Existentialism: It's not that easy being human

"We see despair as an internal struggle between seeing and not seeing an important truth. To avoid seeing we employ our usual strategies, which in the long run do not work that well in concealing the complexities of human existence. To face a hard reality is heartbreaking, but - to the extent anything can - acceptance makes some degree of movement possible."  - Beck, Halling, et al

Existentialism is an orientation: an awareness that a set of primary human concerns underlie our decisions and actions.  These concerns are universal, anxiety provoking and rarely faced head on.  When they find us we respond in

The Existential Concerns

Life and Death: We will die one day and, unlike other animals, we know it.  People who are important to us, who seem to make us who we are and who bring us joy, leave us.  Even if there is a life beyond this one, our time on this earth is limited and we will leave it in a very personal way.

Time:  It is said that time only exists because we know we will die one day.  Therefore it feels right to leave legacies, create lasting works, and be the kind of person who will be remembered.  Our own personal history follows behind us: fears and suspicions from our traumas, guiltsand regrets; melancholy and longing from pleasures that cannot be recreated.

Randomness:  We don't control our world.  Nature has always been much bigger than human.  Random things can and do happen caused by nature and by our fellow humans.  We play with control and safety - it makes feel better and quells anxiety, but it is essentially a game.  We know this.

Embodiment:  We move through our life and this world in a body that is ours alone and is quite fragile. Our bodies bring us pleasures and connect us to the fruits of the earth.  While we can keep our body strong, it is not invincible.  When our body is in pain, addiction or disability, we cannot separate from it. 

Language: Humans have always lived in language.  Language enabled the human brain to leave all other creatures in the dust in terms of ingenuity and abstraction.  An individual does not need language.  Language only serves to reach another and it resolves - to some extent - the isolation of being human

The Existential response

Meaning:  In the face of all the hardships and limitations of being human, we are incredibly skilled creatures with amazing abilities of mind, body and imagination.  There is energy within the limitations.  We can say, "This is not a practice life; I must live."  What comes next is different for every person, but its aim is to live this life, your life, with meaning.

Choice:  Each moment is a small clearing in time where we make choices.  Big and small, they accumulate to make us who we are and what our life is about.  Just because we have a tendency to choose as we always have, to choose as the world expects us to, does not mean that we do not have many other options.

Other People:  Even as we work out these individual problems, we use the mystery, the potential, the heartbreak and the company of the Other People who share our burden.   An individual mind can deconstruct to the verge of insanity, yet the shared world seems to be an inarguable antidote.