The key question.
'Do you shudder at the thought of re-living your life, as it is and has been, over and over again, or are you exhilarated by this prospect?'
I talked about the Eternal Return a couple of weeks back and how it can provide an opportunity for personal reflection (see post ‘You Specks of Dust’ from 2nd December).
Feelings about this question, I suggested, can provide a barometer concerning one's desire for life-changes, but also clues as to where those life-changes need to be made. The idea of the exercise I proposed was to consciously reflect at the end of each day on whether that day can be affirmed or not, and in what respects? I decided I should carefully review each day's choices and actions and ask myself would I repeat them again, given the chance, in the exact same circumstances? If not, what would I do differently?
On a practical note, I have learned that it is helpful to make a note of significant events during the day, whether they are failings or successes. Especially the smaller matters, as they are the ones you are most likely to have forgotten by the end of the day. I use my smartphone for this. This is a good discipline and reinforces a sense of continual self-awareness.
Today then. I rose with my usual 6AM alarm and made tea. I got online and did some work on my Nietzsche book, which was a good start, but because I didn't have a plan, I did meander around online a bit. I do this purposeless meandering a lot and it's not the most efficient use of time. My energies are dissipated by a lack of focus. Frustrating.
I drank a couple of cups of tea, (maybe I drink too much tea and coffee). I skipped breakfast. Some people say that it is the most important meal of the day, but I have heard another theory that claims eating in the morning after a night-long fast just causes your insulin to spike. I'm trying to lose some weight right now, so I can do without that. Whatever the case, I find that breakfast makes me sluggish - all that blood flooding from your brain to your stomach - it just makes me want to go back to bed. Nobody needs that in the morning.
I ran to work, which is good. It’s about 3 ¼ miles. Feeling very springy right now because I've been doing lots of running - work and back, mainly. I showered at the office (it has facilities). I do find myself rushing the shower a little, even though I am ahead of time. This is because lots of folks come into the office a bit early, and likewise lots of them leave a bit late at the end of the day. This puts a subtle social pressure on everyone to do the same and I do not think it is always motivated by professional conscientiousness. I will explore this more in another post.
At work I found myself overwhelmed by lots of tasks and requests, and though I am reasonably assertive, I did let emails and other people distract me somewhat from my immediate priorities. I think this is more about my own scatter-brained nature though, rather than capitulating to demands from others. As I’ve already said, I do tend to lack focus at times.
Though I'm not exactly your model of a people-pleaser, I sometimes feel I compromise myself when interacting with others. I think I have a reasonably good standing with my boss, but perhaps I am a little too keen to maintain that. Hard to say where plain courtesy ends and deference begins. In Beyond Good and Evil, Nietzsche lambasts the:
For lunch I had three sticks of celery and peanut butter. I really enjoy this. I've been able to rein in my eating in an unprecedented way these recent months. In the past, when I've wanted to lose some extra pounds, it has just been a general desire, without any specific motive or well-defined goal. This time around, I have improving my climbing as my clear purpose. This is providing a stronger foundation for success - a reason for the self-denial; a meaning to the suffering, as it were. In my most recent post I mentioned Nietzsche's view on the need for meaning:
If it is not too flippant, I am reminded of the classic book Man's Search For Meaning by holocaust survivor, Viktor Frankl. In it he writes that:
In a line that is highly reminiscent of Nietzsche’s Eternal Return, he also writes:
I worked fairly hard today. Got some stuff done. Ran home again then slipped up and had a couple of beers. I regret this as it ruins my sleep and I don't have enough alcohol-free days for what I would call a truly health lifestyle. Alcohol also makes me lazy and self-indulgent. I can slump in front of the TV guilt-free, whereas I would find it hard to sit still otherwise. Maybe this is the real reason I use alcohol - self-sedation. Nietzsche thought that alcohol was like Christianity – a ‘great narcotic’, something used to drown one’s sorrows when we should be taking action to address them. I think I know what he means.
So what's the verdict? Can I affirm this day? It was fairly successful, in that I didn't experience any cataclysmic failures. Just possibly I was too accommodating of others - not sure. I dropped the ball on the beers (hopefully writing-up such failures on the internet will shame me into abstinence). I was reasonably, if not spectacularly, productive. I got some exercise. I ate well.
All that said, I can't say I achieved any kind of excellence, but then how often do such opportunities arise in everyday life? The truth is, I suspect they arise more often than we think. I think minor changes can be major breakthroughs.
One example, when I run in the morning, I get pretty irked by people getting in my way on the footpath. Sometimes it seems like the universe is conspiring just to inconvenience me. Like, inconvenience me really minorly. Like the universe hasn't got better things to be doing with its time.
Nietzsche rails against such pettiness and I deplore it in myself. I just can't seem to shake it off. It is tiny toxicities like this that often constitute such major challenges to overcome. I think if you can crack these little problems, you can probably take the bigger stuff in your stride. In The Wanderer and his Shadow, Nietzsche himself claims that overcoming such petty challenges is:
'The most needful gymnastic. A lack of self-mastery in small things brings about a crumbling of the capacity for it in great ones. Every day is ill-employed… in which one has not denied oneself some small thing at least once: this gymnastic is indispensable if one wants to preserve oneself in the joy of being one's own master.'
Quite. Start with the little things. They are bigger than they seem.
And a final thought on the day without obvious opportunities for excellence: might it be that striving for excellence in any way, however modest, is an excellence in itself?
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