Personal development: Case against a stress-free life

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For a while, I didn’t seek any philosophical answers to my troubles, simply trudging on with life, leaving my burden of conscience to its own devices. But recently, I felt the unprecedented urge to ‘try something out’. What I tried was Buddhist meditation, at the Diamond-Way Buddhist Centre, which organizes public meditations as well as weekly information sessions, for newcomers. To be clear, I am in no way an expert on Buddhism. I visited the centre twice. All I can speak of are my own personal impressions, and how it ultimately didn’t appeal to me.

Although the meditations themselves weren’t as hard to get into as I had expected, the general ideas, as they were taught to me – establishing a kind of ruling of the mind over the impulses, finding ways to avoid “disturbing thoughts” and attempting to reconnect with a lost state of tranquillity – brought me right back to good old Friedrich and his not-so-Zen teachings.

Of course, neither Nietzsche nor any kind of meditation practices allege to do away with anxiety altogether (to my knowledge). But they do offer very different views on how to cope with the misery of the human condition. As I understand it, meditation, Buddhist or not, offers paths to acceptance, whereas Nietzsche’s approach is to conquer, not one’s own ‘disturbing thoughts’, but the world itself (metaphorically speaking). Of course there are potentially nefarious consequences to this kind of thinking, namely hubris and selfishness. But does the implementation of Good in the world require more of the turn-the-other-cheek type of humility we’ve been taught to admire above all else, or does it rather require a breadth of spontaneous and ferocious empathy, anger and courage in the face of injustice, and the will to empower the meek and powerless?

Since it is possible that a restricted life behind what Nietzsche called the “veil of culture”, although far more preferable to the barbarism of perpetual war, ultimately renders the animals that we are in need of excitement, I’ve come to the conclusion that turning the internal struggles we have outward could be far more salutary than achieving the comfort of acceptance. This does not mean violence or even competition amongst ourselves. For me, it means adventure. If life is will to power, a life full of risk taking, excitement and the overcoming of one’s limitations – not the taming of one’s feelings and desires – could be the true path towards healing the soul of its infernal troubles.

All this being said, I am fully aware that these thoughts about adventure might be out of touch with the drudging reality of most peoples’ lives, somewhat weighed down by the mundane struggles of having children or barely keeping out of financial turmoil. All I can offer is my own perspective at this moment in time. Specifically, the moment when, during my second attempt at meditation, I smiled at the thought of hearing the same mantra, accompanied by the sound of a steady but increasingly ferocious beating of the drums. It may be helpful to be kept afloat by a peaceful attitude towards injustice and hardship. But is it empowering?

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