Amor Fati, Reconsidered

Aug. 12 Update — Unlike some other posts I have reviewed and for the most part walked away from, I like the philosophical approach taken here, but I’m really uncomfortable with the therapy examples I’ve provided. I think my analysis of Amor Fati and its various weaknesses is sound and looking for an alternative or supplementary philosophy is a good approach. But why do I have to reveal so much here? I think this is a side effect of some bad therapy I received. The distrust I’m now feeling towards therapists is leading me to just spill out therapy information in public. Not sure that’s a great idea.

Thursday’s blog post threw my thought patterns by a loop, leading me to take a couple days off to ponder the repercussions of it all. It hasn’t helped that every time over the past few days that I sat down to write, someone would interrupt me with a distraction, big or small. Maybe it’s synchronicity at work. Maybe I needed to think a bit more before it was time to let it all out.

Of course, to reach that conclusion, I would need to have something significant to say now and I’m not sure that I do. I am still sitting with the idea that last Sunday’s post, where I detailed how my father has been an opposite role model in life, points out the weaknesses of a philosophical stance I have adopted for years.

Since the Montaigne Project began in 2011, I have been a disciple of Friedrich Nietzsche’s interpretation of amor fati, or love of fate. Briefly (and probably too reductively), the theory states that we should say yes (at least retrospectively) to every moment in our life as a way of leading to where we are now — and by embracing all of it as good, we can define victories, bracket off sections of life, and mark them off as triumphs.

This is a highly story driven approach to life and one that would seem familiar to anyone who watches a lot of movies. Contemporary movies, when they aren’t myth-based epics, are all essentially amor fati. You don’t really expect them to end happily ever after, but you do accept them as small triumphs that help define the human spirit.

But now I look back on my declared triumph of a week ago and can see why Hollywood is so tempted to claim happily ever after. There’s inevitable dissatisfaction in amor fati triumphs, especially when all you’ve done is win someone else’s game — or negate another person’s life.

It also helps me understand what set off this series of blog posts a couple weeks ago. Having survived some major challenges in the past few months, I was having one of those amor fati moments of triumph two weeks back. Yet, I was feeling anxious. The triumphs did not create an urge to celebrate — instead I was flooded with ideas for writing projects, and new challenges to take up.

This in turn reminded me of a similar time in January when I was in a triumphant mood, and how then I felt a drive to suddenly take my therapy approach deeper, to apply some part of it to other aspects of my life and to challenge myself with group therapy and a group relations conference.

The first thing my therapist and I did was observe whether this was evidence of a pathology such as bipolar disorder. But it wasn’t something that happened regularly enough to fit that definition and seemed to be tied to very specific moments of achievement.

Dispensing with that, my therapist suggested that perhaps it was just the artist in me trying to get out. This was a useful insight, and I filed it away. Now, with a bit of detachment from the specific period of high energy yearning, I can see what purpose this energy was serving. It was following a very specific path that Carl Jung described — of the psyche speaking up and demanding that it’s desires receive attention, not just those of the ego.

There are lots of implications to this shift, if I choose to explore it. For example, would it benefit me to switch to something more akin to Jungian analysis at this time? Oddly enough, that’s exactly what I was looking for when I began therapy again last August … I just had no idea that people lie and conflate on Psychology Today therapist search pages, so the therapist I found actually had no training in Jungian therapy and had no idea how to apply it.

Instead of returning to my path, I meandered down the paths of others — through a couple of very bizarre example of psychodynamic therapy, and then a very well executed course of cognitive behavioral therapy. My current therapy is actually so well executed that I have no desire to switch to a different therapist, but I don’t know if I’m asking too much of a CBT specialist to take on the kind of meaning-based quest that taps into the unconscious that I’m now considering.

This also makes me realize that so much of the speculating I have been doing about my past therapist these past couple weeks wasn’t entirely about her — it was partly about my current therapist and my fear that I could lead her down a similar path of therapy not in her area of speciality or expertise, and therefore setting her up for failure. This is something we will need to address directly as soon as possible.

Having raised all of these questions about Nietzsche’s self-overcoming philosophy, I want to end by pointing out that it retains a great deal of validity. Achievements in life are worth bracketing off and celebrating, whether they create deep meaning or not. It’s just important to accept them for what they are, small victories. And if they set off a new desire to tackle the things that really bring satisfaction to the soul, so much the better.