How To Become Enlightened: Let Anxiety Be Your Guide

How To Become Enlightened: Let Anxiety Be Your Guide

Nietzsche And The Lion

So, you’re going through a steady, low bottom depression. The chronic malcontent produces a constant throb like a poolside horsefly. 

You just can’t escape. 

Feeling disconnected and without meaning, you begin to search for religion, for faith, something to provide meaning in the brokenness around you…

Well, you are in good company. 

St John of the Cross called such seasons the ‘Dark Night of the Soul.` He noted, “If a man wishes to be sure of the road he treads on, he must close his eyes and walk in the dark.”

Therefore, the darkness represents an awakening. 

Seems counterintuitive right? 

Appears to go against standard-issue rationalization. 

It’s tantamount to saying to find the light you must first identify the darkness…but can this be done without light? 

Ahh, I’m digressing. 

This pursuit of religion in desperation, however, misses the mark because, per Saint John of The Cross, you cannot begin to move in the right direction until you first learn where you are. 

Running from where you are can provide no benefit, at least in the spiritual sense. 

Maybe this is why folks begin to search for religion, it seems like an easy way out – but it’s closer to avoidance, it’s still not accepting where you are.

Moreover, it’s doubly flawed trying to capture religion in a systematized, organized framework, especially during such times. 

Sure, it helps. 

But it’s like equating anthropology with actual culture. Life can never be so dispassionately categorized. 

As aforementioned, life is found groping in the dark, not compartmentalizing it into neat scientific categories detached from passion. 

But this leaves us stranded. 

What possible meaning can exist in the darkness!

Here we arrive at the age-old question of whether there is some underlying plan or if life is just entirely meaningless; this is usually what the in-search-for-religion-dilemma entails. 

But whether we think meaning is predestined, such as the Greeks ‘fate’ or whether we create our own meaning as suggested by existentialist, at the end of the day the very concept of “meaning” is probably as close to God – as real religion – as we’ll ever get. 

Even to assert that life has no meaning is a statement loaded with meaning. 

It’s inescapable. 

For example, look at resentment; it’s simply another way of saying: 

1. I don’t like the meaning

2. I don’t deserve the meaning

3. Or my meaning has been stifled by another person or group

Nietzsche (the most nihilistic of philosophers) still knew the child was a preferable model to the lion, even if the lion is incredibly badass. 


Because the child is willing to explore and “create” meaning. 

I love philosophy because I believe it’s the best platform for concept and meaning creation. This way I can always continue my momentum, that is in terms of constructing a narrative of sorts.

Yes, the bitter heart might cry aloud, “I’m not a child looking for meaning, there is no meaning. I’m a lion, looking to do what lions do, but afraid of the consequences. Therein lies my problem.”

But that is the point! 

The camel, said Nietzsche, represents the burdens of society, which some simply take willingly – we all know the camels. 

The lion represents those who eat the damn camels, they don’t want to deal with the societal bullshit. 

But both are the same thing. 

Either a happy or unhappy camel. 

At the end of the day, the child operates outside the bullshit, which is what makes him/her so remarkable. Kill or be killed (camel/lion) – the same thing. Fortunately, those aren’t the only parameters…

A dear friend of mine once mentioned to me, “The meaning of life I’ve come to find is forgiving the world for representing what hasn’t occurred.” Profound, right? This is simply the child forgiving the lion and camel for believing they somehow are no longer children.

I liken the child to the philosopher who escaped Plato’s cave. This is where we plunge headlong into the darkness; into the counterintuitive trans-rational abyss…hold onto your butts!

Ok, it’s not that extreme but Ladies and gentlemen, allow me to introduce to you, the one and only – Socrates.

Plato’s Allegory Of The Cave

The following summary of the Allegory Of The Cave was taken from Andrew Lynn’s “Classic Philosophy For Modern Man”

We are first to imagine human beings living in an underground den. Their legs and necks have been chained so that they cannot move and can only see what is in front of them. Behind these prisoners – at a distance – a fire is blazing. Between the fire and the prisoners is a low wall. Across the top of the wall, men carry vessels, statues, and figures of animals. Some of these men are talking and their voices echo off the cave walls.

What, then, would be the experience of these prisoners and how would they understand their own world? Of themselves, they would see nothing but their own shadows cast against the cave wall. Of the objects carried along the wall, they would likewise see merely shadowed forms. And of the talk of the men in the cave, they would hear only the echo, which to them would seem to emanate from the shadows on the wall. Their whole truth and reality would be nothing but this shadowy puppet-show. 

Now imagine one of the prisoners is released and is able to make an escape. He will be pained and distressed by the brightness of the natural light flowing in from the mouth of the cave. He will still believe that the shadows that he formerly saw are truer than the objects he is being shown now. At first, he will stay with the shadows and reflections. Then he will venture out at night-time. Only at the end will he be able to behold the sun as the source of all that is. 

Finally, imagine what would happen if the released man decided to liberate his fellow prisoners. He would have to return to the cave below to do that. Now, though, his sight would be unaccustomed to the darkness. To the prisoners below – who have been busy conferring honours upon those who were ‘quickest to observe the passing shadows and to remark which of them went before, and which followed after’ – the returned man with his ineffective vision would seem ridiculous. Better not to even think of ascending, they would conclude. And, should anyone think of releasing another – well, let him be killed.

The individual who left the cave is the “creator of meaning” as alluded to earlier. He’s the child per Neitzche’s narrative, content with leaving the arena of the senses and departing for the land of ideas, of concepts, of abstracts; namely, uncertainty. Or, to put it another way, he can leap outside the societal parameters and operate beyond the B.S.

No easy feat.


Because it is here that rationality in its positivistic sense cannot dwell – the darkness to which Saint John of The Cross refers. Sense-experience, the primary constructor of culture, receives here it’s death sentence – at least in terms of being able to make claims of certitude. This is, as the Zen koan suggests, where one can hear the sound of one hand clapping.

So, to return to the earlier theme, why must we ‘close our eyes and walk in the dark’ to figure out where we stand? Because we live in this shadowy existence wherein the heart wrenching truth that ‘everything we think we know, ain’t so!” must be absorbed, accepted, and acted upon.

Permit me to give a more practical illustration of this principle.

Sometimes all the things we value (e.g. social status, image, materialism, prestige, etc.) are actually a misrepresentation of the truth. We look at someone with prestige and think “yes, that’s what I want!!”

Yet, when prompted to give a firm reason why this is something we want, usually we are left with uncertainty. Maybe you’d be more reasonable and candid with a response such as “because it feels good.” However, this resort to ‘feeling, not only implies the limitations of rational knowledge but demonstrates a poor understanding. 

What it presents is what we do not know.

This was the goal, or at least so it seems, of Socrates. To bring us to an impasse. This impasse represents John of the Cross’s darkness. At this impasse, I believe true meaning is embraced.

So Meaning Is Found In The Lack Of Meaning?

Man is condemned to be free; because once thrown into the world, he is responsible for everything he does. It is up to you to give [life] a meaning.
Jean-Paul Sartre

Now, I’m not saying I agree with Sartre that life is without meaning until you stencil it with purpose; but it certainly appears that way. In an ontological sense (the nature of things) we never can make that claim with certainty. This is an ascent from the shadows to the land of ideas and abstract concepts. It is a dance with uncertainty, and grasping at the limitations of rational analysis (am I beating a dead horse yet or is he still a galloping?)

Anywho, this is the impasse to awakening!

From the anxious pen Kierkegaard,

“Anxiety may be compared with dizziness. He whose eye happens to look down the yawning abyss becomes dizzy. But what is the reason for this? It is just as much in his own eye as in the abyss, for suppose he had not looked down. Hence, anxiety is the dizziness of freedom, which emerges when the spirit wants to posit the synthesis and freedom looks down into its own possibility, laying hold of finiteness to support itself. Freedom succumbs to dizziness. Further than this, psychology cannot and will not go. In that very moment everything is changed, and freedom, when it again rises, sees that it is guilty. Between these two moments lies the leap, which no science has explained and which no science can explain. He who becomes guilty in anxiety becomes as ambiguously guilty as it is possible to become.”

Kierkegaard can be the most confusing to read; it’s one of those “read ten times and pretend to understand it because an eleventh read would be superfluous.” But let’s take a shot at this and see whether is encompasses John of the Cross’s “darkness,” Nietzsche’s “child,” and Satre’s “freedom.”

Looking down into the yawning abyss is the equivalent of “darkness.” This is that anxious low-level depression I opened this blog with – it’s dizzy and laden with guilt.

Why is it laden with guilt?

Because it’s options are unlimited yet one is “supposed” to know and choose the right one! This is Satre’s imprisoning freedom, it chains you to the “what ifs, should have’s, musts, and if only’s.” Yet, this the jumping off place where Nietzsche’s child merely leaps past the end of knowledge and into the beginning of wisdom. 

Love. Courage. Friendship. Justice. Bravery.

We recognize these abstract concepts by exceeding the limits of rational knowledge and embracing a deeper understanding. “Where the rational mind hits a wall, enlightenment can emerge.”

In the words of philosopher Maria deVenze Tillmann,

“Wisdom reaches our grasp deeper into the world. It sometimes seems as though we have tried to replace thinking with knowledge. The more I know, the less I have to think. I have the answers, so I do not have to live in a world of uncertainty, ambiguity, feeling perplexed or ‘at a loss’, even though this uncertainty is exactly the place where true thinking begins as we suddenly have to ask ourselves, “now what?”. It is the place where understanding develops through a deeper sense of connectedness. It’s as though our ability to explain the world resembles the tip of the iceberg, and what we understand but don’t have words for exists below the surface. What’s below the surface is certainly as real as what exists above it, but we cannot explain it in the same way, so we need metaphors, analogies, poetry, music; or sometimes scientific ideas, such as spacetime, or gravity, or the Higgs boson. But we know gravity when we drop a shoe to the ground; we know love when we read the Song of Songs; we know courage when we read in the Iliad about Hector’s bravery.”

Can I make a recommendation? 


Timmy G (2019)