Thursday, September 17, 2009

Nietzsche – Insights of a Troubled Soul 4

What inspired these last three posts on Nietzsche was reading the new book entitled Staring at the Sun: Overcoming the Terror of Death (Jossey-Bass, 2009) from the pen of the great contemporary psychiatrist and existential analyst Irvin D. Yalom. Therein he makes many allusions to Friedrich Nietzsche and illustrates how the wisdom of this great existentialist philosopher can be profitably used in therapy. By way of concluding these posts on the insights of Friedrich Nietzsche I wish to write a short account of how Yalom considers our man to be of help in the therapy room.

Quotation 1: Die at the right time.

Quotation 2: Consummate your life. Fulfill your potential.

Commentary: An unlived life is the worst thing for us because such a life will cause us much death anxiety according to Yalom. (See op. cit., 50). In other words, “carpe diem,” or “seize the day” or simply: “live your life to the full.”

Quotation 3: When we are tired we are attacked by ideas we conquered long ago.

Quotation 4: Amor fati: Create the fate that you can love.

Commentary: I have often found that when I am tired worries and concerns which I had thought I had dealt with come back to the surface. Nietzsche’s insight here is very consoling. When we are tired, down and stressed, not just new worries, but even all the old ones surface in our consciousness. Then we have here his positive insight that we can create our own destiny. Then Yalom illustrates how he uses the Nietzschean insight of “eternal return” in his psychotherapeutic practice. He would say to a patient/client: Would you be willing to live this past year of your life eternally? The idea here is interesting. Let’s listen to Yalom’s own words:

If you engage in this experiment and find the thought painful or even unbearable, there is one obvious explanation: you do not believe you have lived your life well. I would proceed by posing such questions as, How have you not lived well? What regrets have you about your life? (Yalom, 101)

Yalom then quotes two aphorisms which I have teased out in the last few posts: he calls them “granite” sentences. They are: “Become who you are” and “that which does not kill me makes me stronger.”

To become wise you must learn to listen to the wild dogs barking in your cellar. (Yalom, 211)

The above aphorism is a restatement by Yalom in his own words of one of Nietzsche’s insights into the human psyche that we must face our own worst fears, even our own worst temptations, temptations that we will never ever act on.

Finally, I loved the way Yalom used his Nietzschean insights in his existentialist therapy. His final insight on why Nietzsche was so hostile to Socrates and Plato, and indeed St Paul, was because of their disdain of the body, their emphasis on the soul’s immortality to such an extent that the body became just a mere husk or shell. This has great relevance for me as I grow older, as I cope with my personal death anxiety, as the reality of the body becomes more real for me in its very breaking down as I age. And the soul has become less “spiritual” in the religious or holy sense of that word and more real in the sense of its connectedness with the whole of reality.

Above Irvin D. Yalom.

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