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The Eternal Recurrence of Pain


For the Essayist
who is a kindred soul


"A person who wishes to begin a good life should be like a man
who draws a circle. Let him get the center in the right place
and keep it so and the circumference will be good."

Meister Eckhart




In a letter dated 22 January 2001, the Essayist wrote:

I'm sorry to hear about you and your girlfriend. The loss of a love is really difficult, and no amount of wise words can heal such pain. What helped me during my own moments of pain was the plain belief that God was watering me, like a plant, making me bigger, stronger and more beautiful.

There is always a certain amount of sadness in my heart when I read your journal. I sense very much the weight on your shoulder with the many roles you play. I sense the deep confusion you have regarding the very essence of what and who your are. I sense you grappling with difficult questions that even I in my 'old age' have not managed to answer. Again what keeps me safe is the belief that as Rilke said, "someday, you will slowly grow into the answers."

To end, I feel that in a lifetime, the world eternally recurs. Which basically means that questions that were put aside, or decisions that were incorrectly made, somehow come back. Apparently there are certain lessons that life will force upon you, to the point of making the lessons come back, albeit in a different form. The trick is to find these repetitions, and to have the courage to choose wisely, the second time. For some of us, it might take a fourth try.
It may have taken five and a half years to respond (for one can only respond and not answer letters) yet the past can never replace (as to substitute or stand in the place of) the passage of time. For like what the cliche 'time heals all wounds' points to, there is no better teacher than the passage of time even if it entails the passage of tears.

Yet what is striking if not revolting is the numerical order before the last word: "fourth." Need we -- intelligent beings that we are -- go through a fourth in order to finally know and learn as to never commit the same mistakes again? Is not the first lesson enough; or much more the second; or finally the third? Can we not calculatively distinguish a coincidence from a trend, and chance happening from a redundancy?

But can anyone ever tell a priori that this experience through which I go and in which I am neck-deep will not be a mistake much more a repetition of a mistake -- a "favorite mistake" as a singer says?

Pray tell who can tell.

Hindsight is always twenty-twenty; the past is always clearer than the present much more than the forever distant but always near future.

This is perhaps why we go through the valley of tears and the moutaintops of joy over and over and over again as if we never went through it, as if we never even imagined it.

Friedrich Nietzsche, in one of his less obscure works (Thus Spake Zarathustra) tells us baffled readers of the 'eternal recurrence of the Same.'

Unknown to us beforehand but crystal clear to us after, the human being seems to go through a kind of repetition of experiences, each one new (with new characters involved and in different settings and times), but each one old as well (the same thing happens like the way we can foresee from the beginning how a romantic comedy film is going to end upon seeing the first scene, e.g., films with Amanda Bynes in the leading role). Literally, we seem to be going in circles.

Take a heartbreak for example. As we all know too painfully already, what begins in a blur (the chance acquaintance, the blinding 'blind-date', the sudden manifestation of a long-time friend) will always inevitably end -- even in marriage (the parting of ways because departed). What comes around, goes around, they usually say; what begins has to end because we, mere mortals, will die and along with that dis-appearance come the decisions and the cutting of relationships ('cut and cut cleanly,' as my mother says) that plague the immortal soul trapped in a temporal body (Plato). Hence the need for goodbyes.

But what has been unthought of in this circle of events is, if you wish, its necessity or its contingency, its reason or absurdity. To begin with, need we enter the dance that never ends because it never begins? Need we enter and play that circular play in the first place?

The danger in the 'eternal recurrence of the Same' is nothing other than boredom: 'been there, done that,' 'I know how it is going to end' (hence, the beginning and middle will always only have to be means to such an end), and perhaps more dangerously because hopelessly, 'there is nothing new under the sun,' nothing behind the horizon.

Hence, this pain in my heart is but a stage, albeit a necessary one, so that I can let go and enter another dance with another dancing partner and play the same music that inevitably has to end. Because what song does not end?

(Another but new danger in the new dance: it always 'feels' like this is the final and last dancing partner, this is the final and last song -- a swan song. Yet of course, one can ask the dreamy friend the Cartesian question: How do you know?

A new love begins with an impossible tabula rasa; impossible for one carries with him and in him the writings of the past, the photographs of the other.

Yet would you have it any other way even if you shall have to go through the passage of tears over and over again?)

Yet along with "the danger" of boredom and the absurdity of the repetition, "the saving power grows also" (Heidegger).

Repetitio (to repeat) is the third stage in traditional pedagogy: the praelectio or the first reading prepares the student for the lectio or the reading of the lecture and then the repetitio is to review, on another day, what had been said in the first two readings, to see again what was seen in the first two tries. It is hoped (by both the teacher and the student) that after the third, what was said would eventually be heard, what was shown would finally be seen.

To the uninterested student and teacher, this repetition would be absurd: we seem to be going around in circles and redundantly saying what has been said.

But, and here lies the difference, what would seem like the Same carries behind it the shadow or trace of the Difference, that is, there is always something new that can be seen in the second that was not seen in the first attempt, always something new that can be understood that was not noticed even on the second try. And all it takes is a keen eye to see the difference, a sharp mind to see the trend; or as the Essayist said above, "the trick is to find these repetitions" to begin with and learn from each repetition as if it was your first time: with new eyes and with a receptive intellect.

Herein lies the Difference between those who go on in circles (the Same) and those who have gone beyond the circle, or better, those who have found the center of the circle -- the hardest point to find in a circle (because deepest) with sheer perception (aisthesis) through experience.

"Someday you will grow into answers" (Rilke) is like music to the ears compared to 'life is trial and error' (Aristotle) -- which implies that one has only to try and try again to hit the 'moving target' with sheer luck and with a multitude of attempts like in playing darts).

Yet as in darts as well, we can only have three attempts because we only have three darts to begin with.

The middle of the circle: the hardest to shoot for but once perceived -- through repetition -- one has a 360 degree vista of the circle and finally see the circle as circle and then overcome it through sheer 'will to power.' 'Down with such circles!' like when Nitzsche said "Down with the table of values!"

Yet we know that one can never sheerly will the circle's breakdown like one can never will to heal immediately lest thy wounds last longer and thy pain last forever.

But never a fourth. (Repetitio is the third and last stage.)

Because my good teacher, everything ends in the third.








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