God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him. How shall we comfort ourselves, the murderers of all murderers? What was holiest and mightiest of all that the world has yet owned has bled to death under our knives: who will wipe this blood off us? What water is there for us to clean ourselves? What festivals of atonement, what sacred games shall we have to invent? Is not the greatness of this deed too great for us? Must we ourselves not become gods simply to appear worthy of it?— Nietzsche, Die fröhliche Wissenschaft, Section 125, tr. Walter Kaufmann
“It is only after we’ve lost everything that we’re free to do anything.” – Chuck Palahniuk, Fight Club
…this one is probably going to be a bit heavy. I apologize in advance for that. What I have personally found through my own experiences is that the concept of “self-improvement” often ignores the most powerful cognitive tool that exists within the alchemical formula. “Solve et coagula” or rather “dissolve and coagulate.” The first step then is dissolve.
Chuck Palahniuk’s book “Fight Club” tells this tale magnificently for adaptation into modern American culture. It is in my own understanding about a man who is looking for higher meaning. Now, that takes him to some incredibly destructive places, and I’m not suggesting that the narrator’s goals and ours should be the same. The narrator is effectively going mad due to the inability to sleep throughout the story, so to idolize him is rather absurd. That being said, to figure out why it is that he feels his life is so meaningless, his madness creates an illusion that begins his own process of dissolving.
To refer back to the opening quote from Nietzsche, “Must we ourselves not become gods simply to appear worthy of it?” This part of the quote is essential to understand how the author meant it to be understood. The opening of the quote is so often misused, as what I’d call “Edgy” young people spout, “God is dead!” This has nothing to do with an atheistic call to arms, but rather was an observation about the state of German culture at the time of writing. Hegel touched on this topic in detail as well, and looking back into the 17th century we see discourses on “Gott ist tot” from Lutheran theories of atonement and in “Ein Trauriger Grabgesang” (“A mournful dirge”) by Johann von Rist.
Let’s create a hypothetical to work from. Assuming that you were God, the creator of everything in the universe, what would you do with your own time after you made it? I would assume that I would probably try out all of the things I had created, the depth of hedonism, first. Lots of time left, though, and boredom would for sure set in. I personally believe that my next step would be to have great adventures. Still, if I know that I am in total control of all things, what would make it exciting? The only way for me to feel a sense of adventure would be if I first forgot that I was the author, and thus I would need to submerge myself into the actors.
This is pretty close to a Hindu worldview. I like it. Let’s continue:
So, upon making it to a part in the play where you found your actor to be miserable and unhappy, depressed and anxious, what would be the solution? Well, the very modern absurdist Jim Carrey says, “Depression is your avatar telling you it’s tired of being the character you are trying to play.” From that position in thought, it seems simple enough to decide that what you’re suffering from is not only a disease, but also a need to change totally. To -become- someone different.
This is where we land firmly back into Fight Club. The narrator’s schism of consciousness has decided that to end his own depression to stop being him and literally become Tyler Durden. The only potential solution that he finds is to become someone else entirely. So, beyond the fighting, the exploration of pain and aggression, he does something that will actually change things:
He blows up all of his own possessions that he himself has worked so hard for.
This is in the story “essential” simply because the narrator does not yet realize that he is the one doing it, and so in order to force himself to change, it is essential to take away the things that create for him a comfortable life. On the other hand, the alchemist knows that he must dissolve the things he or she doesn’t want first. The alchemist doesn’t require an explosion, but a steady fire to promote change.
In order to change our minds to be what we want, we must be willing to put in the work to remove all of the things that we don’t want. It is for us essential to begin our process with creative destruction.