A Brief Glimpse at Nietzsche’s Child – An Exercise
According to Nietzsche, the process of self-overcoming, or self-creation, is long and difficult. It is a lifelong journey, and Nietzsche seems to believe that very few people are strong enough for it. Nevertheless, I suggest that it is possible to break down this tremendous journey into smaller elements. This would make Nietzsche’s vision more accessible and manageable, and would enable us to experience parts of it.
Nietzsche likens the process of self-creation to a transformation into a camel, into a lion, and then into a child. (See the text of “On the Three Metamorphosis” on this website). This is, of course, a mission for many years of hard work. But instead, we may ask ourselves: How can I transform a small part of myself into a child, at least temporarily, at least for a few minutes?
This is the topic of this exercise. Our goal is not self-creation, but only a brief glimpse at what self-creation might mean. Our goal, in other words, is to experience a moment of this transformation, and to get a taste of it.
(0) Preparation: In order to prepare for the exercise, choose a specific type of attitude that you sometimes have towards your life: For example, moments when you feel lost and helpless; or, moments when you are anxious about a task you need to do tomorrow; or, moments when find yourself trying to make a good impression on others; and so on. Now, write in one sentence the attitude you have selected. (Writing is important—it helps sharpen your thoughts!) Below this sentence, on the same page, write what your attitude says that you should do: What is most important, according to this attitude? (For example, “It is most important that I don’t disappoint anybody!”) What, according to this attitude, is your task or mission? (For example, “I should attract people’s attention!”) What sort of person does this attitude tell you to be? (“I must be successful!”)
(1) The Camel: During the next day or two, try to be a camel. In other words, “carry on your back” the instructions that this attitude gives you. This means that whenever the situation is appropriate, you should accept this attitude fully and completely, follow its instructions as best as you can, with full awareness, like a servant who is eager to follow the commands of a master, like a camel who wants to be loaded with heavier and heavier loads. You may even exaggerate your attitude.
(2) The Lion: Now, in the next couple of days, try to be a lion—the one who says “No!” This means that whenever you feel that the attitude coming, refuse to follow its commands. You are no longer willing to carry on your back this attitude and its instructions. Notice that at this stage you do not yet know what to do instead—you don’t have an alternative agenda. You are still only a rebel, not yet a creator. You only turn your back to the attitude, and (in Nietzsche’s words) “run to the desert,” in other words you retreat to your private world, where nobody else lives.
(3) The Child: Lastly, in the next several days you are the child: After you got rid of your load, you are ready to invent a new attitude, an attitude which wants to live life fully and without any burden. This is an attitude which Nietzsche’s describes as “innocence and forgetfulness, a new beginning, a game, a self-propelling wheel, a first movement, a sacred Yes.” But what exactly does this mean?
Do the exercise, experiment, and find out!