Evolving from Existential Angst to Existential Joy
A brief guide into and out of an existential crisis, towards more inner peace, love and compassion.
In the past decade or so I have made a sport of getting into and coming out of existential “crises”- periods during which I intensely reflect on the mystery of our existence. When I first experienced them, at around the age of 8, they were greatly confusing and disencouraging. Twenty years later, I can see clearly that every time I have engaged in one of these cosmic dances between my mind (and other aspects of myself) and the universe, I have emerged more compassionate, peaceful and all loving. I am increasingly detached from the status quo and sometimes wish I had a motivation to attend it.
In the recent years, as I have deepened my understanding of our civilization and of human nature, I have come to believe that our growing success in the material plane is confronting a growing number of humans with the bigger questions in life, since we are increasingly freer of afflictions that haunted us in the past. Such is the evolutionary and cosmic process that we find ourselves immersed in. I am writing this post for all those fellow humans that find themselves in the search for meaning and that may be experiencing some fear, confusion or similarly distressing emotions. In summary, you will be fine and be a better human being when the storm passes. Eventually, you will even find some fun in it as I do nowadays.
The Purpose of “Crises” and the Limits of the Mind
Our culture labels emotions such as sadness and anxiety as negative, because they make us feel less than optimal. However, I have found many a time that they are the spark we need for personal growth. If we always felt comfortable, we would never look around and attempt to change things. We need emotions in the “negative” spectrum in order to be motivated enough to make an effort to improve. Existential crises follow the same logic, but at an existential level. They throw us off our balance for a while and force us to look at life at a deeper level. They give us the often painful opportunity to see the brevity and miraculous nature of our lives. They hurt, but serve to spare us from the pain we may face down the road of having lived a life unexamined and wasted.
I personally enjoy taking my mind to its limits, perhaps more often than I should. I like to explore abstract concepts such as time and space and give my mind a run for its money. This is perhaps why I am so prone to thoughts of an existential nature. In doing so, however, I have found that where my mind ends, my heart begins to take over. In each one of these crises, I have found painful mental limits, in which my mind toiled back and forth trying to unsee the inevitable — its eventual death. The mind´s usual reaction is that of resistance and through it, immense amounts of suffering come along. The suffering can be further exacerbated if you live in an environment in which pondering on existential questions is unusual and perhaps not encouraged. Through time, however, I have found that the way forward is surrendering to the realizations that the particular crisis brings to us.
Surrendering the Ego / Mind and Existential Angst
Through repeated periods of unfading suffering, I have discovered elements within me that lie beyond my mind. At first, I thought I was my mind. Then, as I learned to observe it and increasingly surrender to the mystery and transience of our existence, I learned that I am actually the observer of the mind and that it serves as a tool for the real me, which is the underlying awareness. Everytime I managed to surrender my mind further, I found a higher level of peace. After every crisis, my mind has increasingly turned into a tool that I can engage when necessary and less so something that I totally identified with. Beyond my mind, I discovered the surprising amount of things my heart knows and I also discovered my intuition. In fact, I discovered that my mind knows little about existence and that my heart knows a lot more about it.
Surrendering is always a very scary thing to do and requires great courage. Everytime I have done it, however, usually motivated by existential angst, I have landed on the other side on a feather bed of sorts. I find that what hurts when we are confronted with existential realizations is our minds / egos. The part of us that denies our mortality and this identified with our worldly attachments. The part that perhaps gets offended a bit too often and likes to feel important. The reason for which an existential crisis can be so tough and seem inescapable at times is that we cannot get through it by using our minds and our minds is often all that we have been taught to use during our education.
BTW, surrendering does not mean giving up. It is a different kind of surrender, which we all intuitively understand sooner or later.
Reaching Existential Joy
During 2020–2021, I have experienced some amazing moments of existential joy and getting there has probably been the wildest adventure of my life. This year, the COVID crisis sent me down yet another existential rabbit hole for me, which I must say has been the most painful as of yet. I will also admit that I voluntarily tinkered with it for a while, as I like to do, before it sucked me in. For the past 12 months or so, I have not been able to for a single day escape the thought that we live in a rock that floats in the middle of a potentially infinite abyss, with no sort of clue of where we come from and where we are heading and that we all very much mortal. I had been increasingly aware of this over the past 5 years, but this year the truth really kicked in. I find that you can be intellectually aware of deeper truths of this sort and then you can be aware in your totality, which is when the truth really kicks in. This year it really kicked in.
Of course, the mind initially offered its resistance. For months, I thought that that the realization was too large and that I would not make it this time. I cannot convey enough the amount of pain that I felt and how scary it was. Eventually, I gathered all the courage I could and surrendered to these realizations and achieved an existential joy that I had never thought possible. This lasted for a a while and eventually subsided.
I felt totally at one with existence, loving of all things, forgiving of all the misdeeds that had been done onto me and totally accepting of human nature. I understood that in order for us to ponder our existence, we must be faced with non existence and that an eternal existence would be as much of a curse as it can get. I really understood that we cannot be without that which we are not and this applies at all levels of our existence. I understood that the essence of life is love and that with it, live makes total sense and that without it, life makes no sense whatsoever.
Looking back at the experience, I was able to assemble some new building blocks of my existence. I realized, as I mentioned, that the core of it all is love. I realized that after that (for me) comes courage, to have the strength to face the uglier aspects of it all. Then comes faith and in particular, good faith. We can gather the courage to choose good faith over bad faith, because there is actually no reason to choose bad faith over good faith. Finally comes responsibility, to harness the agency to embody these building blocks / values and bring more good to the world than harm and enjoy life, in whatever time I have left.
This particular occasion has probably been the most memorable of all my existential breakthroughs. Having successfully been through many, this time I really thought that I was not going to be able to embody such a large realization. Like every time, however, I was able to get through it by surrendering my mind, stepping into my heart and fully embracing the unknown. The embodiment has not happened right away and in fact, I am still working on it, but since then I have not felt as peaceful and full of love in my life.
I hope that sharing this experience will help you in finding meaning in your life. Regardless of how scary this time has been for me, I am looking forward to the next one and will surely share it with you all. Also, I just re-read the post again and couldn´t help but laugh, because life is amazing. Back to genomics now.