It’s taken me longer than normal to write this article on existential despair – because I wanted to create my own little existential crisis, just to remember what it felt like. And boy, am I glad I did! It was an amazing experience that left me feeling more alive and more powerful.
Which is somewhat ironic, since it seemed like for most of my life, I lacked meaning and purpose and I was certainly creating as much separation from everything as I possibly could. Sadly, it became a downward spiral. I was stuck in the mud and sinking deeper.
But it doesn’t have to be a downward spiral. In fact, it’s not meant to be at all. Instead, I see it as a necessary part of life. Plus, I believe in the future you can expect a lot more existential crises and despair in the world. Because it’s becoming the nature of the way things are; there’s just too much uncertainty and unknown.
I imagine everyone on this planet must’ve had at least a little existential crisis at some point or another in their life. It comes with the territory – whenever we lose touch with our anchors or our little world is threatened in some way. Some of us have a small crisis, others have a big one. And we start asking the questions:
“Why am I alive?”
“Nothing has any meaning!”
“What’s the use?!”
And out of the big, general questions come the more specific ones:
Am I going to live a selfish life, or not?
Am I going to be responsible, or not? And if so, at what level?
Am I going to turn my back on life, or not?
Am I going to live my life in ego, or not?
Am I going to function from pity or victim or martyr, or not?
These are the choices we make. And they’re always conscious choices! We decide the direction our life will take. We decide what has meaning. That’s part of what it means to be human. We get to decide what matters. It’s an incredible gift which often goes unnoticed. Just like those choices we make can go unnoticed.
When the existential crisis comes, it can be a wonderful time. You enter the chaos! And out of it, you can develop new resolve, new goals, new directions to take. They can be life changing moments.
But the danger is we’ll get stuck in that experience. Trapped in the darkness; in the chaos; in the mud. Where we can’t seem to move beyond it. Our whole lives can fall apart as we appear to be incapacitated.
Why would this happen? Why would we refuse to budge, and open our eyes? Why would be deny ourselves? Why would we turn our backs on life itself?
Probably a lot of different reasons. Blaming, righteousness, manipulation, punishment, avoidance… things of that nature. Maybe we want to nobilize our struggles. Maybe we want to prove something. Maybe we’re just lost in our own ego’s delusions.
Maybe this is the only way I can feel powerful… maybe it’s the only way I can feel any sort of control over my life; by blaming, manipulating, punishing, avoiding… Maybe it’s the only way I can feel any kind of safety and security.
Lots of reasons. But it all comes down to one bottom line.
I am not going to be responsible for my life. And you can’t make me! That’s the danger of going through an existential crisis. (Well, the danger for everything, I suppose.) The danger is that you will reject meaning and mattering and reject life itself by refusing to be responsible.
“I can’t be responsible for everything, so I’ll be responsible for nothing.”
It’s a very dangerous place to be. A whole lifetime is at risk. And for what? What’s the reward for acting this way?
“I proved I could ruin a human life. I proved you can’t make me be responsible for my life.”
It takes a lot of will and effort to not be responsible. It takes a lot of suffering and struggle. It takes a lot of arrogance to pretend you don’t matter. But it can be done. Although one would be tempted to ask, why bother? Is it really worth the effort?
And that’s part of the existential despair, and the existential crisis itself. If I can’t answer the questions – the big, important questions of life – then I’m not going to participate. I’ll just sit here, and force someone else to be responsible for me. That’s the danger.
So what’s the solution? I’d say, it’s important to realize what a desperate game you’re playing with yourself. This is like saying, “I’m not going to open my eyes until you prove to me there’s a beautiful sunset in front of me.”
Which, of course, nobody can. Or it’s like saying, “I’m not going to find meaning in my life until you prove to me life has meaning.” Or sadly, maybe it’s like saying “I’m not going to lift myself out of my own muck.”
What can you say to something like that? Beats me. You can’t make somebody open their eyes. You can’t overcome someone’s arrogance when it comes to their own life.
Anyway, back to my own little experience this week. See, I wanted to strip everything away and see what was left. And I had some amazing revelations. I stripped away my thoughts, my feelings, my beliefs and attitudes, my desires, my expectations… in fact, everything I could strip away. Even my self image. And I went into the void. I went into what you might refer to as an ‘existential crisis’.
(And ‘crisis’, by the way, does not mean something bad! A crisis can be a wonderful experience, as you emerge as more than you were before the crisis.)
So what did I find? A depth of caring. A force of will. A drive that would not be denied. And a few other things as well. In other words, I found my values. I saw them on a deeper level. I experienced them without the filters which usually get in the way.
And from this deeper level of feeling my values, I was able to emerge as ‘more’ – more than I was before I went in. It was a wonderful experience that also changed me as a person. I actually see the world differently now.
How did I do it?
By following a process that was kind of like the meditation I recorded on healing yourself with resonance. Which goes like this:
You go into meditation, find yourself in a beautiful outdoor setting, and anchor yourself into the scene. Then you get a sense of the situation or issue or problem or whatever it is that you want to change the resonance of. Once you sense it as strongly as possible, then you dump it or throw it in front of you.
Once this blob of energy (or however you see it – since it could really look like anything) is in front of you, then you take back your ‘contribution’ to the problem. Take back everything you can. Then you’re left with raw energy.
This raw energy is the chaos. Just going there can change you. And that’s how I was able to evoke my own little existential crisis – by stepping into the void or the chaos, or whatever you want to call it.
The recorded meditation, on the other hand, takes a different turn. Rather than stepping into that raw energy, instead you build a new resonance out of it – the resonance you want. A healing resonance, usually. But you choose. You build it, step by step. It’s a very powerful way to heal anything.
You can learn more about it here –
Getting back to the existential despair – this is only one of many ways you can evoke a crisis. But why would you want to? As ‘preventive medicine’. Perhaps you see a serious problem looming on the horizon. A health problem, a financial problem, a relationship problem, an emotional problem.
It’s a way to neutralize or at least reduce what you see coming down the pipeline of your reality. It’s like taking a detour when you see a traffic jam up ahead. Or, it can be like taking a first aid kit with you on your hike out in the woods. Or it can be like adjusting your sails when you see the wind blowing you off course.
In other words, I believe it’s the smart thing to do. But that’s just me.
If there’s one message I’d like to leave you with, it’s that an existential crisis can be a powerful, uplifting experience. Even in the depths of despair. The key is to not stay stuck in it like I did for well over a decade.
The way out is to be willing to be responsible for your own life. The problem is, we tend to believe responsibility is something painful or burdensome, and that’s not true. True responsibility is one of the greatest joys you can experience. But again, that’s just me.all the best,
Mark Ivar Myhre
The Emotional Healing Coach
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