An existential crises is that point in our lives where we encounter the absurd as a formidable opponent. It has crept into our lives, uninvited, and challenging the very meaning of existence. The crisis is strong: it can take away the colors of the world around us making it dull. Time, rather than a friend can become the enemy, and life, rather than a blessing, turns into a problem.
Crisis occur either when the answers to our fundamental questions are found or not found, either way, it poses a challenge that involve the whole of our being. Once we have emerged victorious, we feel a huge amount of vital energy that drives us to self-fulfillment.
We face questions like: what does it mean to be alive, what does it mean to be existing as a human being? What is my purpose? Is there a set of predetermined meaning or is it something that we construct with our own convictions?
Existential is a philosophical current captured mainly in literary works, which revolves around how we experience life with our human condition, that is, life as we live it, alongside with the good and troublesome parts.
The premises few of the philosophers talk about are brave ones, usually stressing on liberty and dealing with nothingness. One of them was the Danish philosopher, Søren Kierkegaard, also known as the “father of existentialism.” He proposed that we can “operate” within three ontological stages, which are –
1) The aesthetic: characterized by sensual quests and having vague determination in life. Life in this stage is frugal and vaporous.
2) Then comes the ethical stage: It is lived when there are commitments in our lives. It can be things such as ethical principles, societal obligations that gives meaning to all our actions, which in turn build our life like a project, solid and rigid and bound with compromises.
3) Finally comes the religious stage: This is the stage when one falls into a deep love for life and for others, nothing is burdensome and everything feels joyous; life is no longer a moral battle that need to be implemented but rather a phenomena worthy of veneration.
The movement between the stages is done through “leap of faith,” which is a possible means for an individual to reach a higher stage of existence that transcends and contains both an aesthetic and ethical value of life.
It is a radical metamorphosis that would make ourselves look at our past selves like the butterfly would see the caterpillar. The only sins in life are to “downgrade ourselves” from one stage to another: for we are losing a precious modality of being.
Another existentialist was Jean Paul Sartre, a great French philosopher from the 20th century who had some beautiful views, that were forged while struggling with the factual and ideological calamities faced during the World War II.
He wrote some amazing plays, like “The Flies” where he sought to create a brave ideological model that could cope with the devastation in a post-war period. One of his other works “No exit,” emphasized the existentialist idea that people are judged solely on the things they have done. (like José Ortega y Gasset said: I am I and my circumstances).
He said that freedom is fueled by the fact that we are a conundrum, a postulation that evades solution. Emerging out of uncertainty we have no essence. He said, “Existence precedes essence.” We exist, but not as a fixed thing, we have to build ourselves standing on nothingness, and not on any set of characteristics. Our destiny (not in a deterministic way, but rather as a hardwired potentiation) is to be free!
While the Spanish novelist Miguel de Unamuno captured the struggle of an existentialist dealing with external forces, that seek to bend our path towards self-realization. In one of Unamuno’s key works, “Mist,” there is a character Augusto that rebels against the author. Having heated debates, Augusto asserts that he exists, and therefore, he is free to take the course of his life into his own hands.
We have our own perspectives; in fact, there must be as many perspectives on existence as there are people who are and will exist. But regardless, when we encounter a crisis, a question that seems like a formidable opponent, there is always a way to defeat it: go within.
I propose the following method: Let us stop trying to find a solution to the big questions in life. Instead of finding what life is, we have to be life. Just like the moon shines, and the fish swim, each of us have profound passions, follow them, it is to do our dharma.
To follow one’s passions is to open the inner door to the outer world; and when we do this, we start extending ourselves into the outer world. It is by connecting with oneself that we can see how it can be absurd to ask for the meaning of life, for you already know what it is and you can base it on the warm feeling you get in your stomach once you stop holding back on what really moves you.
It is true that to have a direction is important. As Seneca de Younger once said: “if one does not know to which port one is sailing, no wind is favorable.”