It may be appropriate at this point to talk a little about how this project came into being. There was a confluence of factors that spurred its initiation.
Firstly, after a decade of travelling fifty miles to London for work every day, I had a change of job in February of this year that allowed me to radically cut down on my commuting. So just before the summer began, I found myself with some welcome extra free time on my hands.
The toilet might be basic, but the view... wow!
I immediately took up rock climbing, mainly using a bouldering wall at a gym in the town where I live. This was a hobby that I had been hoping to pursue for a long time and now I had the opportunity, I committed to it tenaciously. I did at least a little training every day, and from that point right up until the present, I am climbing up to four times per week.
The extra free time from the change of job also enabled me to rekindle my fascination for our quintessentially-iconoclastic, moustachioed, German philosopher, Friedrich Nietzsche. I had long been meaning to return to his works after coming under his spell, for a time, many years ago.
The climbing too, put me in the right frame of mind. It is an activity that serves as a very apt metaphor for the kind of human aspiration Nietzsche celebrates. Though Nietzsche was no athlete, he was very keen on walking in the mountains and mountain imagery features prominently in his work. In Thus Spoke Zarathustra, Nietzsche has his itinerant hero, the prophet Zarathustra, claim:
‘He who climbs on the highest mountains, laughs at all tragic plays and tragic realities.’
Nietzsche’s walks in the mountains were crucial to his working method, allowing his ideas to germinate so he could transcribe them later. ‘Solvitur ambulando’ as it is said in Latin (it is solved by walking).
Walking and the outdoors is a passion of mine too - especially mountains. The sense of space, of nature at its most magnificent and austere, the spirit of adventure - it is a refreshing escape from the claustrophobia of urban life and the repetition of the daily grind.
In April of this year, something else happened that probably contributed to the inception of this project. My brother died. Though he had ravaged his body with drugs, he was still relatively young and his death was completely unexpected. As always seems to be the case in the wake of a bereavement, one tends to reflect on life’s meaning, its direction and purpose. So I think that too was a factor in launching this experiment.
A further consideration, not to be overlooked, is that I really enjoy creative writing and I’m fascinated by the science and art of personal development.
Following my brother’s funeral, I ventured into the Welsh mountains during June, taking my young nephew with me. Having lost his father so suddenly, I thought time-out among Snowdonia's precipitous, misty steeples could offer a bracing, life-affirming tonic.
We undertook the ridiculously demanding Welsh 3000s challenge. This is a hike/scramble that involves ascending and descending the highest 15 peaks in Snowdonia in single day. As a measure of how tough this is, I can tell you that I have failed to complete the Welsh 3000s four times in five previous attempts. Our loins girded, perhaps, by the imminence of mortality, we won through this year, making it in about 17 truly gruelling hours.
Traversing the 3000's dreaded Crib Gogh ridge at 4AM
We will discuss the importance of physical and mental challenges in this blog at a later date and, additionally, the value of spending time in the mountains. A good book is available if you would like to have a crack at the 3000s. Do bear in mind that this is one for mid-summer though, as you need every minute of daylight you can get.
Later in the year, I decided to get out into the mountains again. I had read about the infamous GR20 in a newspaper article, supposedly one of the hardest mountain trails in Europe. I decided that this was a challenge for me. One to do alone this time. Again, Solitude is one of Nietzsche’s virtues and we will discuss that, in the course of time. A superb guide to this two-week long trail is available.
I had already decided that my chosen author for this trail would be Nietzsche and I selected the excellent (and mercifully lightweight) Nietszche Reader by R.J. Hollingdale as the right reading matter for the job. I will provide a full review of this brilliant little book in a separate post.
GR20 - this. For more than a hundred miles.
So early September found me scrambling over sun-baked crags in Corsica during the daytime and immersed in this book, under canvas, during the cold mountain nights. That’s where the idea for the Nietzsche Self-Help Experiment came to me.
It was at the exact half way point on the GR20, having completed the toughest Northern stretches, that I picked up a grim message in a little town called Vizzavona. I was informed that my grandma had suffered a massive stroke and was not expected to live for more than a few days. I had to immediately abort the GR20 and take an early flight home to be with her.
The next five days and nights were spent at my grandma’s bedside, sitting a melancholy vigil. She did not regain consciousness, but there were signs she could hear us at times. She died on Saturday 16th September 2017. My grandma was a lovely, gentle, Irish lady, aged 90, so she’d had a good, long spell among us, and I was comforted that she died at home in the bosom of her family. It was sad, but not tragic, as my brother’s death had been six months previously.
So these events together are, I guess, the genesis of this project. To what extent each event plays a part, I cannot say. It is also true that the need for the book - the ultimate product of this experiment - springs from the fact that I was looking for just such a book all those years ago. I couldn’t find it.
As is sometimes the case with such things, when you can’t find what you are looking for, you just have to create it yourself.
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