I am looking at an object, absorbed in it completely, with no sense of self. This is what Hegel calls Consciousness, but “I” do not yet exist. I become self-aware when I Desire. So let’s say that the object I’m looking at is edible and I become hungry. This is Self-Consciousness, aroused by Desire from a sense of Lack; now “I” exist. Immediately, a competition begins between my Self—the Desiring Subject—and the Object. I assimilate (eat) the object and destroy the lack, only to be immediately consumed with a new Lack (I’m cold, lonely, bored, insecure, etc.). This time I see something but it is not an Object, it is another Desiring Subject (a human). A competition ensues. (see Hegel’s Master/Slave dialectic).
Since Desire is what constitutes existence (self-consciousness, self-awareness), all human existence, our every moment, is consumed with Desire driven by a sense of Lack. Thus the human condition and thus the cultures we create, are defined by and immersed in competition, which breeds fear, strife, and restlessness. That is, unless I decide that I lack nothing.
Last month, I broke down Nietzsche’s “amor fati” (love of fate). Another idea of Nietzsche’s is “eternal recurrence.” It basically asks us to think about reliving the same moment over and over again. To Nietzsche, it is the thought of the greatest burden. I think it is his way of shutting down all teleological hopes—expecting that things are going to improve. He wrote, “Everything becomes and recurs eternally—escape is impossible!” If I were in such a loop, I would (eventually) give up evaluating the moment (whether it is good or bad) and the next moment too (because it isn’t coming). As you might imagine, this could produce many varied reactions. (Think of Phil Connors’ stages of acceptance in Groundhog Day: denial, depression, hedonism, hope of escape, acceptance and self-improvement.) Eternal recurrence is a tool to put me in a mindset that maximizes my life. Nietzsche wrote, “To endure the idea of the recurrence one needs: freedom from morality; new means against the fact of pain (pain conceived as a tool, as the father of pleasure . . . ); the enjoyment of all kinds of uncertainty, experimentalism, as a counterweight to this extreme fatalism; abolition of the concept of necessity (needs?); abolition of the “will”; abolition of “knowledge-in-itself.” Nietzsche wanted to not wish anything to be different than what it is. Ironically, it’s contentment that produces action.
Consider the Garden of Eden myth: eating fruit from the tree of knowledge opens one’s eyes to good and evil. This new vision judges everything as varying degrees of good or evil. If the object is good, I need or want it; if it is evil, I need protection from it—both create a lack, then a desire, then a tension. This paradigm produces a perpetual state of need, fear and conflict. Adam and Eve’s first response after eating the fruit was fear and self-awareness. They were told they would die, but they didn’t . . . or did they? A life of perpetual fear is a death (and is a worse thought than “eternal recurrence”). One who rejects the tree of knowledge and chooses the tree of Life instead sees life (circumstances, others, self) without evaluation or judgment. The Eden myth is a powerful parable contrasting the default human condition (driven by lack) with an alternative: the tree of Life—abundance.
Jesus repeatedly forbade judgment. He offered the natural world (lilies of the field, birds of the air) as models of ceased striving. Perhaps the Psalmists understood what Nietzsche was getting at: “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want” (Psalm 23, emphasis added). In other words, “I will have no wants.” Consider “be still and know that I am God” (Psalm 46). The constant competition generated by lack can cease by trusting in what is (I am). The word “amen” means “so be it”—an affirmation of what is. Paul talked about having learned the secret of being content in all circumstances “whether well fed or hungry . . . in plenty or in want.” (Philippians 4:12)
I’m not versed in other traditions that practice contentment, but a common Buddhist mantra is “om shanti.” Om is a solemn assent meaning “yes, verily, so be it,” much like “amen.” Shanti means peace. This is saying yes to the moment and declaring peace in place of conflict, striving, and anxiety aroused by a sense of lack. Meditation can function as an exercise in contentment.
Now, let me balance this Zen, passive, yes-saying contentment with a strong dose of reality. Amor fati must be practiced with eyes wide open. Life is unfair, broken, ugly, disgusting, disturbing, grotesque, senseless and absurd. If, and when, a beautiful thing occurs, it’s sheer miracle. I must come out of Plato’s cave, enter the real world, and say yes to it—over and over again—including my death and everyone’s death. All the typical escape valves must be closed: stoicism (false sense of peace), skepticism (apathy, nihilism), and religion (fantasy, afterlife, good/evil dualism).
Amor fati is a freedom from the base natural condition rooted in fear, lack and inaction. It is freedom to the wild nature of life, risk and action. Here’s the tricky part: this new Action does not spawn from lack. I still want nothing, need nothing, lack nothing and have nothing and no one against me. I cannot say what the Action will be because it will come of the purity of that (needless) moment. It will be whatever is mine to do at that moment, and I will not judge it. I will not label it good or bad. I will not rate it in comparison to what anyone else is doing. Since I am loving the moment (amor fati), and the moment is eternally recurring, I trust my action in the moment is coming from love. If I become Love (as subject) and I only see Love (object), the war is over.