“Sooner or later, life makes philosophers of us all.” ~Maurice Riseling
Wisdom cannot come by ignoring, denying, or escaping the nightmare; it can only come from rearranging it. Indeed. Life is less about getting what you want and more about making the best of what you get. The nightmare is only an aspect of the dream. It’s not the dream itself. Wisdom comes from reconciling the nightmare to make the dream more robust, more resilient, more antifragile.
You can collect all the knowledge in the world. You can read all the self-help books. You can scour the internet. “Answers,” after all, are only a Google search away. But wisdom will forever elude you, if you are not able to connect it all into a transformational experience somehow.
As Miles Kington said, “Knowledge is knowing a tomato is a fruit; wisdom is not putting it in a fruit salad.” As it turns out, making the best of it is more pain than comfort, more process than progress, more gym than spa, more art than armchair.
Most of all, making the best of what you get is a creative process. Therefore, foremost, wisdom is art. For one cannot make the best of anything without imagination. Making the best of the worst is the height of the artistic process. It’s transforming life itself into art.
The art of life (living a life well-lived) is the greatest art of all. As Jung said, “The art of life is the most distinguished and rarest of all the arts.” Indeed. Art is a self-actualizing process and self-actualization (individuating) is an artistic impulse. The artistic impulse, more than anything else, is the spark that lights the fire of wisdom.
What makes the art of life the most “distinguished and rarest of all arts”? Arguably, it’s the ability to transform wounds into wisdom, demons into diamonds, and setbacks into steppingstones. In other words: it’s the ability to rearrange the nightmare.
Living on the edge gives you an edge:
“What is essential in Rausch (an emergent by-product of focused attempts to effectuate real-world change) is the feeling of increased strength and fullness.” ~Nietzsche
We’re all living on the edge, even if we’re not aware of it. Living a life of art, a life transformed by art, simply makes us more aware of it.
From living on the edge to individuating through Rausch, humankind is summed up in how it transforms tragedy into transcendence.
None of us are getting out of here alive. Nothing lasts. There is no permanence. Everything eventually comes to end. We are all of us tragic beings who are comically aware of this fact. Our halos are nothing more than mortal coils we’ve thrust upward to prevent our choking on our knowledge of death.
And so, it is perhaps more accurate to say: death makes philosophers of us all.
But tragedy is also the supreme beauty of existence. Everything is precious precisely because it is fleeting. All things eventually coming to an end should give us an urgency toward emergence. This emergence being our creative thrust, our Rausch, our artistic jouissance, our overwhelming compulsion to be overwhelmed by awe.
As Anais Nin said, “We do not escape into philosophy, psychology, and art—we go there to restore our shattered selves into whole ones.” Indeed. Our art is less an escape and more a transcendence, an overcoming, a catharsis, a providence. We trip into the masterpiece in order to come alive. We rearrange the nightmare in order to stay ahead of the curve of nihilism.
We transform wounds into wisdom, demons into diamonds, and setbacks into steppingstones so that we have something to sharpen ourselves against. Making art out of the tragedy of life transforms everything into a whetstone. Catharsis begets catharsis. Diamond sharpens diamond.
From misliving to meta-living:
“I can give you my loneliness, my darkness, the hunger of my heart, I am trying to bribe you with uncertainty, with danger, with defeat.” ~Jorge Luis Borges
Wisdom comes from a collection of tragedies transformed into artistic mediums. From this alchemical vantage point, we see with Over Eyes, from a metaparadigm that crushes all limiting paradigms. We see how not being aware of the edge is living small (small-minded, shortsighted), living scared, living without purpose, or misliving.
Misliving is the only real tragedy in life. And we can only mislive by repressing our awareness of the edge, by snubbing our shadow, by suppressing our knowledge of death, by pretending that there is no abyss, by passively going along with the nightmare in a dream-like state, or by ignoring our existential dread.
As Joost Meerloo said, “The cult of passivity and so-called relaxation is one of most dangerous developments of our times. Essentially, it represents a camouflage pattern, the double wish not to see the dangers and challenges of life and not to be seen.”
The sad thing is that many of us fall into this “camouflage pattern.” We live in fear. We live desperately, building invulnerable walls in vain. Our souls curl up inside our egos—anxious, insecure, stuck. But hungry. Hungry for something more than repression, willful ignorance, and fear.
Art is food for our trapped soul. Especially when we can transform heartbreak, misfortune, and catastrophe into an artistic medium. Tragedy turned into art is liquid ambrosia, the nectar of the gods, a magic elixir that transforms our worst into our best. It’s the ultimate catharsis. It dissolves invulnerable walls through a vulnerable will to power. It transforms fear into fuel for the fire of fearlessness. It shuts up the ego so the soul can sing.
Rising on this song, we transcend. We level-up. We gain the metaparadigm. We begin to see with Over Eyes. We leave behind parochial Alpha and Beta as we fly into infinite Meta. The world is ours. Our art becomes our life. Our lives become our own. We are free to creatively crush out.
In the end, diamond sharpens diamond in the sense that the harsh truths of the cosmos sharpen the demon-turned-diamond of our shadow’s response to cosmic overwhelm. Even the worst that life can dish out can be used as fodder for the higher art of living the art of life. In short: Everything is a whetstone when you’ve discovered the Philosopher’s Stone.
About the Author:
Gary Z McGee, a former Navy Intelligence Specialist turned philosopher, is the author of Birthday Suit of God and The Looking Glass Man. His works are inspired by the great philosophers of the ages and his wide-awake view of the modern world.
This article (Diamond Sharpens Diamond: from tragedy to transcendence) was originally created and published by Self-inflicted Philosophy and is printed here under a Creative Commons license with attribution to Gary Z McGee and self-inflictedphilosophy.com. It may be re-posted freely with proper attribution, author bio, and this statement of copyright.