Life by its nature involves pain and suffering. And the ultimate form of this is death itself. In the face of this reality, we humans have a simple choice: We can try to avoid painful moments and to muffle their effect by distracting ourselves, by taking drugs or engaging in addictive behavior. We can also restrict what we do—if we don’t try too hard in our work, if we lower our ambitions, we won’t expose ourselves to failure and ridicule. If we break off relationships early on, we can elude any sharp, painful moments from the separation.
At the root of this approach is the fear of death itself, which establishes our elemental relationship to pain and adversity, and avoidance becomes our pattern. When bad things happen, our natural reaction is to complain about what life is bringing us, or what others are not doing for us, and to retreat even further from challenging situations. The negative paradoxical death effect takes hold.
The other choice available to us is to commit ourselves to what Friedrich Nietzsche called amor fati (“love of fate”): “My formula for greatness in a human being is amor fati: that one wants nothing to be other than it is, not in the future, not in the past, not in all eternity. Not merely to endure that which happens of necessity . . . but to love it.”
What this means is the following: There is much in life we cannot control, with death as the ultimate example of this. We will experience illness and physical pain. We will go through separations with people. We will face failures from our own mistakes and the nasty malevolence of our fellow humans. And our task is to accept these moments, and even embrace them, not for the pain but for the opportunities to learn and strengthen ourselves. In doing so, we affirm life itself, accepting all of its possibilities. And at the core of this is our complete acceptance of death. (...)
In all of these cases, we will of course experience physical and mental pain, and we must not fool ourselves that this philosophy will instantly turn the negative into a positive. We know that it is a process and that we must take the blows, but that as time passes our minds will go to work converting this into a learning experience. With practice, it becomes easier and quicker to convert.