The curious thing about my personal commandments is that none of them are really all that stagnant. They are dynamic and constantly evolving. This commandment in particular is a relatively new one for me. I have been honing and refining it as I have been reading Robert Rowland Smith’s book Breakfast with Socrates. In Smith’s somewhat overly formulaic book, he takes us on a breezy overview of western philosophy. In his third chapter, Smith introduces us to the mind of Nietzsche.
Since my college days I have been fascinated by the writings of Nietzsche. Originally I was drawn to the contrarian subversiveness of his writings. His proclamation that “God is Dead” seemed deliciously wicked to me. I was reminded of and offered a different perception of Nietzsche’s nihilism during graduate school when I read Irvin Yalom’s When Nietzsche Wept. Yalom introduces us to a Nietzsche whose ideas are disturbingly similar to someone suffering from a Major Depressive or Dysthymic disorder.
I keep a copy of a compilation of Nietzsche’s writings on the top shelf of my desk at work. Only my most well-read clients ever comment on my little ironic and somewhat disconcerting private joke. I generally don’t utilize Nietzsche’s ideas as a guide for my practice. Rather, the presence of his book is my own personal reminder that brilliance and insight can still be found right in the middle of profound mental illness.
Smith’s book reminded my of my favorite and simplest of all Nietzsche’s challenges: “Make your reality your ideal.” Live today for today. Make the most of it. Ditch the fantasy of another world or a heaven to save you from yourself and your mistakes. Live as if this is the only chance you get, invest in your life, WAKE UP and live!
I suspect that even my most conservative Christian friends might find some wisdom in the idea that we should be as responsible as possible for our own choices on a daily basis. So often I sit with clients who have romantic notions of how their life might be better “if only” some aspect were different. “If only” they weighed less; “if only” they were loved more; “if only” they made more money. It is these very fantasies that keep them trapped in a perpetual purgatorial sleep. They wish to be “delivered” from their miseries. But these fantasies of being magically “delivered” are a terrible hindrance to what we can accomplish here, today.
So I choose to be awake. I choose to experience the pain and inevitable suffering of being alive, I choose to experience ecstasy, disappointment, rejection, aging, tragedy, sexual rapture, sickness, health, disgust, love, and all the myriad of other emotions that this life has to offer me. I choose to be awake. I choose to live this life and not disregard and gamble it away for the sake of a potential mythical alternative.