I don’t get people who say they don’t want to get hurt. Who close themselves off to pain. Who do this because they maintain the only way to live a life that is scary and dangerous is to find safety in shelter and protection from risk. Who live an avoidance that amounts to a small, harbored existence.
“I hurt myself today
To see if I still feel
I focus on the pain
The only thing that's real.”
Lately I have been obsessed with Nietzsche who said: "The secret of a joyful life is to live dangerously." Imagine that. Joy. Bliss. Easily found out there in the darkness, on the edge, strewn abundantly across a pioneering path. That happiness lives breathing deeply in discovery. That you meet it again and again in great adventure where there is no full stop because you never see the end. In heroic gnosis where one wades ever fully into perpetual experience to encounter deepening truths.
My friend and fellow writer Alasdair Cameron can’t sleep so he’s been reading “A Devil's Chaplain: Reflections on Hope, Lies, Science, and Love”. This is a book of remarkable essays written by Richard Dawkins. Al tells me of one called “The Joy of Living Dangerously: Sanderson of Oundle.” In this essay Dawkins tells us to forget about the exams and the league tables. He says that real education is about: “the power of knowledge and the thrill of discovery.”
In this essay Frederick William Sanderson (1857-1922) who intuitively knew how the best life was lived is quoted by Dawkins as saying:
"I agree with Nietzsche that 'The secret of a joyful life is to live dangerously.' A joyful life is an active life - it is not a dull, static state of so-called happiness. Full of the burning fire of enthusiasm, anarchic, revolutionary, energetic, daemonic, Dionysian, filled to overflowing with the terrific urge to create - such is the life of the man who risks safety and happiness for the sake of growth and happiness."
Sanderson’s own words are a living and liberating tribute to a headmaster who demanded that laboratories be left unlocked so the boys at Oundle School could explore unfettered and unsupervised. During Sanderson’s time the school library was never locked. One of the school boys – now a man – speaks about being discovered in that library in the dead of the night by his headmaster.
Instead of booming admonishment Sanderson sat down next to him and nudged him deeper into adventure: “He began to talk to me of discovery and the values of discovery, the incessant reaching out of men towards knowledge and power, the significance of this desire to know and make and what we in the school were doing in that process. We talked, he talked for nearly an hour in that still nocturnal room. It was one of the greatest, most formative hours in my life...”
As I read Dawkin’s essay and marvel at Sanderson, Johnny Cash is singing:
“Everyone I know
Goes away in the end
You could have it all
My empire of dirt
I will let you down
I will make you hurt”
This song, Sanderson and Dawkin’s essay is a reminder of how little we know about life. How the most dangerous people are the most certain. Those who would have us believe or have faith in how the story should unravel or end. That the most foolish people are those who keep themselves in the dark for fear of pain or suffering or experiencing disappointment. This despite the startling truth that all of life’s inevitable miseries will find us all, no matter where we seek to hide.
It makes me certain that great men and women are those who live fearlessly knowing that their hearts will be broken countless times as they wade deeper and deeper into delicious discovery. That the greatest people are those who know this secret and inspire others to live its indisputable truth. The libertarians who encourage bright young minds to recklessly ransack the world’s wisdom and burn their fingers on the blistering heat of experience.
For who can sincerely and authentically offer another protection from hurt? It is coming to get us all regardless of whether we hide or live fully with courage and curiosity, craving the great adventure.
“Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead.” Let’s run into truth, wisdom and experience and live like heroes before we’re dead.