This February, I want to explore a different kind of love: the love of fate. I issue a challenge to fall in love with yourself, your life, your fate. I’ve concocted a love potion from a mixture of Nietzsche, Tolle and Jesus to get you in the mood.
Friedrich Nietzsche introduced a concept he called amor fati: the love of fate. He wrote in Ecce Homo:
My formula for greatness in a human being is amor fati: that one wants nothing to be different, not forward, not backward, not in all eternity. Not merely bear what is necessary, still less conceal it—all idealism is mendaciousness in the face of what is necessary—but love it.
To love what is. To love what the moment is presenting. Eckhart Tolle asks the question, “What is your relationship with the moment?” Where you are, what you’re doing, what’s being done to you, who you are, who you’re married to, who your children are, what your job is, what diseases you have, your body, your city, your parents, etc.—it’s all a part of your fate; can you truly love it? Nietzsche and Tolle invite us to figure out how to embrace it, say yes to it, not ignore it, nor get mad at it, nor simply tolerate it, but love it. Nietzsche wrote in Gay Science:
I want to learn more and more to see as beautiful what is necessary in things; then I shall be one of those who make things beautiful. Amor fati: let that be my love henceforth! I do not want to wage war against what is ugly. I do not want to accuse; I do not even want to accuse those who accuse. Looking away shall be my only negation. And all in all and on the whole: someday I wish to be only a Yes-sayer.
No doubt this comes easy to me as a white, straight, middle-class American man of privilege. But what about the child caught in human trafficking, or the Jew lining up for the “showers”? If Nietzsche took suffering and death into consideration, which we must assume he did, how would he say yes to evil, even death, if it weren’t for the open affirmation that both are common to all humanity and this too will either pass or it won’t. By saying yes to what is “necessary,” are we not saying no to any inherent shame in the moment? There is something to be said about the subversive exposure of evils, not by warring against them, but by creating a witness to their emptiness by becoming the stage upon which they’re played out? I see amor fati as a courageous way to both live and die.
Nietzsche challenges us to live life with eyes wide open and find beauty in what is. How is this possible? Perhaps we should differentiate between static and dynamic circumstances. Static circumstances are those you have no control over; dynamic circumstances are things you can change.
The first static circumstance is you. You cannot be someone else. You can get plastic surgery, you can educate yourself, you can even kill yourself, but you are stuck with you. Thus the first task in becoming a yes-sayer is figuring out how to love yourself, to love who you have come here to be, to celebrate what it is that you uniquely bring, and to the find the imperfectly perfect you and embrace it. My suspicion is that if we skip this step—learning to first love this innermost ring of our life-experience: ourselves—it will deeply handicap, if not disable, our ability to love others and our circumstances. As the old tombstone reads, “Be who you is, ’cause if you ain’t who you is, you is who you ain’t.”
The dynamic circumstances of our lives are those that appear but are not necessarily immutable. We can change them. But even these are to be “loved” as they first present themselves, even while you prepare to alter them. Tolle’s example is cold soup. The waiter brings you cold soup . . . what do you do? Do you get mad? Or do you simply inform the waiter of the issue and await your reheated bowl? And, while you’re waiting, exercise that atrophied muscle that searches for beauty in this less-than-perfect circumstance. Martin Luther King told his angry friends, armed and ready to retaliate after his house was bombed, “We are not like those that throw bombs.” In retaliation we often become what we hate. When life is an asshole, don’t give it the satisfaction of becoming like it; transcend it, find a way to love it, and thus overcome it.
A common enemy of this lifestyle is having expectations. Erecting expectations of what we want to happen is a way of shooting ourselves in the foot. We can learn to navigate life as it comes. Remember the Atari game Night Driver? The player would drive on a curvy road at high speeds with limited vision; the road in front of the car appeared only a split second before encountering it. Obviously someone thought this was fun, since a game was made of it. This is a way of life. Perhaps this is what Jesus meant when he said, “Take therefore no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself.” (Matt. 6.34 KJV) And he applied no idealism when he described the present moment: “Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.” In other words, learning to “love” the form the present moment is taking is difficult enough without adding the future to it.
Learning to love what “is” does not exclude the need for planning. In fact, if the form the moment is taking comes as a thought in your head, “I would like to take my spouse on a cruise,” or “I have to remember to unhook the water hose from the house when I get back,” then your cooperation with that moment would require that you do some planning, not forbid it.
I seek to practice amor fati as a conscientious intention, to say yes to whatever form the moment is taking, to say yes to the self, to not crater under self-pity or resentment, to actively cooperate with the desires that manifest in the now (even if it means changing my circumstance), to agree with my “enemies,” to fear nothing and no one, and this Valentine’s Day, to fall in love with my life.