that today more than ever, we need more people to attempt it. “Most don’t even look for, let alone to live by it. Because it can make your life very uncomfortable and very dangerous.” Antolak didn’t stop there. He said he didn’t think any of us ever really reached the Truth.

“Truth with a capital T, that is. We keep getting ever closer but never quite reach it. Instead, we settle for minor truths (which we outgrow when we see things from other perspectives). Usually we settle for some kind of rational explanation, definition or verbal expression. Words and concepts.

And words can be the problem, rather than the solution. They are often the illusion that prevents us from perceiving the Truth. Truth is not a verbal explanation. But once we make it so, words, cherished beliefs and concepts become idols to be fought over or jealously guarded. And then we’re stuck.

We need to treat language (and concepts and “thought” in general) with a degree of healthy skepticism, as just conventions, rough signs and descriptions, (fingers pointing to the moon). Only then can we really “wake up” to Reality (in the Zoroastrian sense) and perceive it as nearly as we can. We need to become “disillusioned” by the enchantment, the seduction, the spell of verbal thought, of words and concepts. We can take them or leave them; change one for another when it suits. Believe all or nothing. We need to treat concepts and ideas the way we treat images: as works of art which point to reality but which shouldn’t be confused with it. For the real reality always comes veiled. The trick is not to mistake the veil for the real thing.”

The story of the soul is partly mythical and partly literal—though we can ever really draw a line between the two and say, “This is poetry; this is philosophy,” for the transition from one to the other is imperceptible. I like to think our minds are in service to our souls. Maybe we’re in this worded world to find the vocabulary to describe what’s going on, so we can then bring into words that which has all along been sounding. (A phenomenological coming-out party, if you will.) I think that by sharing our experiences with each other, we’ll somehow validate the experiences themselves, and ourselves, and our personal truths, whatever they may be. I think we all just want to be known. Maybe words help us to be seen. Maybe if you touch me, I’ll exist. Maybe men are trees.

I’ll end this with a line from one of Lila’s poems. She was a sudden and beautiful friend of mine– and while we sat on the floor in her walk-in closet, underneath her skirts and sequins, she unearthed a journal from 2nd grade and opened to a random page. “Here,” she said. “I’ll read.”

You and I are traveling a path
too parallel to truth to ever find it