Nietzsche used the Overman as a personification of potential genius, demonstrating that Truth moves, and moving, demolishes thrones and altars. If it’s not moving, then it becomes stale. Thrones become entrenched. Alters become golden idols. Truth that doesn’t move, and keep moving, soon becomes fallacy. It dissolves into delusion. It grows uncouth.
Thus, self-overcoming is the life-task of man. If we never discover this life-task, we limit ourselves to merely existing. We become stuck. We comfortably and contentedly believe rather than adaptively and proactively seek. We would rather comfortably bow to thrones and revere altars than uncomfortably discover new ways of being human in the world. We would rather have faith than have fortitude, and often we confuse the two.
The most powerful way to prevent this merely existing—this stuck-ness, this comfortable annihilation, this confusion of faith and fortitude—is to practice the art of self-overcoming. When we self-overcome, we are forcing Truth to move.
As Nietzsche said, “And Life confided the secret to me: behold, it said, I am that which must always overcome itself.”
And so, foremost, the art of self-overcoming is the ability to continue the search despite the urge to give it up to a particular belief. It’s the ability to cease merely arriving and to focus instead on courageously thriving.
Krishnamurti said, “Any activity or education that conditions the mind through nationalism, through identification with a group, an ideology, a dogma, is an impediment to truth.”
The same applies to almost every level of belief, and the more blind the belief the more fear tends to be the driving force. But fear-based reasoning can be extremely unhealthy, and even dangerous. When it comes to self-development, belief tends to be the fear of growth, the fear of being wrong, the fear of stretching one’s comfort zone, the fear of the unknown. The list goes on.
Perhaps the greatest fear is the fear that one’s worldview could be wrong. This fear is so powerful that it creates a kind of blind spot in our reasoning. It’s called cognitive dissonance, and we all suffer from it.
When it comes to navigating through cultural, political, and spiritual change—and all change, really—there is a level of cognitive dissonance that comes into play that amps the difficulty to near impossible proportions. The cart of cultural pressure is set so firmly in front of the horse of our reasoning powers that it seems unpassable. Our ability to progressively evolve becomes blocked by the comfort and security infrastructures we have erected.
So what can we do?
We can choose self-interrogation over belief. We can choose discomfort despite security. We can choose the question mark over the period. We can choose having a flexible notion rather than a rigid opinion. We can choose to be adaptive and transformative rather than stuck in our ways. We can become gamechangers. We change the way the game is played by taking responsibility for change itself, by getting comfortable with the uncomfortable truth, by moderating our comfort and security with courage and flexibility. Most of all, we become gamechangers by admitting that we could be wrong.
“There’s no polite way to suggest to someone that they have devoted their life to a folly,” then it stands to reason that we simply get out of our own way in the first place so that we are not so devastated when we discover our folly. If we rigidly and dogmatically cling to a particular “basket,” (rigid belief) then we would probably be crushed under the heavy blow that our worldview has suddenly become invalid (or maybe our cognitive dissonance will have been so strong that it keeps us mired in ignorance).
But if we cultivate an open-minded, flexible, and humorous disposition regarding our “answers” then there would never have been any basket worthy enough to hold all our “eggs” in the first place, and so we would not be so devastated. We would be more likely to simply shrug our shoulders, have a good laugh at ourselves (self-deprecating humor is a staple for self-overcoming), and then move on with our new knowledge in tow
The key to keeping the search alive, then, is to keep belief at bay. All belief. Whether it’s the abstract belief in God or the concrete belief that we exist. All belief must be taken into consideration rather than believed so as to prevent falling victim to the blind spot and tripping into dogmatic thinking, which is the opposite of thinking clearly.
So, the secret to keeping the search alive is discovering the joy and transcendence of uncertainty. Where certainty bottles us up, constricts our perception, and puts up walls around our comfort zone; uncertainty shatters the bottle, unknots our thoughts, and demolishes all the walls preventing us from further expansion into Truth. Indeed. There is a virtue in uncertainty that the certain will never know.
It’s a matter of attitude. A bad attitude falls into the trap of right and wrong, of good and evil, whereas a good attitude goes beyond. It transcends. A bad attitude plays the victim; a good attitude plays with victimhood. A good attitude transforms tragedy into teacher, pain into professor, labor into laboratory.
Self-overcoming is allowing the possibility of our own personal sharpening. Without honing there can be no sharpness.
Self-overcoming is honoring the grit, the coal, and the dullness within us, and, through such honoring, recognizing the vital importance that polishing, pressure, and honing have in transforming us into pearls, diamonds, and sharpness. It’s the deep understanding that in order to experience growth there must be a rub, a friction, a testing. There must be a crucible. Self-overcoming is allowing life to be a crucible for transformation, rather than a comfort zone of stagnation.