“I want to learn more and more to see as beautiful what is necessary in things; then I shall be one of those who make things beautiful. Amor fati: let that be my love henceforth!”
— Friedrich Nietzsche
Every experience in your life is a necessary LEGO block in the total construction that is you.
Every event, person, dream, thought, and feeling that has come to pass in your existence has—if only in some minuscule way—contributed to the current version of you that is reading this.
You can think of yourself as the solution to a long math problem for a moment. If you remove any one of the initial figures within the math problem, the solution changes. In a similar way, if you were to remove any one of your experiences, you would no longer be quite yourself. You might be something very similar to what you are now, but your precise current form would not exist.
To understand this point is to begin to see that in order to truly affirm one’s existence, one must affirm all of it. One cannot simply choose to appreciate one’s current self while rejecting and begrudging a multitude of one’s past experiences, because those past experiences are necessarily contained within one’s current self.
If at any given time we wish to love and accept our lives en toto, we must learn to love our every ingredient, or “what is necessary in things,” as Nietzsche put it.
The perceptive observer might have noted by this point that what is necessary for one’s current total self extends far beyond one’s personal experiences. In fact, one’s current total self is dependent upon every event that has occurred in this universe since it began ~13.8 billion years ago.
I would not exist at this moment if the universe had not unfolded in a most fortuitous way, such that the pebble we call “Earth” wound up encircling an innocuous star we call “Sun” at the exact distance necessary not only for life to arise, but for our precise and peculiar biosphere to arise. If the law of natural selection functioned any differently—if the hyper-complex interplay of environmental and biological factors resulting in our evolutionary branch were changed just slightly—the species Homo sapiens would not have come into existence. And if the human enterprise had not unfurled precisely as it has—if the events of history had not coalesced to produce our current globalized, networked world and to allow each and every pair of my thousands of ancestors to copulate with one another at the exact moment they did—I would never have been born, let alone typing on this Macbook.
One can even argue that every child born within the last minute—or even every event on Earth that occurred in the last millisecond—is now a necessary aspect of my self, my existence.
How could that be? What might a child born in Nicaragua one minute ago have to do with me? Without delving into too much of a tangent, suffice to say that our common definition of “me,” of self—i.e. everything contained within one’s particular parcel of skin—might be a quite limiting definition indeed. For millennia, countless sages have suggested that our deepest, truest identity is that of the entire cosmos, the very process of being. My exposition in the paragraph before last should have made it clear that we are not separate agents wandering around in a universe that has nothing to do with us. Rather, the universe has everything to do with us, and we are inseparable from it. Our existence is utterly dependent on an unfathomably specific arrangement of near-infinite events that have occurred over vast oceans of time and space. We ourselves are processes of the universe made possible by billions of years of other processes.
These processes form an uninterrupted chain of occurrences that can be traced all the way back to the genesis of the universe. And thus, some see fit to consider this chain of processes as one single process—i.e. the cosmos. From this vantage point, we are all this one, grand process. We are the cosmos. How fitting that we should be comprised of the atoms of long-dead stars. In this light, we can still appreciate the apparent diversity and discreteness of our human forms, while also recognizing each of our selves as an essential, inextricable aspect of a much greater, grander Self: the single limitless will/process of being. If one identifies with this grander Self, it becomes only natural to see every event that has ever occurred, both on Earth and far beyond, as a necessary ingredient for one’s Self.
Even if you reject this hypothesis of the grand Self, I have nonetheless demonstrated that every momentary event of your life—as well as countless events spanning back ~13.8 billion years to the origin of the universe—has been a necessary droplet of paint in the fresco of your current self.
I alluded to the purpose of this demonstration earlier when I mentioned that in order to truly affirm existence—in order to love and accept one’s current self en toto—one must learn to love “what is necessary in things.” There is a term for this approach to life: amor fati.
“Amor fati,” which translates to “the love of one’s fate,” refers to a perspective one can take on one’s existence. To realize amor fati is to reach a point at which one perceives all of the events of one’s life—and perhaps all of the events that have ever occurred in the universe—as necessary elements of one’s current self and/or Self, loving them for their essentiality.
The concept of amor fati has been traced to the Stoics of ancient Greece. The phrase was also employed repeatedly in the writings of Friedrich Nietzsche. It seems appropriate here to share a passage from Nietzsche’s The Gay Science to further elucidate the concept:
“I want to learn more and more to see as beautiful what is necessary in things; then I shall be one of those who make things beautiful. Amor fati: let that be my love henceforth! I do not want to wage war against what is ugly. I do not want to accuse; I do not even want to accuse those who accuse. Looking away shall be my only negation. And all in all and on the whole: some day I wish to be only a Yes-sayer.”
And a passage from his Ecce Homo:
“My formula for greatness in a human being isamor fati: that one wants nothing to be different, not forward, not backward, not in all eternity. Not merely bear what isnecessary, still less conceal it—all idealism is mendacity in the face of what isnecessary—but love it.”
In Nietzsche’s work, amor fati is closely connected to Nietzsche’s idea of the “eternal recurrence of the same.” The latter idea refers to a thought experiment in which one imagines that the life one is currently living will repeat itself endlessly for eternity. In Nietzsche’s mind, the greatest of human beings would love their fate to such an extent that they would joyously accept the prospect of eternal recurrence. As he wrote in The Gay Science,
“What, if some day or night a demon were to steal after you into your loneliest loneliness and say to you: ‘This life as you now live it and have lived it, you will have to live once more and innumerable times more’ … Would you not throw yourself down and gnash your teeth and curse the demon who spoke thus? Or have you once experienced a tremendous moment when you would have answered him: ‘You are a god and never have I heard anything more divine.’”
For me, the prospect of affirming existence to the extent expressed at the end of this latter passage is deeply stirring. To live and love one’s life so well that one would willingly elect to relive it for eternity—could a more galvanizing, vitalizing ideal be conceived?
Reading these passages, it seems self-evident to me that a true and lasting realization of amor fati would be an invaluable treasure. And even if the deepest amor fati—to love one’s life so fully that one would embrace eternal recurrence—is not actually possible, I nonetheless find it to be a precious guiding beacon, suggesting the way to a more beautiful existence. It also, I think, points to a means of liberating oneself from an awful scourge of human existence: the denial of life.
The Denial of Life
The vast majority of humans resist and reject countless aspects of their lives. They refuse to accept certain events, people, and experiences, choosing instead to view them as sub-optimal, “wrong,” or despicable. In doing so, they harbor bitterness and regret.
The most unenviable of these humans come to view life as a foul thing. They curse the black sky, bemoaning the fact that they were born into this cruel labyrinth of a world. Some of them kill themselves. Most, though, simply undergo an internal death. Their inner vitality and zeal for life evaporates entirely, leaving them to tread the peaks and valleys of existence in a state devoid of appreciation. They spend their days indulging fantasies of how life might have been, rather than loving What Is. Many of them dream up shiny, fluffy paradises and tell themselves that they will be magically transported to these places upon dying if only they can make it through the profane chore of human life. They live because they feel they must, not because they yearn for life.
Theirs is the most pitiful kind of existence—one consumed and defined by a deep-down yearning for things to be something other than What They Are. The beauty, majesty, and sublimity of What Is are not available to them because they see only through filters of indignation and acidity. Their capacity to love is diminished. Their ability to play with life—to create new things and to delight in the simple wonders of the day-to-day—is non-existent. The magic of experience itself—to breathe, see, hear, taste, smell, touch, think, feel, and dream—is lost to them. They exist, but they do not live, to paraphrase Oscar Wilde.
Amor fati is the inverse of the denial of life. Amor fati is the pure affirmation of existence. Amor fati is the utterance of Nietzsche’s “sacred ‘Yes,’” in which one delivers a resounding “Yes!” to the whole of one’s life and the whole of existence. Amor fati is the love of what is necessary in things. Whereas the denial of life is a perpetual slog upstream, amor fati is an alignment of oneself with the Way of Things, a surrender to the flow of What Is.
You can imagine a spectrum on which the denial of life is placed at one extreme and amor fati is placed at the other. Most humans probably exist somewhere near the center of this spectrum—affirming and loving many aspects of life while resisting and denying many other aspects of life.
I humbly assert that any any individual seeking to live the richest and fullest life available would be wise to aim to move gradually along this spectrum in the direction of amor fati.
After all, to deny life is to wage war against What Is—against That Which Cannot Be Changed—and in such a war one will always lose. Is it not the most foolish of all possible courses of action to enter into a war which one is guaranteed to lose? Countless humans spend life huffing and puffing, griping and seething, writhing and screaming, in an effort to change, reject, or renounce What Is. All the while, What Is does not blink and continues simply to be What Is.
Who can deny that a much wiser and saner course of action is to befriend What Is, to make love to the Necessary, to kiss the Cosmos softly in secret silence beneath the covers?
In so doing, one is able to flow, aligned with the Way of Things, embracing every note and chord of existence as essential to the Symphony, dancing along.
One might reasonably ask whether one can move in the direction of amor fati by force of will, or whether it is only by the grace of What Is that a more all-embracing perspective can be attained involuntarily. It is my understanding that Nietzsche felt that the true and total amor fati could only be realized in the latter way. Nonetheless, it is my suspicion that by contemplating the concept of amorfati and cultivating the intention to accept all that occurs in one’s life, one can move ever-closer to the full realization of amor fati. And with each step toward amor fati, life becomes more digestible, beautiful, fun, inherently meaningful, and filled with possibility.
One might also reasonably ask whether a love of What Is must preclude one from wanting to change or improve the world. I do not subscribe to this philosophy. From my vantage point, to love What Is is to understand that although the past isfixed, innumerable possible futures exist. In some of those possible futures, humanity destroys itself and the rest of the biosphere. In others, humanity persists, develops more sustainable and non-violent global systems, and redistributes global wealth more effectively to eliminate the unnecessary suffering of poverty. In some of those possible futures, terrorists create viruses via gene printers to catalyze a plague that wipes out most of the human race. In others, humanity and our evolutionary branch persist into the deep future, allowing trillions upon trillions of potential human, post-human, and other sentient beings to come into existence, create unimaginable marvels, and evolve into complex new realities we can scarcely fathom.
I humbly suggest that one can love What Is while also favoring certain possible futures over others. The tricky part, though, is that once a possible futureactually occurs, one must love it as a necessary part of What Is, even if it wasn’t a possible future that one particularly favored. In this way, I suspect it is possible to cultivate a deep love and acceptance of the universeas it is, while also seeing value in work that attempts to contribute to the realization of certain possible futures that are friendlier to sentient life.
For me, amor fati is much more than some abstract philosophical concept about which to write an essay.
Amor fati is a shimmering holy grail that lives in my chest. It is a sacred lantern guiding me toward a life which I will not only be overjoyed to live, but a life which I would be overjoyed to live again and again and again, for eternity. It is an existential keystone pointing the way to the greatest Existence of Jordan Bates that might possibly occur. It is a cherished idea that has gradually been transmuted into something akin to a soul.
Have I realized the true and total amor fati? Certainly not. I yet resist aspects of myself, my past, our global situation, and my day-to-day reality. However, the number of things which I resist continues to decrease. Though I feel I was once near the center of the deny-vs-affirm spectrum I described, I now feel near enough to that Hallowed Mount Amor Fati to see it winking at me just beyond the horizon.
And sometimes, in moments of total silence and stillness, or contrarily in moments of blissful intoxication, I think I taste it—that pure, sweet honey.
- Or perhaps an eternity. Some physicists now suggest the the universe has been around forever.