We seem to be in a world slipping deeper into seeking safety, transparency and the need for power and control to sanitise life. All as an apparent response and remedy to pain and suffering. A desire for continued uninterrupted happiness and security. We seemingly long for the place where happiness is and will remain, but as Nietzsche states-
“the hunt for happiness will never be greater than when it must be caught between today and tomorrow; because the day after tomorrow all hunting time may have come to an end altogether”. (Walter a. Kaufmann, Nietzsche. Philosopher, Psychological, Anti-Christ. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1950, p.140.
I interpret Nietzsche’s quote as an ironic statement, one that is not validating the search for happiness but understanding it as a fleeting endeavour. I believe he is asking us not be distracted by it. To go deeper and face and live life in the knowledge of our impermanence.
Both Nietzsche and Kierkegaard (great influences in existential thought) were concerned by how humans repressed and avoided self enquiry. They both strived to understand human existence and used their own existences as a case study for analysis. They recognised how they, and others, would seek to protect themselves from reality and consequently suffer extreme symptoms and tensions, such as depression, guilt, anger, anxiety, obsessive behaviours and disconnection. They had not even considered the effects of social media as an escape on human experience when writing this.
What might get lost in avoiding these affects in terms of our potential and freedom? Soren Kierkegaard (1844) felt without anxiety there would be no possibility and growth as a human being. He suggested anxiety is the ‘dizziness of freedom’ and ‘freedoms possibility’. He famously wrote,
“Whoever has learned to be anxious in the right way, has learned the ultimate…” (Kierkegaard S. The Concept of Anxiety. New York: Liverlight; 2014. p. 188.
They both emphasised the influence and importance of passions and the significance of commitment, to take responsibility for their existence, to act, to create. They discussed in their own ways how our affects are significant for explorations (see more in a blog on Nietzsche’s magnificent monsters). That attempts to avoid inner conflict and intensity and intellectualise and externalise struggles were in some way a defence against one’s own vitality. Anxiety was considered as a potent and necessary force for transformation. Potentially leading to an individual’s confrontation with their illusions and consequently a deeper awareness of how they are implicated via defences and rationalisations. As a dear friend and wise man recently said,
“without inner conflict, what chances do we have to give birth to ourselves. At the very least inner conflict is good for generating creative work”.
Both Nietzsche and Kierkegaard died young (in the modern sense of the word). In that time they wrote prolifically and created great texts and thoughts, used to this day, that inform life and some types of psychotherapy in particular. In my mind both seemed to surrender generously their existences to creating and self enquiry (distanced from a need for notoriety or self preservation). They certainly left an enriched soil for those yet to come. There are many stirring and striking aspects to both of them and their writings. However what moves me the most is their similarity to the eucalyptus tree’s surrendering of self-preservation as a dominant force: letting their passions, tensions, vulnerabilities, heartbreaks, limitations and crises become a strength and force for creativity and transformation for those who are interested.
To end this piece, although more will come later about Nietzsche’s ideas about Will to Power’, I thought it might be fun to insert a quote kindly gifted from the aforementioned wise friend, where Nietzsche compares himself to a plant.
“It is absolutely unnecessary, and not even desirable, for you to argue in my favour; on the contrary, a dose of curiosity, as if you were looking at an alien plant with ironic distance, would strike me as an incomparably more intelligent attitude towards me”. (Nietzsche in a letter to Carl Fuchs, July 29, 1888)
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Susanna Petitpierre, BACP Registered, is an experienced psychotherapeutic counsellor, providing long and short term counselling. Her approach is primarily grounded in existential therapy and she works with individuals. Susanna is available at our Brighton and Hove Practice.