Nietzsche on Building Your F*cking Sandcastles
“There is only one day left,” says Sartre, “always starting over, being given to us at dawn and taken away at dusk.” The weird, warped nature of time is such that while the concept of linear time is true, the concept of circular time is also true, the idea that everything comes in waves, in cycles which are predictably repeating itself with approximately the same results, from the annual winter in which life slows down, things die off, leaves fall, animals hibernate, and the sun dips down to its lowest point in the sky; this, of course, always gives way to the springtime, when new plants begin to grow, life begins to flourish, and everything begins anew in preparation for the hot summer. Creation, destruction, and creation again is the way of all things.
Entropy is destiny. Rust never sleeps.
It’s almost as if every single morning new objects are born, we wake and we scramble around for a few minutes trying to orient ourselves, we seek to find our place again and figure out what we were doing and where we’re going. It’s as if we respawned in a video game.
Tired and confused, we’re always tired and confused when we don’t have a purpose and the first few moments of the morning are when we have the least purpose. Then, suddenly, for some of us, it all seems to make sense and fall into place. Creation, destruction, and creation again. Cycles repeating.
Vain objects for vain subjects. Everything is temporary in this life and we know it. But what can be learned from this experience? And more importantly, what can it teach us about ourselves and how we value life and, by extension, time? Seeing as time is the prerequisite of life and all lives take place over a span of time, how we measure and value our time and, most importantly, what we fill it with, matters. Not the objects that we fill it with but the personal relationship we have with it…let me explain…
The inevitable erosion, we know, will bear down upon us; whether today or someday off in the distant future is irrelevant. We understand as we listen to our hearts on those sleepless nights, when we realize that the hearts we hear beating so unrelentingly — won’t beat forever. Someday, we and even all of our genes will be gone, eroded from the earth by the cruel passage of time. How will you act given this knowledge?
When we’re young and weak, we’re filled with dread over the idea — and then some of us learn how to live.
We will fight to go forth and seek to prove our mirth with all of the force of our might and, therefore, finally carve out a little spot in time where we may relax and rest and enjoy pleasure — but this is vanity.
Will we make great works? Will we build houses? Will we plant vineyards? Will we make gardens and orchards and plant trees in them of all kinds of fruits? Will we toil in things great and small, only to realize that these, too, are in vain? What is to come of us and all of this, everything we know and love? What is to come of what we build, our vain goals, aspirations, and dreams? Will they too not be destroyed by the eroding sands of time? All of that effort, all of those days and laborious toilings under the sun, will it all be a waste?
19th-century philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche broke down this idea into the three types of people, three types of people which (well over one hundred years later) are highly relevant today; and in typical Nietzschean fashion, he used a very playful allegory to illustrate his point about creation, destruction, and the lives we lead in the face of all of the wrathful and unapologetic force of nature. We can understand our relationship to time by how we build our castles. Nietzsche had the cure for nihilism before it was cool.
Picture some children on the beach at play, the waves are crashing down on the beach but the tide is low as the children play. Three of the children begin to discuss one of the ultimate things a kid can do: building sandcastles. The children are overjoyed at the idea of building sandcastles but they understand that in a few hours, the tides will come and wreck all of the sandcastles they made.
All of their building and effort, all of the hard work laid out in each palm-full of shoveled clay, all of it would be eroded and destroyed in an instant some distant hours in the future.
- The first type of person realizes the awesome force of the waves and will grovel to themselves, stressed and bemoaning the nature of existence itself. They’ll build their sandcastle slowly, with precision, and often the bare-minimum effort necessary. They’ll spend the entire time complaining to the second person about what a waste it is — how it’s all in vain — and why they think they shouldn’t even try.
- The second type of person will throw their arms up in the air and give up completely. “What’s the use?” They’ll say. They know that any beautiful architectural structure amassed with their time and hard work will just come tumbling down when the tide rises, so they do nothing, paralyzed with fear and sadness. But still, my friends, there is the third type and the third type is who you want to be…
- The third type of person will throw caution to the wind, will stare out into the ocean with an intense ferocity, will channel the energy within to realize that they only have this time and they’re going to spend time short time that they have building an impressive sandcastle — whatever may come. They thrust themselves into their work furiously and without hesitation, they build a grand structure and sit back as they turn over to the other two, staring down four eyes of envy which frustratingly look back at him, and smile.
So…which type of person do you think you are? More importantly, which type of person would you like to be? And what do you think you can do to bridge the gap, if there is one, or perhaps reinforce what you already do and are happy with?
What can this teach you about your life? I think we’d be lying to ourselves if we said we’d never been paralyzed or even just slowed down by the prospect of things not working out. What is it that we fear? Is it the idea that all things will pass away? Is it not succeeding? Is it not accomplishing things in quite the right way, as perfectionism sets in and we become paralyzed by that? Sometimes in life, it’s ourselves who stand the most in our way and, if you asked Nietzsche, I think he’d likely tell you that we almost always stand in our own way somewhat.
And if all is doomed to the inevitable failure of time, as Ecclesiastes noted in the Bible, then why not enjoy this time we have now? Why not live for the now and place a premium on the value of our existence today? Why not escape the rat race, at least for a little while, and go out and just exist in the moment? This can all go away in just a moment. You could abandon everything for a weekend getaway, you could travel the world, you could sign up to go farm in other countries, you could join the Peace Corps, there are a lot of alternative lives to the life you’re living right now. Are you truly living your best life?
So, build your sandcastles. create whichever structures your little hearts desire. And I think there’s another meaning in all of this — to thoroughly enjoy the process. The less we fear the inevitable and slow waste of entropy, the more we can focus on the here and now, this moment we happen to inhabit, and yes, using it to build our castles.
Whatever you end up doing, I say, set aside some time to spend, uninterrupted, with the people you love and care about and thank them for taking that time with you. Life is like a nice, cool pool on a hot day, dive right in and get to work for best results.
Thank you for reading. Unsure where to start with Nietzsche? While I suggest reading all of Nietzsche that you can, I tend to think it’s best to start with his work Thus Spoke Zarathustra: A Book for Everyone and No One, a fictional philosophical work that’s one that can be read not just for understanding, but also, for pleasure.
It’s a joy to read and can be found through an affiliate link here. Full disclosure: I may make a small commission through any purchases made. Enjoy.