The Three Transformations of the Spirit

With the sudden death of my grandmother from COVID-19, I am reminded of Friedrich Nietzsche’s 3 transformations of the spirit in “Thus Spoke Zarathustra”. Here’s why.

First, a quick summary…

The Camel: The weight-bearing spirit that takes on the weight of the world.

We all start here and some of us never leave this phase. This is the phase where we let other people tell us what is right or wrong, we get indoctrinated with religion, we take on other people’s biases, we live our life based on how society tells us we should, etc. After a while, the camel can’t handle all the weight it has been carrying and becomes confronted with the lack of real meaning in their lives (“the loneliest of deserts”). The camel decides to face reality and move into the next metamorphosis…

The Lion: The freedom-seeking spirit that takes back control.

In this phase, the lion must fight the dragon, which represents “Thou Shalt”. Each scale on the dragon is a “Thou Shalt” rule or doctrine that the lion needs to fight back. This can show up in many aspects of life: in the corporate world (e.g. fighting against stereotypes, toxic culture, and inequality), in one’s personal life (e.g. being authentic to oneself without shame), and even in one’s inner spiritual life (e.g. questioning one’s true beliefs and what feeds the soul). The lion has limitations though: it can’t create new values, but it can create freedom and space for new creation. There are many people who never make it past this phase. Which is unfortunate because the next phase is the best one…

The Child: The purest and highest expression of oneself.

“The child is innocence and forgetfulness, a new beginning, a sport, a self-propelling wheel, a first motion, a sacred Yes” (Nietzsche). If you’re lucky, you reach this stage. Imagine the best, happiest and most fearless part of you and being in that state of being regularly. You are fully present, you have no attachment to what “should” be happening, and you are in a state of wonder and play. This is the state where you create new and beautiful things, take risks, and create positive energy around yourself. It’s the ultimate liberation of the spirit.

Going back to where I started, being confronted with death has made me reflect on the journey that is available to us all. The journey of the Camel, the Lion, and the Child. Before passing away, my grandma had reached the Child phase and it’s how I will always remember her. She laughed with her whole body, she loved telling stories, she was never in a rush, she was unattached to any outcomes, and she was sweet. In some ways, the moments when she was in Child mode remain the most vivid memories I have of her.

Looking ahead, this is making me reflect on my journey towards Child mode. I’m still fighting my dragon, but in moments like this I let down my armor and stop fighting. Life, in all its complexity, suddenly feels really simple. What if we all just let life unfold without fighting, yearning, and reaching? What if we followed our bliss and came more often from a state of love and play? What if we chose to be fully in the present? What if we showed up to work that way? What if we were extra kind to coworkers knowing they are probably dealing with their own dragons?

This is my grandmother’s legacy to me. A legacy of understanding a life well-lived. A role model of someone who went around the full cycle in her lifetime. A woman whose shoulders I stand on today, with more opportunities than she ever had as an immigrant.

My last parting thought to you is this: we are all standing on the shoulders of giants that came before us. Let’s not take that for granted. The world needs more unity and peace but we can’t get there without each individual choosing to move into a more evolved state. By moving more purposefully into the Child mode, we are able to perpetuate the values that we long for around us. It starts with us, and it’s a hell of a legacy to leave behind.



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