Valentine’s Day is coming up in just a few days. Hooray! I have a little too much to celebrate this year, as I recently started two affairs. One is with myself. The other is with my fate.
It seems it was Nietzsche who coined the term amor fati, though the idea of living in harmony with whatever life sends your way is an ancient philosophy. Nietzche said,
My formula for greatness in a human being is amor fati: that one wants nothing to be different, not forward, not backward, not in all eternity. Not merely bear what is necessary, still less conceal it–all idealism is mendacity in the face of what is necessary–but love it.
I am a recovering idealist. Not only can idealism be insincere in the face of reality as Nietzsche says, but it can also be greedy, contrary to nature, and painful. I’m reading Donald Robertson’s Stoicism and the Art of Happiness in which he says,
Whether we realize it or not, we are all living out the lives fated for us, either willingly or reluctantly. Zeno illustrated this with a striking metaphor: the wise man is like a dog tethered to a cart, running alongside and smoothly keeping pace with it, whereas a foolish man is like a dog that struggles against the leash but finds himself dragged alongside the cart anyway.
What does loving your fate look like?
In a day-to-day way, maybe like this. A couple weeks ago my son took my house keys with him to school. He did this because he knew it was a day I wouldn’t be home when he arrived in the afternoon, he had misplaced his own keys, and he didn’t want to be stuck outside waiting until I got home. When I realized what he’d done I had to go to the school to get the keys, highly annoyed because I was short on time. While I waited at the school’s front desk, a woman I’d been trying to reach for days appeared with paperwork to fill out for my daughter’s visa to go to India, including some extra requirements that would have me sitting in Immigration for the next two mornings. That put me in an even worse mood. However, the second morning waiting in Immigration, I had an amor fati moment: I realized that if my son hadn’t taken my keys, I probably wouldn’t have run into that woman at the school, thus I wouldn’t have known about this extra paperwork and would likely not have been able to complete it on time.
Maybe that seems insignificant. I could tell you about how amor fati has helped me come to terms with enormous life difficulties like my divorce and business failure. This philosophy has helped me realize that I am thriving now largely due to what I learned from those failures. However, I think it’s in the small everyday matters where amor fati can have the most impact. I find that now I live a more joyful existence because I’m always looking for a way to love whatever is going on in my life. I’m no longer rushing through boring chores as a means to an end, but finding ways to enjoy those moments. Last Monday morning I decided I wanted to move, by that evening I had found a house, I signed the papers on Friday, and now I’m packing. I thought I hated moving, but it turns out I love it. I love going through all my stuff. I’m finding so many things I had forgotten I had. I’m coming across little reminders here and there of suffering I went though a couple years ago that I have moved far past now.
Amor fati is not only about not wanting anything different in your past, present, and future environments, but within yourself. Amor fati, besides cheerful acceptance of the moment, can also mean radical self acceptance. I just finished a wonderful Montaigne biography that I hope to write about soon. Montaigne was all about amor fati, and it is in the specific way he applied it to his view of himself that I am working on now in myself. Montaigne would look back on essays he had written ten years previously and realize that his views had changed. Did that make him want to heavily edit or completely rewrite the essays when he published subsequent collections? Especially since leaving them as is would mean the reader would find significant contradictions between his earlier vs. later essays. Well, it seems honey badger didn’t care. Biographer Sarah Bakewell says,
The spirit of repentance was alien to him in writing, just as it was in life, where he remained firmly wedded to amor fati: the cheerful acceptance of whatever happens.
Montaigne knew that some of the things he had done in the past no longer made sense to him, but he was content to presume that he must have been a different person at the time, and leave it at that. His past selves were as diverse as a group of people at a party. Just as he would not think of passing judgment on a roomful of acquaintances, all of whom had their own reasons and points of view to explain what they had done, so he would not think of judging previous versions of Montaigne. ‘We are all patchwork,’ he wrote, ‘and so shapeless and diverse in composition that each bit, each moment, plays its own game.’
And that is where I join with my two new loves: me, myself, and my fate. A glorious threesome! That is quite possibly the cheesiest thing ever. We’ll blame it on the approaching 14th.
Should I get an amor fati tattoo? Where and in what script?