Eternal Recurrence

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The use of eternal recurrence as a method of psychological healing in Irvin Yalom’s masterpiece “When Nietzsche Wept” continues to fascinate me, I want to expound more about it.

click to enlarge

Click to enlarge

The illustration above is one of the great thought experiments of Friedrich Nietzsche. The concept of Nietzsche’s Eternal Recurrence simply rejects the concept of an afterlife, of paradise and inferno. Eternal recurrence means repeating all the events in our lifetime again and again, from the time of birth to death, consciously, without altering anything that transpired within that lifetime. This sort of reminds me of Albert Camus’ Myth of Sisyphus. Sisyphus is a mythological creature punished by the gods. For eternity He carries a boulder up a mountain aware that it will roll back down. His task is to carry the rock up the hill in all eternity. To rebel against the gods,expecting the misery and futility in such as task, Sisyphus rolls the rock up the mountain with a choice to be happy.

In the novel “When Nietzsche Wept”. Dr. Breuer wanted to eliminate his thoughts of alienation, infidelity and the feelings of purposelessness of his life. Nietzsche urges him to think of the psychological consequences of eternal recurrence.

Breuer: You suggest, that every action I make, every pain I experience, will be experienced through all infinity?

Nietzsche: Yes, eternal recurrence means that every time you choose an action you must be willing to choose it for all eternity. And it is the same for every action not made, every stillborn thought, every choice avoided. And all unlived life will remain bulging inside you, unlived through all eternity. And the unheeded voice of your conscience will cry out to you forever.”

I always want to keep in mind this thought experiment. It will make my choices wiser, regret less and live life to the fullest.



Review, Passages and Reflections on Irvin Yalom’s “When Nietzsche Wept”


     I just finished an astounding book by psychotherapist/writer Irvin Yalom which is called “When Nietzsche Wept”. Yalom combines history, fiction and philosophy. The piece is centered on the lives of Josef Breuer, who was a famous psychoanalyst during the 1800s, and Friedrich Nietzsche who is one of the pioneers of existential thought. The story starts with Lou Salome (the intellectual slut during that time, pardon my language but I’ve come to form a great disliking to her values) asking help from doctor Breuer to help Nietzsche cope with his deteriorating health and unstable emotions, while keeping it a secret from Nietzsche. Nietzsche struggles with isolation, distrust and suicidal thoughts in this fiction. The reason being, his love for Lou Salome has been disappointed when Salome refuses his offer of marriage and runs away with Nietzsche’s good friend Paul Ree. The unholy trinity of Nietzsche, Salome and Ree probably contributed to Nietzsche’s distrust in people and company. Breur hesitates at first but soon engages himself in helping Nietzsche when he discovers the philosopher’s great mind. Breuer is fascinated with Nietzsche’s writings and soon discovers that he himself, needs some therapy too. Breuer is struggling with his own thoughts of infidelity and alienation. The story ends in both great thinkers healing their minds from their intellectual conversations; finding solace and peace in each others friendship.

Passages from the book that I love and my little thoughts on some of them:

“Fears are not born of darkness; rather, fears are like stars – always there, but obscured by the glare of daylight.”

Fears must be like stars in that they are far from us and when we look at it we are reminded of something burning and beautiful. Fears should be acknowledged to motivate us but must not be lingered upon for such a long time.

“I have a why of living and can put up with any how.”

This famous saying by Nietzsche was incorporated in the novel when Breuer, wanting to help Nietzsche was rebutted with this statement. Nietzsche knew his purpose as a posthumous philosopher. He was misunderstood and only a chosen few understood his writings. Only years after his death was Nietzsche appreciated by his audience.  Nietzsche believed that living truthfully and discovering the truth was no ride in the park. Hence the saying “the truth hurts”. Yalom says: “Nietzsche held, to look deeply into his destiny. Yes, that incurred suffering, but we must train ourselves to bear the suffering of truth”. This statement just says that if we know what our purpose is in life, anything can be endured. Motivational words for me. Thank you Nietzsche.

“What is the seal of liberation? – No longer being ashamed in front of oneself!”

I think this is self explanatory. Day by day I try to love the person I see in the mirror. I give her a smile, take it easy on her and forgive her.

“For a psychologist, personal suffering is a blessing – the training ground for facing the suffering of existence.”

I’ve finally come to terms with my tribulations. I embrace the sea of muck I’ve almost drowned and swam in. At 25 I still have a far fetched dream of becoming a psychotherapist. I don’t know if I can attain it, although I very much want to and this quote is telling me I needed to go through what I went through to make my dreams come true. Without knowing it, the individual composes his life according to the laws of beauty even in times of great distress!

“Nothing is everything! In order to grow strong you must first sink your roots deep into nothingness and learn to face your loneliest loneliness.”

“The greatest tree reaches for the hishest heights and sinks the deepest roots, into darkness – even into evil; but he neither reaches up nor thrusts downward.”

This reminds me of Osho’s saying that sadness and happiness are sisters. The stronger and higher a tree grows, the deeper its roots grow. For us to be able to experience happiness we must first learn defeat. Therefore I am thankful for the darkest days of my life for they correspond to the happiest days I will experience.

“Should we not create- should we not become – before we reproduce? Our responsibility to life is to create the higher, not to reproduce the lower. Nothing must interfere with the development of the hero inside of you. And if lust stands in the way, then it, too, must be overcome.”

“To build children you must first be built yourself. Otherwise you’ll seek children out of animal needs, or loneliness, or to patch the holes in yourself. Your task as a parent is to produce not another self, another Josef, but something higher. It is to produce a creator.

“Do not create children until one is ready to be a creator and to spawn creators. It is wrong to bear children out of need, wrong to use a child to alleviate loneliness, wrong to provide purpose in life by reproducing another copy of oneself.

Nietzsche tells this to Breuer when he complains of his children. He seeks the meaning of reproduction. It makes me realize how self actualized we must first be before bringing a life into this earth. I must not bear children in the purpose of eliminating boredom or trying to find purpose from the child’s existence.

“First step in learning to walk is to understand that he who does not obey himself is ruled by others. It is easier, far easier, to obey another than to command oneself.”

“One must have chaos and frenzy within oneself to give birth to a dancing star.”

Nietzsche is not only a philosopher, he is a poet! (I love this quote)

“The best truths, he always said, were bloody truths, ripped out of one’s own life experience.”

“A cosmic perspective always attenuates tragedy. If we climb high enough, we will reach a height from which tragedy ceases to look tragic.”

This is a good quote for coping in the mundane-ness of everyday life. We all encounter trivialities such as routine at work, annoyance with a family member, a friend and feeling misunderstood. If we look at our lives like a satellite looks at earth. Our issues aren’t even big enough to be televised in CNN or BBC.

“Joining another is not the same as abandoning yourself!”

“It is better to break wedlock than to be broken by it!”

“Marriage should be no prison, but a garden in which something higher is cultivated.”

Lesson learned after 4 years with a man and 10 months with another. I must build myself, my confidence and my identity and not to forget it when in a relationship. I am the only one I can never lose.

“Only when one can live like an eagle – with no audience whatsoever – can one turn to another in love; only then is one able to care about the enlargement of the other’s being”.

To love yourself is the beginning of a lifelong romance

At 25, I’ve felt the famous quarter life crisis knocking on my door. Was I really living my life the way it ought to be? What did I really want? What’s my purpose?

An excerpt from Cheryl Strayed’s “Dear Sugar”  had me contemplating about the life I had to live and love:

I’ll never know, and neither will you of the life you don’t choose. We’ll only know that whatever that sister life was, it was important and beautiful and not ours. It was the ghost ship that didn’t carry us. There’s nothing to do but salute it from the shore”.

What beautiful imagery that had. It also got me started thinking about starting anew. Leaving everything I had in Manila to start a new life in the United States. It would be painful, cold and lonely but if did not do it, I would be crying and regretting, instead of saluting the ship that didn’t carry me. I just had to get in that ship. If I had not, I would’ve been tormented by a voice in my head asking what could’ve been. As it is terrifying and debilitating to feel the burdens of my aloneness and freedom, for the first time in 25 years, it is as liberating and sweet. Tabula rasa. Clean slate. Washing away all the dirt, is healthy for my soul. The responsibility of my fate is all mine.  No mother to cling to or hold accountable for, no lovers to fall back to for convenience. Fearsomely exhilarating, the ultimate paradox. Now I only have me myself and I. The only person who will be there at the end of the day, so why not love her and her alone?

I write to give myself therapy for my loneliness. It is so easy to fall back in that dark void of depression but so difficult to get ones ass off and struggle to climb off that hole. I choose to indulge in the latter. After all, conquering something difficult is sweet victory. The poet Maria Rainer Rilke said it better: “It is good to be lonely, for being alone is not easy. The fact that something is difficult must be more reason to do it”. I’ve wasted so much time in my negativity and playing victim to all the obstacles life threw at me. Now I choose to be reborn and look at things in a new light. These scars made me stronger. My adversaries led me to seek comfort in writings in Philosophy. These books taught me wisdom. I am proud and happy I’ve had to swim through the muck of events and people for without it I wouldn’t have emotional battles cars, and these emotional battle scars is what makes me strong, experienced and wise.

“To love yourself is the beginning of a lifelong romance.” – Oscar Wilde

“Without realizing it, the individual composes his life according to the laws of beauty even in times of greatest distress.” -Milan Kundera (a quote that helps me see the beauty of trying to get by)

Ernest Becker’s “The Denial of Death”, Depression and Myself

I am currently reading Ernest Becker’s “Denial of Death” and I just can’t seem to put down the book. At last, a piece that ignites a fire in my sullied mind. A book that gets those creative juices flowing once again. I am not yet halfway into the book and there are many topics I’d like to expound and share my insights and thoughts about but I will start today with one. The topic of Depression. Ok, I know, I’m being a debbie downer but depression, is not something we can ignore. It is also a sickness, just like cancer or fever or a wound. Without attending to it, it’ll just spread its infection. It needs attention.

Before that let’s sidetrack a bit. The chapter I am reading now is “The psychoanalyist Kierkegaard”. I am in love with this chapter since Kierkegaard has always been one of my favorite philosophers. His analysis of religious stories and the human psyche greatly contribute to the subject of psychoanalysis. He is my favorite because most existential philosophers in my opinion disregard the existence of a higher being, and I needed the comfort of a God in my life whilst trying to make sense of alienation, suffering, the burden of freedom and irrationality. The teachings of Kierkegaard on the absurd and faith is what made him appeal to me. I’d like to explicate more on why I love him but this post will be too long. Maybe I will write about him some other time. Back to the topic of depression. I recently watched a TED talk video on it, which I will briefly talk about in the last paragraph:

Kierkegaard illustrates the duality of man which Ernest Becker talks about in “Denial of Death.” Man is dual in that he is free to decide whether he will metaphorically speaking, be an angel or an animal. Man is dual since he has a consciousness of his finitude (mortality/body) and infinitude (imortality/soul).  Since man is the only creature who is self conscious of both his instincts (animal like) and super ego (godlike) he is a contradiction. He can acquire two illnesses with this duality.

One is schizophrenia. He states that the schizophrenia demonstrates the unattachment of the inner self to the bodily self. Schizophrenia is a psychosis that represses too much of what is necessary or what is reality. Hence schizophrenics live in a fantastic world. I quote Becker: “The full blown schizophreniac is abstract, ethereal, unreal; he billows out of the earthly categories of space and time, floats out of his body, dwells in the eternal now, is not subject to death and destruction. He has vanquished these in his fantasy, or perhaps better, in the actual fact that he has quit his body, renounced its limitations.” This makes me go back to the movie “Fight Club”. Tyler Durden is the product of renouncing body’s limitations and so he/the nameless narrator inflict destruction to the body. If you’ve watched it you will understand.  Schizophrenia portrayed this way is actually very mystifyingly beautiful. It also reminds me of John Nash whose life is portrayed in a great film “A Beautiful Mind”.

A Beautiful Mind

A Beautiful Mind – my favorite scene in the movie

The second neurosis is depression. This is when the bodily part of the self denies and represses too much of the possibilities, or the inner self. This is when someone lives their life with too much necessity. I quote Becker again: “If schizophrenic psychosis is on a continuum of a kind of normal inflation of inner fantasy, of symbolic possibility, then something similar should be true of depressive psychosis. And so it is in the portrait that Kierkegaard paints. Depressive psychosis is the extreme on the continuum of too much necessity, that is too much finitude, too much limitation by the body and the behaviors of the person in the real world, and not enough freedom of the inner self, of inner symbolic possibility…The depressed person is so afraid of being himself. So fearful of exerting his own individuality, of insisting on what might be his own meanings, his own conditions for living, that he seems literally stupid. He cannot seem to understand the situation he is in, cannot see beyond his own fears, cannot grasp why he has bogged down. One of the unconscious tactics that the depressed person resorts to, to try to make sense out of his situation, is to see himself as immensely worthless and guilty. This is a marvelous invention really, because it allows him to move out of his condition of dumbness, and make some kind of conceptualization of his situation, some kind of sense out of it– even if he has to take full blame as the culprit who is causing so much needles misery to others.”

This whole insight of Becker speaks volumes to me. It has unearthed so many realizations, awareness and emotions in myself. I have battled with depression for approximately 5 years. I have come to understand it more now. I was overwhelmed with my reality. My dad’s death, my sister’s absence, my mother’s ignorance of the impact of marrying a psychopath, my first breakup, my declining  sense and purpose in the world, in All these realities hit me. I tried to make sense of the situation by self loathing. By blaming it all on myself. I am lucky that the dark ages of my life has somehow gradually come to an end. I have been blessed to have come out of it alive.

 I can relate so much with depression because I have gone through it. I have been at the bottomless pit that it is. I do not want to be dramatic about it but depression is a real issue and Kevin Breel (the speaker in the video above) is right in saying that it is unfortunate that people shy away from this topic. This is something serious and people should understand more about it to acknowledge what a destruction it is to every individual. It isn’t something glamorous or shallow. It is in every way evil and ugly and I do not want anyone I care for to experience this kind of hell. It’s a first step on healing if we were to understand this illness.

Fight Club and Maturity

I watched Fight Club when I was around 19 years old. It spoke to me in so many ways saying how my life sucked. I needed and wanted a Tyler Durden. I needed my alter ego to save me from my boring life and create that spark and chaotic beauty of living dangerously. I once wrote about it. Instead of Tyler Durden getting killed, I’d kill the narrator. The unnamed Edward Norton.

Past 6 years and I watch Fight Club again. I realize how I’ve matured in relation to having watched this movie once more. I saw pointless anarchism in Tyler’s actions. His lack of heart towards Robert Paulson repulsed my sympathies. Yes he was revolutionary. Yes he was sexy, confident, and a lot of things Edward and I weren’t. However he is in Edward all along. The narrator just had to resurrect the protagonist  to change his mundane, decaying life. The ending had to be Edward killing Tyler because he was a nuisance to society. Yes he uplifted the spirits and brought new life. Too much of him would also be a waste just as too much of Edward was a waste. Their getting to know each other balanced the ideal life that was yet to come,  For the narrator, for marla and the protagonist’s new viewpoint of others and the world.

Fortunately, I wasn’t graced with having schizophrenia. I don’t have to struggle with another me that I adored and despised. I am just saying that now my view has changed. I wouldn’t change the movie at all, unlike 6 years ago when I wanted Tyler to live. There was a scene wherein Tyler threatened to kill an employee if he didn’t do what he wanted to do in his life, be a veterinarian. Edward wanted to see the point in it. Tyler replies by saying that what he did was a good thing for the employee. His goals were clearer, he would feel better after a long time in his banal life. His breakfast would taste better than all the other breakfasts he’s had.

 I am glad my Tyler has asked me that question just months ago. I know what my purpose is and everyday, I’ll find ways to pursue it. Be a psycotheapist, travel, live life extremely with satisfactory amounts of moderation and self reflection.  When all is good in that list, Have a family. I am confident. I have a Tyler Durden in me all along. Who succeeds is the real me, turning the revolution to good, controlling the intense, mischievous, playful chaotic and sexy thing Tyler Durden in me is.