Why Life Is War and How to Triumph
by Gary Z. McGee
“War is the father of all.” ~Heraclitus
Nothing comes without a fight. All life is a struggle. The muscle must strain to become stronger. A poem must do battle with language to become poignant and sharp. If an artist forgoes the tension between imagination and finished product, he forgoes beauty and truth. A true warrior understands this.
A true warrior isn’t a jarhead with a machine gun. Nor is it a Viking with a necklace of ears collected from his kills. Nor is it a savage in warpaint counting coup on his enemies. No. A true warrior is a human being who understands that life is war and chooses to face that war with fearless confidence and courage rather than fearful pampered cowardice.
Entropy is the enemy. It will always be easier to die than to live. In the vastness of the universe death is the rule. Life is the exception to that rule. True warriors understand this. They sculpt their mind-body-soul by the rule. They sharpen it, hone it, make it a thing that is antifragile rather than fragile.
Reality is a juggernaut of entropy. On a long enough timeline, there are no timelines. Entropy eventually eats everything. But this is not a reason for ennui or base nihilism. Not at all.
True warriors don’t balk. They understand that this is a reason for celebration. Everything in life is made more meaningful because it will eventually end.
Happy is the soul that engages in unique, invigorating, and creative combat with reality—and succeeds. Here are four ways to succeed in the war of life…
1.) Seek struggle, not comfort:
“Without problems, we are deprived of our ability to solve them.” ~Fabrice Midal
First, let this sink in: The war cannot be won. Death will always have the final say. You will one day be food for worms. There’s no avoiding this. You can fight it, and fight you should, but you must be able to accept that it is inevitable.
Life is less about comfort, security, and sunshine and more about how well you tolerate discomfort, insecurity, and darkness. Don’t avoid discomfort at the expense of growth. Don’t repress insecurity at the expense of vulnerability. Don’t avoid the darkness at the expense of seeing the light.
Don’t focus on the war. Focus on winning battles. Life exists in struggle. More succinctly, it exists in moments of struggle against entropy.
From the bare-bone basics of breathing, drinking, and eating; to the next-level methods of meditation, non-attachment, and deep interdependence. Every second you waste getting oxygen is a second closer to a victory for entropy. Every second you’re able to get oxygen is a victory for life. The same goes with clean water, healthy food, and everything else up Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.
Life is a struggle. Life is offensive. Life is pain. Anyone who tells you otherwise is selling something. The real question is this: How will you respond? How will you transform the struggle, the offensiveness, and the pain into something empowering? How do you use it to sharpen you into a finer instrument?
2.) Be curious, not certain:
“It’s impossible for a man to learn what he thinks he already knows.” ~Epictetus
In the war of life, uncertainty dwarfs certainty. In fact, the uncertainty is so overwhelming—and so dangerous when confused for certainty—that it behooves the warrior to proceed almost entirely uncertain, and to treat any form of certainty with the greatest caution, vigilance, and circumspection.
The proper response to uncertainty is curiosity. When you allow yourself to be uncertain, you allow yourself to be curious about the world. The eye-guards of your certainty fall away, and the world opens up before you. Suddenly you’re on the edge of your seat. You gaze childlike into its deep mysteries. And as the world comes alive, so do you.
Aliveness comes from being challenged by life. It’s the opposite of boring. You become engaged, connected, whole. Your effectiveness goes through the roof. There’s suddenly so much to unpack and explore. There are so many things to unlearn and relearn. There’s Adventure to be had. Growth becomes an expanding horizon to investigate. Creativity becomes a wild frontier to delve into.
Being curious rather than convinced will help you be more open-minded in your search, more adaptable on your journey, more compassionate in dealing with other people and their beliefs, and more capable of avoiding dogmatism, extremism, and xenophobia.
Beware of being convinced. For therein lies all traps. Therein lies irrationality and immoderation. In the war of life, certainty is a disease for which curiosity is the only cure.
3.) Seek questions, not answers:
“Foolishness is wanting to draw conclusions.” ~Gustave Flaubert
To think like a warrior of life is not to have all the answers, but to be seized by the overwhelming realization that there are no answers and to respond to the overwhelm with the cultivation of better questions.
The primary focus is to ask the right questions. Answers are secondary. And even then, they are always subject to being questioned. The purpose of questioning reality is to sharpen the mind-body-soul.
Answers lead to cul-de-sacs, dead-ends, and dullness. Sharpness always comes from further questioning. Therefore, a true warrior is proactive with questions and counteractive with answers.
Begin by asking yourself terrifying questions. Dig deep. Challenge your beliefs, your politics, your religion, your worldview. Plow your way into the Under-dark of your psyche. Encounter your shadow and reconcile your differences. Face the devil. Challenge God. Draw a line in the sand of your soul and declare to the universe, “You shall not pass without great inquiry and ruthless circumspection!”
Surrender your ego to the void. Toss the stone of your hard-earned questions through the glass house of your constructed self. Take a leap of courage out of faith and into fortitude. Let the chips fall where they may.
Nothing is more powerful than an individual full of questions despite a world filled with “answers.”
4.) Be a warrior in a garden, not a gardener in a war:
“We can’t cheat death, but we can make it work so hard that when it does take us it will have known a victory as great as ours.” ~Charles Bukowski
Warriorship is a process not an endgame. It’s a means not an end. True warriors keep their mind-body-soul calibrated to the vicissitudes of life. They adapt and overcome. They go with the flow. But, like with Aikido, it’s more of an elegant fight than a dance—Entropy and Life in lockstep, darkness and light in a yin-yang struggle. The only thing certain is that the dance must go on.
And so, the warrior dances. The warrior ducks Entropy’s jab. The warrior leaps over Entropy’s leg sweep. The warrior outthinks Entropy’s steel jaws of dogmatism. The warrior dodges Entropy’s deathblow. Until he doesn’t. Until the deathblow gets through. But, as Marcus Aurelius said, “Death smiles at us all; all we can do is smile back.”
This is why the true warrior understands that the destination is never the thing. Rather, the journey is the thing, or nothing is. Because the destination is always death. The end is always entropy. Life is the only place where journeys exist at all.
True warriors honor the journey by living life to the nth degree, by sharpening their mind-body-soul on the whetstone of hardship, struggle, failure, pain, and death. They pressurize their own darkness into diamonds. They polish the grit of their heart into pearls of providence. They forge their own spirit into the antifragile mettle of the Soul.
True warriors do not pursue achievements; they pursue achieving. They do not win the war; they win small battles. They do not attain joy; joy accompanies.
About the Author:
Gary Z McGee, a former Navy Intelligence Specialist turned philosopher, is the author of Birthday Suit of God and The Looking Glass Man. His works are inspired by the great philosophers of the ages and his wide-awake view of the modern world.
This article (Why Life Is War and How to Triumph) was originally created and published by Self-inflicted Philosophy and is printed here under a Creative Commons license with attribution to Gary Z McGee and self-inflictedphilosophy.com. It may be re-posted freely with proper attribution, author bio, and this statement of copyright.