We moderns are born into prosperity, and easily forget how short life really is. Enchanted by our newfound digital realm, we abandon living as our forefathers lived, as we were designed to live- beautifully and dangerously- and so we have ignored Nietzsche's admonition: "But by my love and hope I beseech you: Do not cast away the hero in your soul!"
But we have cast away the hero in our souls.
Nietzsche wrote, "Alas, I knew noble men who lost their highest hope. Then they slandered all high hopes; then they lived impudently in brief pleasures and barely case their goals beyond the day. Spirit too is lust, so they said. Then the wings of their spirit broke: Now their spirit crawls about and soils what it gnaws. Once they thought of becoming heroes; now they are voluptuaries." (Thus Spoke Zarathustra, On the Tree on the Mountainside)
This is what our modern, post-modern world has become: a land of voluptuaries, who once dreamed of becoming heroes...
In the Middle Ages, there was a Latin Christian practice of self-reflection upon mortality called Memento Mori, which means "Remember that you will die." Such a practice sounds morbid to our ears, and yet it is the secret to harvesting the greatest fulfillment from life. The sages felt that this practice helped one to cultivate virtue, and in the end to die well, as a man should. For what else can we ask as men but that we learn to take that final step with dignity?
We see similar practices in Asia, for instance among the Samurai. In the Hagakure, when asserting that "The Way of the Samurai is found in death," Tsunetomo Yamamoto explains, "This is a thin, dangerous line. To die without gaining one's aim is a dog's death, and fanaticism. But there is no shame in it...This is the substance of the Way of the Samurai. For if by setting one's heart right every morning and evening one is able to live as though his body were already dead, he gains freedom in the Way. His whole life will be without blame, and he will succeed in his calling." (The Hagakure, 1st Chapter)
This is an important passage, and summarizes well the spirit of Heroic Theory. For it is only when we know we will die, when we know deeply, viscerally, that we will die, that we become free to live rightly. The Christian texts are correct that the greatest sin is vanity, for it is vanity that makes us forget our mortality, and it is this forgetfulness that ensnares us in foolish living, in the empty pursuit of all our passions. This is wisdom common to all religious traditions, for the Persian Sufis wrote that "This too shall pass," and it is the First Truth of Buddhism that "All is unsatisfactory."
When we realize that we will die, when we think deeply upon this unavoidable, unassailable fact, that Virgil was right when he wrote, "It escapes, irretrievable time," (Georgiacs, Book 3) how much more grateful we are to have lived! How much more fully we live each moment! For this realization compels us to live better, to love more deeply, to fight with honor, and when it comes time for us to pass into shadow, to do so with dignity. "The unexamined life is not worth living." So said Socrates according to Plato (Apology, 38). But the same holds true for the unexamined death, and perhaps even more so.
Life is short, and time is flying fast. How will we live what we have left? Like lambs, easily led to the slaughter? Or like zombies, entranced by all the false love we believe we receive through social media? Or maybe like paramours, selling the best of ourselves for a bit of coin and a pat on the back- or wherever? Or no...perhaps we will seek out another path...
Perhaps we will return to a better way.
This then is the purpose of life: To seek out meaning in every moment- boldly, fearlessly, heroically- for each breath is not only a gift but a debt, and in the end, we all must pay.
~ Joshua van Asakinda
22 April, 2018