For many years, I have existed in a clouded state, completely unaware of myself and the world around me. During these early years of adulthood, I chose to use my time enjoying the more trivial matters of life. My mere existence seemed to consist of many things that had no natural attachment to me; a video game system, athletes performing on a television, and the pursuit of getting my own physical activity; while in a state that forbid me to drive a vehicle. It wouldn’t be until a few years ago that I’d even begin to ask questions that related to me. Issues arose when harboring these questions, which lead to a path of diversion; the only difference, I now found myself split between two worlds. My lifestyle of irresponsibility, following others, and acting aimlessly continued on. Yet, unlike the years prior, I could no longer exist completely comfortable and ignorant.
The continued process of growth, paired with the discomfort, and my studies, would lead toward the beginning of formulating important questions; about who I was, what was I to do and who shall I become. The naivety and simplicity that I existed with, was no longer enough. I couldn’t escape the constant barrage of questions; no matter how much I tried to cloud and deny them. With the more I experienced and learned, some partial possible answers began to appear; even only in bits. Soon I’d realize, most importantly, what seemed to be useful in bringing about these thoughts of my desired and future self. It seems, in certain periods, or circumstances, the questions would come back. In response to life and the surroundings, I began a search that has lead me here.
What I aim in this, is to set-down in writing, my thoughts and responses to questions that have been encountered and contemplated long before me. What started as a grievance with society, a group of individuals; mainly the control of the majority by a small power-hungry minority (the government and big business) turned me to address what was necessary and within my ability-me. Each day, I struggled with the knowledge (at least partially) of how things work, how do I fit in to it all, and what am I to do; yet this discomfort would eventually forge in me a goal; a different solution to a dilemma that I didn’t even consider.
I liken this process to the act of climbing mountains; essentially-elevating ourselves from our surroundings, while finding ourselves in the midst of it all. We first must admit that there is no elevator that majestically takes a person from level one to the summit; therefore, we cannot put our sole attention to the top, due to the many steps in route. The importance of our ascent is, then, deserving of more attention; since it is our present. As we climb, we not only allow ourselves to acclimate to the height, but are able to enjoy and connect the various levels on our way up. In my reading, writing, and experience, I turn to three years ago; my first trip traveling abroad in Europe. The two month journey acted as an introduction to the world, and more importantly to myself. While, the climb at the time was the highlight of my life, I understood, that it should only be a starting point; an opening to the concept of ascending in life, to traverse one’s mountains.
The encounters would broaden my mindset, and help me to realize how small I was; and how little I knew of the world. In determining their was value in this trip, I aimed to add to it, by going to the next level of sorts. With a chance to study abroad and a return to Europe (Italy) a year and a half later, I was allowed to continue the climb, now at a higher elevation; which appealed to me even more. In these five months, I found necessary struggle; knocking me down a bit, but unforeseen heights and some ideas of my future were opened up. I would gain a better idea of what I wanted and needed to do; grow through discomfort-the necessary path, in working through the incline of life. A year after my return from studying abroad, I turned my attention toward other heights; one of different elevation.
I credit the two adventures in Europe, for the interest and opportunity to grow and push forward with working in China. In addressing, where I must go; in the unforeseen future, I used my time outside of the classroom, to do research and preparation. It has proved fruitful to find templates; of individuals in the past, with similar mindsets and aims, on how to reach my own goals. With this writing and reading in mind, I came across people with great ambition, who pressed forward against their own obstacles. Three people and their work have brought me here, beginning with a historian; who in his detailing of a journey up a mountain, led me to think differently about our excursions; more importantly, how we manage our existence.
Petrarch, the father of Humanism, would provide something of a guide, setting out his life to consider and question; look what one man can do. Some time later, in my own greater search for understanding and self-discovery, I’d come across a text, that to this day is ground-breaking. In both delivery and substance, the German philosopher-writer-and human critic provided Thus Spake Zarathustra. The lengthy dialogue boldly asked, what has been and is the point of the life we live? This book, like the life of the author, would eventually come to an end, leaving a void; yet, rejuvenated me with the idea of a creator mentality. I became determined to forge something greater than the present; while also, working each day to get to the next. As daily hiccups and difficulties on a new journey arose, I stumbled upon a text from a French philosopher-author that reiterated some similar concepts; a connection between: mountains, improvement, and humanity. Despite the strong impact that the previous two works had on me, it was Rene Daumal’s Mount Analogue that created a connection that I couldn’t dismiss. His captivating story of searching for the impossible with climbers pursuing absurd heights; unfortunately, never was fully completed, yet it made an immense impact in connecting the three texts to one idea.
It is easy to see that these three men have a connection; first belonging to an attachment to writing, but for a higher purpose. They detail in their works the necessity of something greater; than their own being, and from what they saw around them; in essence, their surrounding led them toward a different state. Within them, there is a desire for improvement, and a commonality to a higher calling, on what is noticed that can be greater in man. Whether separated by centuries, or decades, these European thinkers hit on a disconnection that can be seen throughout time. Each sage, prophet, and philosophical-religious icon addresses it in their own way; of a feeling within, the connection to the divine and to the heights.
Before understanding their texts and the central theme, we must first address the authors; the creators of such works and ideas. We begin with Francesco Petrarch, an Italian historian, that lived in a period (1304-1374); ravaged by the plague, controlled by the church, and far removed from the desired, glorious ancient civilizations of Rome and Athens. Credited with bringing about a new way of thinking and in understanding oneself, his works would create a desired connection between the glory of the ancient civilizations and his present. The Ascent of Mount Ventoux is arguably his most famous work; yet, his letters On Posterity, The Impossibility of Fame, The Passion of Work, On Religious Life, and To Socrates, all provide insight into his revolutionary mind. Centuries before the Renaissance that took ahold of Europe, Petrarch, would call upon an improvement from the populace that dwelled in the plains of humanity. Petrarch’s reasoning for the ascent of his mountain, “the wish to see what so great an elevation had to offer,” (1) provided a life’s example away from the low comfort to a heightened, humanistic, superior man.
The next, and by far the most in-depth text of the three, comes from Friedrich Nietzsche, who was born in Germany in 1844. In writing Thus Spake Zarathustra, Nietzsche attempted to create the perfect companion; thus the ideal model for humanity to strive toward. The author of countless controversial critiques of society, viewed humanity as absent of meaning, “there is lacking the one goal. As yet humanity hath not a goal.” (2) He’d then pose the question, if humanity is in fact lacking a goal, “is there not also still lacking-humanity itself?” (3) The outspoken critic, strongly opposed all human institutions that he viewed to be the blame for the aimless direction of humanity; most notably: the state and the church. He’d credit these two influencers of life, as implanting the virtues of the weak, and dispelling any desire for elevation. Living throughout the nineteenth century, Nietzsche would see the rise of nationalism in Germany’s and Italy’s unification; along with the impact of both the Catholic and Protestant churches in both countries, led him toward his work of disgust with society. Before his death in 1900, he’d write out against lowly human nature; while also, providing the necessary elements for humanity to uplift itself.
In fast forwarding a couple decades later, we find yet, another European man, distressed with his present. Despite living in a far different era (1908-1944), the French writer seems to utter familiar grievances to a similar observation, the lack of quality of life; “I am dead because I lack desire; I lack desire because I think I possess; I think I possess because I do not try to give. In trying to give, you see that you have nothing; Seeing you have nothing, you try to give of yourself; trying to give of yourself, you see that you are nothing; Seeing that you are nothing, you desire to become; In desiring to become, you begin to live.” (4) Living in Europe, and France, during both World War One and Two, Daumal noticed a complete absence of the superior man; needed to pull the populace out of there bottom dwelling into higher heights. The people, consumed with whatever was fed to them at the bottom, fought for scrapes; while Daumal ached for a higher plane for man to reach for toward the heavens; thus creating the invisible, yet, possible Mount Analogue. The mountain in his text is devised to be located somewhere in the world; but required people to dispense with their present lives, and risk everything for the opportunity for enlightenment and elevation into the sky.
In the three texts, the authors use the symbol of the mountain to represent a journey that leads, both to improvement and the desired connection with self. Yet, it is not simply the act of climbing a mountain that evokes the necessary criteria to becoming heightened, but the path toward that enlightenment. There are several elements that one must first notice, contained within all these texts. A path, of sorts, begins to show itself; which claims to generate the desired success toward the superior man. First, before even making the necessary steps toward the mountain; one must have come to terms with society. Particularly, as the authors indicate, there must be a disapproval with the plains, markets, and depths of the populace; therefore, one must be well-familiar with the nature exhibited far below the mountain peaks. In understanding the actions of the majority, these journeymen despised their present, and sought to escape from the unworthy.
In the act of fleeing, the climber has to welcome the new terms of life; discomfort, seclusion, and difficulty. Despite, being displeased with the life that one knows; it requires a certain amount of risk and nerve to abandon it all, in the search of something greater. With leaving everything behind, the wanderer must ready himself for what is to come next; in the understanding that it is all necessary for the improvement and achievement of the ultimate goals. A path that is rarely traveled; possibility even without a trail, provides plenty of challenges; which, prompts a consistent will to not retreat, walk away and give-up. Therefore, one must also keep in the forefront of the mind, the reasoning for the journey away from the plains; to bring self to higher elevations. We will see, in the three texts; there are many points in which, the protagonist (the climber) is faced with difficulties that otherwise would not be so treacherous, if encountered at lower altitudes.
The ability to handle self within solitude and the acceptance of change, perhaps, are two of the most important criteria throughout such a journey. While, the physical elements will adapt the climber to become more fit throughout the journey; these two internal elements of climbing a mountain, will force upon their immense wills at all times. Lastly, a climber must constantly hold to the hope of reaching the summit and encountering the view. This image will help to push him through the dark periods of doubt, fear, and loneliness. The belief within the actor, that the elevation above will impact the climber in such a positive manner, overcomes all the suffering during an adventure; until the view is clear, and the bright sun is shining upon the face.
“Everyone wants to live on top of the mountain, but all the happiness and growth occurs while you are climbing it.” —Andy Rooney
“And men go about to wonder at the heights of the mountains…but themselves they consider not.” —Saint Augustine
“It is not the mountain we conquer but ourselves.”
– Edmund Hillary
Our journey starts, seven centuries ago, with a man in a mountainous region of southeastern France. In holding to his discontent and deep questions about man’s existence, Petrarch would write out to the past, seeking understanding of life. In his search for some clarity, he would instill some key notions in his writings; most famously known from his hike up to the top of the mountain. Yet, how did a pre-renaissance man, claiming to be “a poor mortal like yourself,” (5) become known as a thinker and actor? First, through a passion for writing and a tireless will; as he’d explain in his letter to St. Benigno, “I cannot stop writing, or bear even the thought of rest,” (6) he would reach the ears of people that saw their present time, as he did.
Here, we get to the first necessary step of the journey; a sense of detachment with the present, which forces the individual to find a connection with something other than what is directly in their surroundings. The process can be active; by way usage of the body and movement, or passive, in traveling throughout different times periods in books; regardless the way, the act is the necessary avenue to changing own’s intrenched perspective. For Petrarch, he would utilize both options; first by studying the past intently, to which he could turn to learn of life, aside from his present “I dwelt especially upon antiquity, for our own age has always repelled me…In order to forget my own time, I have constantly striven to place myself in spirit in other ages, and consequently I delighted in history.” (7)
The act of addressing the past is useful; allowing one to learn the dilemma of life, yet in a story that has already unfolded. Here in studying history, one can know, without yet encountering. This is what Petrarch would be most famous for; in removing his self from the present, and directing his attention to what came before him, he did something; seemingly ground breaking for his era. First, he worked to alleviate the grief that held ahold of him in the present. In becoming more aware of the world, and working to unlock who he was; instead, of remaining in the cloud of vice and distraction in life, he became the great historian and writer. These storied accomplishments and pursuit of oneself come with a price, as he’d indicate, “the truth I had long before read in books, that youth and pleasure are vanity—nay, that the Author of all ages and times permits us miserable mortals, puffed up with emptiness, thus to wander about, until finally, coming to a tardy consciousness of our sins, we shall learn to know ourselves.” (8)
Many of us, like in Petrarch’s day, find it perfectly sufficient to keep to the emptiness and reside onlyoutside ourselves; yet, that is not what he desired. Perhaps, more importantly, that was not who he was destined to be. In reading, spiritual texts, he became acquainted with a feeling that quickly seemed to be lacking; a connection within, and confronted the issue of himself, being just another hollow shell. Through the disgust of the present; and the introduction of a different, higher sensation, Petrarch would begin a process of longing that requires the utmost attention; for it is a matter of life. What becomes of the longing is up to the individual. After passive searching, through the accumulation of past knowledge; which acted as a guide and teacher, he needed to act.
The elements around oneself, and the environment itself will impact the climber. Certain circumstances breed results; others don’t. This is within the power of the actor to implement; changing the surroundings opens up the possibility to seek elevation. Petrarch indicates a mentality necessary in blazing, selfishly along the process, “be a lover of silence and solitude.” (9) Solitude; escaping the populace, to turn full attention to oneself and thoughts, enables the climber to focus solely on what matters, the pursuit of the summit. Be wary of all company that does not have the same desires to make for the exhausting trek up, for as he noticed, “It is after all but a poor consolation to have companions in misery. I should prefer to be ill by myself. Now I am involved in others’ ill-fortune as well as in my own, and am hardly given time to take breath.” (10)
It is natural, during the process of change, to be affected; with such a drastic alteration, the feeling of sickness and loss can come to play. Yet, these constructive/destructive sensations do not aim to consume for the remainder of life; just long enough to invoke action. If an individual is sick, the physician would subscribe medication; a similar concept, yet different problem; thus solution. The actor, pulling from within; in their search for elevation, begins to listen to oneself more; therefore, becomes one’s own physician. Petrarch’s statement is clear; in being ill alone, the attention turns to healing and correcting the mind, body, and soul; yet what of spending time with an ill companion? The attention is now split; perhaps, the most important patient does not get the full and proper attention; instead some self-care goes to the company received.
Again, keeping to the goal constantly in the forefront of the mind will help push forward what is most important. Striving upward against all obstacles is challenging enough; especially when one is unsure of their footing, but the difficulty is increased substantially when one must attend to another. Now, Petrarch; as we must, moves away from learning of others, in his quest for instrumental-foundational knowledge, to a path of his own. The attention then turns to action, with “a youthful desire impelled me to visit France and Germany. While I invented certain reasons to satisfy my elders of the propriety of the journey, the real explanation was a great inclination and longing to see new sights.” (11) Passively learning: spending the necessary time in preparation; to learn prior accounts of successful and attempted climbs, will only go so far. Soon, the seeker must turn toward self-action, in finding the environments to train. While reading a book, and mentally rehearsing climbing tactics keeps the attention on the desired goal, it does nothing toward the way of gaining confidence with one’s own rhythm. It is not until, fleeing from what is known and comfortable that the act of elevating becomes more real; before then, one can not directly relate themselves with the act of climbing.
In these stages of action, there will be challenges; as Petrarch confirms, “on a journey, where every weakness becomes much more serious.” (12) It is here that one begins to question: the reasoning, the fitness of self, and looks for alternative routes; questioning, what if I decide to return to the plains? Oddly enough, while it seems as if everything in the universe worked to turn the attention of the actor toward action, once action becomes the present; challenges arise. The actor is tested; now, as if the whole world has set forth to put the climber through the ringer, to determine their fortitude and worth. These obstacles appear to come from all angles; which, if not for a pulsating desire to push forward; with shear determination to elevate oneself, will undoubtably prevent any act of elevation. Once the climber, pushes past any self-doubt and fear, more resistance will come. Keep an outward eye in anticipation for any and all disbelievers; as Petrarch encountered in a shepherd on his ascent up. In his dialogue, the shepherd explained, “that some fifty years before he had, in the same ardour of youth, reached the summit, but had gotten for his pains nothing except fatigue and regret, and clothes and body torn by the rocks and briars.” (13)
With various levels of motives and readiness, what pushed Petrarch forth to the top of the mountain, may not be the same as the old shepherd. Additionally, the end product of achieving such a task, and viewing life from the summit, would also be dramatically different. This, therefore, one must keep in mind; to follow the voice inside, and to avoid any nay-sayers that will disapprove of the ascent and advise otherwise. The shepherd received nothing but regret, while Petrarch would elevate himself, return home and write about it. Years later, while both would fall to the passing of time, the shepherd was forgotten, yet the elevated man with his viewpoint inspired generations.
In not heeding to the shepherd’s warning, Petrarch accompanied by his brother, began the ascent of the mountain. Soon, he’d describe the experience as steep, and requiring excessive exertion to continue on; even so, they would have to stop to gain their footing and breath. The text of the ascent, outlines two routes between the brothers; yet as Petrarch would explain, only one proved profitable. “Once more I followed an easy, roundabout path through winding valleys, only to find myself soon in my old difficulty. I was simply trying to avoid the exertion of the ascent; but no human ingenuity can alter the nature of things, or cause anything to reach a height by going down.” (14) His brother, in a direct march upward, aimed to tackle the journey with a direct, straight objective; but, Petrarch in hope of finding a path not so steep, would strive toward a longer path that eventually led him to turn back. He’d soon learn, with climbing a mountain, we are unable to avoid the inevitable ascent that must take place. There is no promising way to neglect the intense effort which is required to persist through all challenges on our way to the top.
In encountering difficulties and setbacks, it is paramount to persist through; keeping in mind, both the reasoning for leaving the lands below, and the wonder of reaching the summit. Petrarch would put to mind the metaphor of the mountain, and the act of tackling it; “the life which we call blessed is to be sought for on a high eminence, and strait is the way that leads to it. Many, also, are the hills that lie between, and we must ascend, by a glorious stairway, from strength to strength. At the top is at once the end of our struggles and the goal for which we are bound.” (15) Through his own experience, we can see that any direction in life, other than directly upward is in error; we must never remove ourselves from the daily struggle of raising oneself up. His life, as we know it, became one of wisdom and the sense of a heightened being; and yet, he admitted to living below what he ought. We must give attention to and consider what is written down of life in the past; of people that we see as divine and elevated amongst the majority. Simply put, they were able to recognize something in life and themselves, that Petrarch would come to realize; it is our desire and will that must change and push us upward.
Throughout, the ups and downs of our journey; we are not always able to see the summit clearly (if at all), and can get lost in a slew of questions, stemming from negativity; anytime opposition presents itself. It can become daunting to think, how far the goal is from the present; can we even reach it, do we have everything necessary within. Thoughts will come into play that will often discourage the climber from continuing the trek; perhaps, a path will lead one astray and off the course. In these moments we must recall our past and what achievements, no matter how small, we have made along the tiring journey. Petrarch would use this way of self-strengthening, by calling for himself to, “think what alterations in thy character this intervening period has beheld!” (16) When we reflect upon the challenges faced thus far, and how we overcame them; even more so, the self-improvements we have made, it brings us back up and reaffirms our climb. One might not think they are worthy and able to reach the summit on day one, many are not; like Petrarch having to take breaks throughout his climb, yet along the way we grow into a more elevated being that longs to reach that summit. Now, the climber doesn’t just desire to reach the peak, but feels it necessary; as if the book is incomplete until the summit is reached.
In order to get to the climber’s conclusion, one must obtain some end along this journey upward; a meaning from the effort afforded. The opportunity to elevate oneself allots for plenty of time, both during and afterward for reflection; which provides the true measure of the experience. For Petrarch, he came upon two realizations; first, “nothing is wonderful but the soul, which, when great itself, finds nothing great outside itself,” (17) and second; there exists a “lack of good counsel in us mortals, who neglect what is noblest in ourselves, scatter our energies in all directions, and waste ourselves in a vain show, because we look about us for what is to be found only within.” (18) This determination is the end result and reasoning for the act of escaping from the crowd of humanity in the plains; to seek out what is most important. It appears consistently throughout time; this concept of a connection with oneself-within, and while being emphasized by people deemed divine and higher, it is utterly disregarded by the populace.
Petrarch would come to realize something that is synonymous with Jesus Christ, the Buddha, and philosophers of the past. What truly matters is the strengthening and elevation of the soul; which can only be brought about with strict attention toward what is within. Here is why, there seems to exist a similar journey for all elevated beings; go into solitude in effort to find oneself. Rise above what man has known for centuries; the lowly earthly desires inhabiting the plains, and strive to connect one’s life with the divine (a life living amongst elevation). In avoiding the problems that plague humanity at the bottom, the climber throws himself into the world of unknowns. With shear will to rise up the mountain; and to conquer oneself, the traveler is willing to endure any hardship for the glory of obtaining that most elevated goal. As Petrarch would reflect upon the completion of his hike, “how can a soul struggling toward God, up the steeps of human pride and human destiny, fear any cross or prison or sting of fortune? How few, I thought, but are diverted from their path by the fear of difficulties or the love of ease! How happy the lot of those few, if any such there be!” (19) Petrarch, as would be necessary for his reflection, reached the top of mount Ventoux; yet, his excursion, reflection and example would not lead mankind to rise above to seek the elevated life.
Another man, of a like mind and burning desire to see humanity raise itself to higher heights would come about; providing the world with a book that offers up a character to be admired. Beyond seeking admiration, Friedrich Nietzsche would use his protagonist Zarathustra as a guide for what man should strive toward; in his self-proclaimed duty, “to teach men the sense of their existence, which is the Superman, the lightning out of the dark cloud—man.” (20) Zarathustra, therefore acted as a friend to his creator, and provided solace during a period that would prove to be the beginning of his most difficult years. Living an existence of perpetual disgust with humanity; which, understandably sounds odd, and imaginable would be, yet, let’s try to pinpoint the grievances of the German critic; through the lens of Thus Spake Zarathustra.
The protagonist, and wise sage Zarathustra was created while Nietzsche spent his time in the Swizz mountains; living in Sils Maria. Here in solitude, living and climbing the mountain ranges, he would address what he knew; of his life, and what was to come; as the artist and climber must always keep the mind fixed on what is to come. The author, and his sage character lived a life that many can not relate, digressing that, “All the secrets of your heart shall be brought to light; and when ye lie in the sun, grubbed up and broken, then will also your falsehood be separated from your truth.” (21) For, in order to understand Nietzsche and his most profound text, the reader must address the essence within; what is truth, and what part of life exists in the lies? This is the first step in reading Zarathustra, created by a man suffering; who perhaps, never recovered from his father’s early death during his childhood, or the rejection of companion love later in his life; yet it all led him to his truth. For to be in such despair, the actor is torn in two; either to death and non-existence, or change; to put oneself back together and make toward a new path of life.
Nietzsche’s aim would be to live a life in the pursuit of truth; offering the reason for his enlightened character’s existence, “to create, desireth the loving one, because he despiseth!”(22) Here lies his highest power and the release from life’s suffering, to create; first, the Superman, Zarathustra, then the mission; to guide the select few of humanity to a higher calling; an elevated purpose in life. The key element necessary, to go from the mere thought of climbing heights above, to beginning such a trecherous ascent, comes from the despising of what one knows; then pushed forth by a desire to rise above it all. If society is comprised of the very human beings that are seen as the problem, then; the easy answer is to remove oneself, and strive to live a life away from all the irritating rabble. Put simply, in striving toward a complete improvement from humanity toward the higher men, one must go on a search and part from the disgust behind. As Zarathustra understood he only had one home, since at “the market-place no one believeth in higher men;”(23) therefore, the only option was to go, “away from the market-Place and from fame,” (24) to an elevated land where he could become one of, “the devisers of new values.” (25)
Zarathustra’s creation came to being, due to his author’s sense of isolation and separation; thus, Zarathustra’s journey would begin in solitude. His return to society, far below where he had resided for ten years-up in the mountains, was aimed to instill the values he had come to understand in life. The people he encountered down in the towns; however, dismissed him, long accustom to their life of ease and comfort. Long ago, they had abandoned any dream and thought of elevation. In receiving this poor reception, Zarathustra reflected, “Injustice and filth cast they at the lonesome one: but, my brother, if thou wouldst be a star, thou must shine for them none the less on that account,” (26) Zarathustra came to realize humanities perception of the climber. The heights he had taken to, for many, would only be but a dream; a foolish dream, some would think. He soon learned, the necessary makeup, in order to undertake; and then survive such a life, was not desired by his fellow man. Therefore, the journey that was required to condition the climber for the life above the rest, would not be suitable, due to the continuous and hardiness of work.
This, then, is the first understanding of the journey; the climber must accept a continued feeling of separation; first, in taking on such an ascent, away from everything known before. The divide is only heightened, once the ascent has been undertaken, and the climber begins to think solely on the summit; the mindset will distance itself from the vast majority of humanity. Now, this single goal in life, striving toward elevation, removes the desire to be among the market-place dwellers, and changes one’s thinking to,“Flee into thy solitude!” (27) To reach the summit, the climber takes for a new inclined path of life, and leaves behind what has existed before; thus Zarathustra proclaimed,“Thou hast lived too closely to the small and the pitiable…It is difficult to live among men because silence is so difficult.”(28) Living solely within the rabble of society, thoughts will turn away from what exists above, and the mind will simply see what lies in the surroundings.
Shall we, just remain in the plains, the market-place; and perhaps, enjoy the daily pleasures that seem to present themselves at opportunistic times? Each day alluring enjoyments that exist outside ourselves; which work to only distract and trap the actor in the amongst the rest, present themselves. Yet, if we live according to Zarathustra’s philosophy, then, “One must learn to love oneself—thus do I teach—with a wholesome and healthy love: that one may endure to be with oneself, and not go roving about…One should live on mountains.”(29) Here lies, both the question and challenge; since the separation that comes from beginning a climb causes strife. First, the actor must leave behind all the people, and distractions, that previously took away all attention from oneself; with this increased time, the mind turns inward.
Zarathustra, like his creator, with all the time alone, seemed to become content with his own company; or at least utilize his time for self-prosperous elevation. There is a great truth, albeit double-sided, to the increased attention to oneself; “In solitude there groweth what any one bringeth into it—For we ought to learn from them one thing: ruminating.” (30) Thus, solitude can be positive or negative; solely depending upon the individual and how the time is spent in action. In ruminating, the act of deep thought, the mind will begin to focus on what it was designed for; per that individual. In Nietzsche’s solitude he critiqued society, and offered up an alternative; the superman, Zarathustra; who then in spending his time alone living in the mountains, came to address the problem of humanity. From far above, removed from the daily distractions, Zarathustra began to see things differently. In reflecting through his life, and the time of man, the sage contemplates the whole of mankind; not unlike the divine prophets long ago, gaining guidance from atop their mountains.
The solitude turns to what is of the most importance, changing the climber into a thinker that begins to revolutionize the being. First, comes a series of bold thoughts set out to action. Later, the aim turns from within; once the individual has become one, to outward and the greater; which, as Zarathustra saw to instruct the masses, “It is time for man to fix his goal. It is time for man to plant the germ of his highest hope. Mankind ought constantly to be striving to produce great men—this and nothing else is its duty.” (31) Therefore, through the lens of Zarathustra, we can see the importance of distancing oneself from the populace to contemplate and ruminate upon the whole of history. Yet, just as Nietzsche’s hero endures a journey full of obstacles, we must strive toward our own path that requires the actor to take on what is unknown. The climber, despite selfishly acting to remove oneself from all that was present before, moves with the many in his mind. For the desire in Zarathustra, was not solely to elevate himself, but for all that are interrelated; past, present and future. Therefore, while holding to a feeling of disgust with the market dwellers, and fleeing from them; the climber acts in their best interests, making all hopes and successes obtainable by any and all that have the courage to take on such a dramatic change.
In keeping his mind toward the whole of humanity; addressing the clear void in man, Nietzsche proposes, “Who can tell to what glorious heights man can still ascend?” (32) This must be contemplated when considering the climber’s journey, who dedicates a life to an ascent; an experiment and a test to what humanity can obtain. In the pursuit of a life more prosperous, and glorious, one must first give in to a feeling of uncertainty; to accept the sense of helplessness and welcome the challenges that bring upon progress. As Zarathustra would explain, “I perfect MYSELF: therefore do I now avoid my happiness, and present myself to every misfortune—for MY final testing and recognition…If ye believed more in life, then would ye devote yourselves less to the momentary…man is something that is to be surpassed.”(33) For to focus on the coming summit; a destination and standard, for which the masses do not consider in their lifetime; the climber must forgo any momentarily pain and pleasure. The ultimate purpose surpasses the present, in a constant work of aiming to achieve what would bring light upon future generations.
Here lies the greater reasoning; which goes beyond the aim of elevating oneself atop a summit, to provide the masses an example to strive toward in life. We can look to the life of Buddha; an icon that parted from a princely life of leisure and royalty, to address the issues of what he saw as the greatest of importance; to address and solve suffering, while finding a meaning within life. Four centuries later, a divine man found it necessary to sacrifice himself on a cross, to confront the reality that he faced; life was not being lived out as it should. Despite, not being divine or acknowledged as elevated, Nietzsche sought to create a similar being of divinity; one that could work to deviate mankind away from their woeful, lowly ways. Like in the aim of Buddha and Jesus, Zarathustra’s existence provided an alternative to the masses that simply follow aimlessly and without thought or will, like sheep. Nietzsche used his text to warn of their negative, polarizing influence, ‘“All isolation is wrong’: so say the herd. And long didst thou belong to the herd….go into thine isolation, my brother. I love him who seeketh to create beyond himself, and thus succumbeth.” (34)
Whether it be: searching for the realities of life away from a palace, wandering in the desert in deep contemplation, or escaping to live a life in the mountains, the evidence is clear; the life of the divine-elevated man does not happily exist within the masses; it does not belong down in the plains. As Nietzsche emphasizes, the majority (the herd) and wrongful shepherds will deter the actor from leaving his surroundings; in fear-that once the falsity is removed, the climber will see more clearly. Therefore; isolation, and an acceptance of the inevitable suffering, are the precursors to the desire to bring about something greater than the present self, which begins the process of elevation and climbing one’s mountain.
Nietzsche’s Zarathustra never received such an acceptance or excitement from the populace, when he left his long-time home in the mountains, and met them down on the plains. Nevertheless, the sage lived by his code, “‘To live as I incline, or not to live at all’”(35). His entire existence focused on elevating his will beyond what was not to be humanly possible; there, once the wise prophet became his own law, he turned his attention toward providing the way for a select few. Like the life of his creator, Zarathustra would realize that the majority of people were incapable of taking in such radical life views, to improve their lives and bring themselves closer to the divine. Perhaps, that is what brought his creator such misery; not only the recognition of such a lowly aimed society of men, but the knowledge that there existed a complete acceptance of and connection to it all, and a disregard for any desire to rise above.
Throughout his life, Nietzsche showed a disconnect with his present; owing to similar sentiments held by Petrarch, of disgust and a supreme desire to bring about a drastic improvement in the race of humanity. It was clear, in his many works, how he viewed the leaders of society (the church and the state); and how their impact in the daily course of people’s lives drove away, what ultimately Nietzsche most adamantly believed in. Explained through the lens of Zarathustra; “Out of the deepest must the highest come to its height….—Behind thy thoughts and feelings, my brother, there is a mighty lord, an unknown sage—it is called Self; it dwelleth in thy body, it is thy body….cast not away the hero in thy soul! Maintain holy thy highest hope!….For this is OUR height and our home,” (36) the radical thinker and critic, sought for the awakening of the actor within. His essential message called for man to stop being led from outside and draw from within; the most powerful well, by creating a soul.
Nietzsche, like Zarathustra, would never receive the acclaim that either is accredited; partly due to the highly controversial and critical nature of conventional human society. However, his importance rings true to bringing about a new wave; of philosophy, art, and technique, in acting as a true gadfly to dispel the truth upon all that have ears. Perhaps; like Petrarch realized, five hundred years prior, the most important aspect Nietzsche can be credited for is calling for a revolution within man; and providing the alternative. For while the act of climbing, and all that involves itself in the life changing act is key to the elevation in life; the true goal and joy comes in joining one with self. In fact, Nietzsche would describe that as man’s greatest duty; “It is no commandment for to-day and to-morrow to LEARN to love oneself. Rather is it of all arts the finest, subtlest, last and patientest….And whatever may still overtake me as fate and experience—a wandering will be therein, and a mountain-climbing: in the end one experienceth only oneself.”(37)
We don’t have to wait long; as we did in the centuries between Petrarch and Friedrich Nietzsche, to find another European actor itching to uplift humanity out of its despair. To understand Rene Daumal and, the reasoning for his displeasure with the present, we must address the reality that reigned during the thirty six years of his life. Opening one’s eyes in 1908, a conscious intellectual in European would be hard pressed not to see the glaring crisis of the continent and the outer world. In the next ten years, the continent would be stretched and torn to pieces amidst a war that hardly provided any clarity for the future upon its completion; instead, what came next perhaps was to be more alarming. An increased attention to the exploitation of Africa, the Spanish flu; taking millions of lives throughout the world and encompassing unsettled political situations that left countries raged with revolution, hatred and depression.
Perhaps, all of this would help led Rene toward his life’s work of para-surrealism; holding to an irritated rejection of the present. As he’d explain, “For, when you come down to it, I can’t bring myself to fall in with this monkey-cage agitation which people so dramatically call life.” (38) Holding to aggravation and discontent with his fellow man, he provides a similar sentiment to that of our previous climbers. Despite, not providing a completed work, with his Mount Analogue, Rene offers up enough for the reader to connect the essential message, of climbing one’s mountain, to what has come before. Most importantly, the outline; of the disgruntled actor, that seeks an ascent away from the low caste of society, and his struggle to reach the summit, is of the same lineage of that of Petrarch and Zarathustra.
Here we must begin, with what Rene sees in the necessity of the mountain, “in the mythic tradition the Mountain is the bond between Earth and Sky. It is the way by which man can raise himself to the divine, and by which the divine reveals itself to man.” (39) Unable to escape the past, on the contrary, Rene examines what came before him to make sense of his present and future; in considering the correlation between man and the mountain-tops, he provides insight, “For Moses it was Mount Sinai and Mount Nebo; in the New Testament it is the Mount of Olives and Golgotha…just as in Greece the king of the gods held court on Mount Olympus.” (40) Simply put, Daumal found enough evidence, put forth in both ancient and modern texts, to relate the essential element of climbing the mountains to his own life.
In his text, Mount Analogue, Rene recounts the adventure of a climbing expedition; first beginning with his correspondence to an interested fellow academic and climber, Pierre Sogol. After writing an article about a mythical mountaintop (the Mount Analogue), he gained the ear of Mr. Sogol. The two would begin to create a climbing party for the seemingly invisible and unattainable mountain peak, and determine to pin down a location; that somehow allowed the world’s tallest peak to remain hidden from the world. The duo shared much in common; their attention to detail, the interest in climbing, yet,perhaps most attentively, in respects toward their climb, was their readiness to escape their present. Daumal, would explain himself to be on the constant search; not only for his impossible mountain peak, but for himself, “The voice cries out its great questioning of everything…. ‘Who am I?’….Whenever that voice is silent-and it doesn’t speak often-I’m an empty body, a perambulating carcass.” (41)
No doubt, a detachment with the present, an interest in the world’s tallest summit, and a vast knowledge of the enlightened beings, made Daumal believe what existed around him was not all their was to achieve. On the contrary, as he’d proclaim, “in my reading and in my travels, I had heard about a superior type of man, possessing the keys to everything which is a mystery to us….Somewhere on our Earth this superior form of humanity must exist, and not utterly out of our reach. In that case shouldn’t all my efforts be directed toward discovering it? Even if, in spite of my certainty, I were the victim of a monstrous illusion, I should lose nothing in the attempt. For, apart from this hope, all life lacked meaning for me….With a feeling of not belonging.” (42) Appealing to the same sense that led Nietzsche to adamantly refuse his present, decades before, Daumal suggests his life to be void of all meaning without the singular belief in the superior man. It is only natural then, for the creation of such a text as Mount Analogue; representing the same desire to take refuge in the pursuit of the unimaginable, and yet; as both Nietzsche and Daumal proclaim, to be the very achievable.
Striving toward the summit, and ultimately incredible gains, requires a certain tenacity and hardiness. The initial movement away from the comfort of a life known; even with just that first step onto the transportation of the voyage, or in our ascent, is enough to lead toward dispelling the majority from the adventure. Rene recognises this, as he’d explain, “The path to our highest desires often lies through the undesirable.” (43) As we take one solitary step at a time toward our destination, the first movements seem to be the most challenging; as if we have confidence laid out in how we will perform in the higher altitude of life, in the moments that we dream about, and yet those movements of drastic transition seem to move in such slow motion. It’s as if the initial undesirable actions are just bearable enough and survived; despite the inner turmoil and outer pain, by solely keeping in mind our most desired aspirations. If we convince ourselves the pain is necessary, for such feats surpassing anything would could possible achieve in our previous life, then we act.
The adventurers, led by Rene and Pr. Sogol arrived to the island, after much preparation and meticulous research. The original group changed, no doubt due to the certain requirement of character: a strong faith, a flexibility, and a persistent will power (intermingled into their reason to take on such a trip); combined with an acceptance and readiness to endure what was to come. Upon their arrival, and before taking on the trek up toward the summit, Daumal would notice and describe the inhabitants as fellow climbers that came from all over the world; many would remain, making a life in the backdrop of the mountain range. Here he hints on something, that cannot be overstated: the character trait, of one that features bravery, faith and a drive in pursuing the seemingly unobtainable; in regards to mankind and their connection to the divine, does not solely connect and relate to one type of people. On the contrary, in describing the people, “There are no natives here. All inhabitants came from elsewhere, from the four corners of the world like ourselves, and each nation has its little colony along the shore…But there were very few ships of recent date. We could rarely identify the most ancient ones with a name or a country,” (44) we get an understanding of the type of people that would chase such aspirations, and the rich lineage that exists in the history of mankind.
Unlike man, the divine connection does not discriminate; instead the power that exists within all of humanity, just calls for the opening of such will and strength. Undoubtably, changes must be made, in essence along with a new path that one must take; leaving the market and streets for the plain dwellers, the adventurer accepts a mentality that requires a continuous reality of discomfort and adjustment. Rene summarises this quite clearly by stating the necessity of the climber to acclimate to such drastic condition changes. He goes on to suggest how the group members began “to shed our personalities….we were also preparing to leave behind the artist, the inventor, the doctor, the scholar, the writer.” (45) It is necessary to accept, while the role that one plays; even the personality traits that seem to exhibit and describe a person, were related to who you are, if the situation changes (drastically) then the person must as well, or jeopardize the success of the climb, due to a lack of will.
As the group becomes more acquainted with life on the island, Rene begins to further examine the complexities of a society beneath the most rare of mountain peaks. Ultimately, he notes several points that are worth further contemplating; beginning with how the islanders implemented a unique structure of currency; or more directly stated, there dealing with financial transactions. He describes the existence of Peradam, “the only substance, the only material thing, whose value is recognised by the guides of Mount Analogue,” (46) as the most rare of objects, which appears; despite the difficulty to find and obtain them, in the higher altitudes of the mountain. Simply put, the rock-like substance seems to be a greater form of the diamond, either “harder than diamond,” (47) or the “father of diamond.” (48) Now, here we must address several facets of his metaphorical concept of the superior diamond; first by understanding how the diamond comes to fruition, through extreme pressure. If the Peradam is the apparent ultra-diamond, and only found in the highest of slopes, then one can surmise that it is not obtainable for all men; on the contrary, appearing to only be extracted by the most fearless, persistent, and strongest willed climbers. Therefore, as Rene would come to learn, the pursuit of such a substance is only succeeded by the worthy; and extreme few, that are willing to sacrifice their life.
These truths then allow us to imagine, what if the item obtained is not material at all; perhaps, the power gained is not an outward extraction of such a worthy substance, but the unearthing of a great power within; which is only found from such a great and treacherous endeavour, as climbing the highest peaks. Some will argue, even if a select few, that the most valuable power which can be obtained in life, is not an outward item, but the knowledge gained from within. This knowledge could be outer: of the world, but far more likely is an acceptance and revelation of what is most relatable to ourself; the knowledge of self. For we undoubtably know what is behind us, (or below); despite many forgetting or dismissing such causes from the past, but no one inherently knows what is to come, what exists above, and what it is that they are capable of. Here Rene offers up an rebuttal to the nay-sayers and pessimists that question the reasoning for trekking to one’s mountain peak, “what is above knows what is below, but what is below does not know what is above.” (48) This then lies as the exact premise and reasoning for such dangerous, drastic, and difficult journeys to find one’s summit. We already are well aware of our valleys, the plains that we have existed far too long in, and of our past life; one which for some, seem to be dreadfully below what their innermost thoughts and feelings desire. Perhaps then, what we ought to pursue is knowledge; not from the books of another’s life, or the imaginative vision of some author, but the majestic awareness of self. This powerful source only comes to fruition when we throw ourself into that which exists for us alone.
Toward the end of his book, en route to the summit, Rene provides us with a quote that we would do well to contemplate to its depth. He offers a metaphor for an object that is a necessity in life; more particularly on the strenuous climbs, “Shoes, unlike feet, are not something you’re born with. So you can choose what you want. At first be guided in your choice by people with experience, later by your own experience.” (49) Like most of what the artist writes; as it is very much abstract ideas, this can be taken in a matter of ways. The framework of life, and the ultimate results of what came before us are provided to us; as material that can be incredible useful. However, just like in the selection of shoes to buy from a store, or online, these records are not all useful and according to all; each individual experience along the path relates differently. Despite an almost infinite choosing, many will not equip for the avenue ahead bared with challenging obstacles; take packing a pair of sandals for a hike. Yet, if chosen properly the lives, knowledge, and wisdom at our disposal can very much aid in our own trek.
While it is necessary to choose wisely for adventures; for simply wearing no shoes is not an open, later one’s own experience will guide. Even here; after successful journey achieved, the selection of one’s own experience will be worthwhile to consider. Throughout all this, we have the great pleasure and power to chose freely; yet, these decisions on what and who to rely upon will ultimately impact our paths toward progression going forward. It would then be naive to expect that attaching oneself with the sandal wearers would not ultimately prevent us from achieving our mountaintops. Rene does not undervalue the choice of these selection, “Your life depends to some extent on your shoes; care for them properly.” (50) With selecting from the wide variety, choose according to one’s own desires and nature; this very well may mean, in neglecting specific concepts of an individual while taking others from the same person. The shoes match the individuals journey, which will undoubtably be different than all in the past; despite it seemingly appearing to be similar at moments, ultimately they will show different in time.
Combining together the wisdom of mankind, with the uniqueness of the individual, what we aim for is not a mere imitation but the ultimate improvement; and the one true goal, the awakening of the self. Despite, reading and studying the lives of others; during the time of indecision and anxiety, over time the addressing of the outward, will aid in the unearthing of the one to come to fruition. The selection and care of the shoes, then can not be overlooked, as Rene suggests is of the utmost importance; which paired with an overpowering will that is consumed by the, “thinking of nothing else-by our desires-abandoning every other hope-by our efforts-renouncing all bodily comfort,” (51) will lead one to prosperity. During that journey, the yearning imitator transforms into an individual, which after striving relentlessly for the opportunity to climb, became an actor at the highest level. Led by faith and desire, strengthened by a never-ending will, the climber is rewarded with an incredible glimpse. Yet, what becomes most apparent and beautiful, is not some view, but the unification of one.
(1) The Ascent of Mount Ventoux; Francesco Petrarch
(2) Thus Spake Zarathustra; Friedrich Nietzsche
(3) Thus Spake Zarathustra; Friedrich Nietzsche
(4) Mount Analogue; Rene Damaul
(5) To Posterity; Francesco Petrarch
(6) Passion for Work-To The Abbot of St. Benigno; Francesco Petrarch
(7) To Posterity; Francesco Petrarch
(8) To Posterity; Francesco Petrarch
(9) To Socrates; Francesco Petrarch
(10) Passion for Work-To The Abbot of St. Benigno; Francesco Petrarch
(11) To Posterity; Francesco Petrarch
(12-19) The Ascent of Mount Ventoux; Francesco Petrarch
(20-37) Thus Spake Zarathustra; Friedrich Nietzsche
(38-51) Mount Analogue; Rene Damaul