The Exposition of an Existential CrisesAnja van Kralingen
When I was 38, I went to watch The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. I can’t tell you how much it upset me. I cried bitterly towards the end of the movie and carried on crying for at least 2 weeks afterwards. It put me in a weird space. I became depressed, but not really, more like a severe melancholy. (I am generally melancholic anyway)
At the time, I wasn’t sure why the movie affected me so profoundly and I spent many hours speculating about the reason. I eventually decided that I was suffering from an existential crisis. This stayed with me for months.
Now, 3 years later, I am starting to understand what really happened to me and I think that this is a natural process that all human beings go through.
We also call it a midlife crises.
The Root of the problem for me
I come from a standard Christian upbringing (well, how standard that could be I don’t know). So as an adult, I have had to confront quite a number of ‘bad’ belief systems that I picked up from this upbringing. For example, you have to suffer. You are not a decent Christian until you are suffering and bearing your lot in life.
So when Stephen came home all excited and told me about the concept of freedom, (which he speaks about in his last blog The Philosophy of Freedom) I actually realized something fundamental. Freedom is the realization that your destiny will not reveal itself. It is up to you to create it. There is no pre-determined destiny waiting to be uncovered.
And this belief was at the root of my crises.
The blindness of youth
When you are young, all that lies ahead of you is potential. The potential of being the ideal you. I thought that destiny will reveal itself. I believed that my destiny was waiting in the wings and I would see a sign, meet the right people, come across it naturally, because it is destined after all.
And God help you if you don’t, because your life will be wasted!
When the truth is that the very belief in destiny is what wastes your life.- a destiny out there that you are going to ‘discover’.
Of course, when you finally get to your late 30’s, your potential is over so to speak. If you were going to become someone great, it would have happened already. You realize that you have been waiting and waiting and the reality starts dawning on you that perhaps it is not going to happen.
All those years spent waiting for my life to begin.
Suddenly you realize you need glasses, or your hair is thinning. You are not able to physically do the things you could when you were younger. The reality of growing old is there in your face (excuse the pun) and you cannot rationalize it away. You have a limited lifespan and this starts dawning on you.
Time is running out!
This is a process of disenchantment, of growing up. The fairytale falls away and all that is left is you. You are confronted by the Gorgon. Stay there and you will be paralyzed, petrified.
And now what?
Of course there are many things that you can do then.
You can buy yourself a new car or get a new lover to distract yourself.
Another option is to go into therapy. The depression/melancholy that you suffer from may push you to do this and then it is time to deal with some old wounds before you can move on.
The other option is to accept that your life will only have meaning if you give it some meaning. This is when people make radical change in their careers or start to travel etc.
This is the time when you enter the life of the spirit. The material goals no longer feed your soul. Some are unable to take this step because what is required is a redefining of oneself. And this is hard.
Self realization is no walk in the park
When you have been a certain way all your life, it is not easy to give up on it. I remember years ago reading somewhere that the only events that cause real change is a crises or conversion. I think that is true. To shift the human psyche takes enormous psychic energy and this usually comes in the form of a crises. But even then, you may not want to go through the eye of the needle, or die in flames to be reborn.
Real change is traumatic, painful and hard work. You have to let go of who you were and redefine yourself. You have to confront all your beliefs about yourself to see if they are valid and what they mean.
How can you recognize opportunity and commit to goals unless you truly understand what complexes makes up your psyche and needs to be fulfilled and expressed.
For example, if you have an unconscious desire to create and teach, being a doctor is not going to make you happy.
Of course, if there is no pre-determined destiny, you are free to choose who you want to be, how you want to express yourself. You can choose what path you want to walk. You can determine the legacy you want to leave behind. You become the creator of your future.
You are unique. Your interests, skills, passions, desires and needs all make up one unique individual. You have to find a way to express this in the world.
The path to self fulfillment, creating meaning and becoming whole is not a smooth path which will unfold itself as you walk on it.
No, you have to find it and drag it out of your unconscious soul. You have to turn inward and uncover who you really are.
This is the process of individuation.
Until next time