The classroom was filled with college students for my lecture about existentialism. I felt their rapt attention to every word. Before the end of the talk, a freckle-faced young man wearing a knitted beanie interrupted my speech by asking if I had any personal experience with the subject. The student then stated that my tone of voice had put him to sleep.
A sharp panic flashed through my body. Then there was that sensation of knowing what I wanted to say but the exact word to use was on the tip of my tongue but couldn’t remember it. At that point, I blurted out, “You’re destroying my purpose!” Then, I abruptly awakened from sleep.
My bedroom was dark and the alarm wouldn’t beep for another ten-minutes or so. My first reaction was to laugh because the dream was so absurd. I climbed out of bed and began my daily routine early, while trying to analyze the odd dream. The exclamation, “You’re destroying my purpose!” kept repeating in my mind.
About half-an-hour later the memory of my last existential crisis came to mind. It had more or less been resolved, but sometimes I still mentally experience the mental emptiness of it. It usually evaporates when I busy myself with a project. I no longer dread those mini existential crises because they are reminders to re-examine the purposes I have set for my life. Thoughts of existential death are now triggers for break-throughs, renewal, and liberation.
At this point, I should mention that I do not have teaching credentials for any level of education. I certainly cannot serve as an instructor in a college philosophy course. I have only given one one-hour talk to a high school class. That speech was about Tibetan Buddhism strictly from a layman’s viewpoint. It certainly did not touch on Buddhist Existential theory.
We humans often do something to mask our basic existential anxiety. We might decide to take up religion or reject it altogether. Some of us embark on a different career path or take up world travel. Sometimes it’s called a mid-life crisis. There are also quarter-life crises when we’re in our twenties. There are also three-quarter-life crises when we’re near our 70s.
Of course, existential crises are not limited to those years; they can happen at any time. Many of us feel some perpetual sensation of existential longing. Most of us feel that there is at least some small ingredient in life that is missing. Is this what causes so much escapism?
When I was an avid, daily gym-goer, I noticed the metaphor of living and working through life as if on a treadmill was present, in the flesh. This is why I am not attracted to mechanical treadmills. I don’t want to just run, run, run on a moving conveyor belt and go nowhere. I’d rather walk on a trail or even a street.
When we face our existential blues head-on, we can reinvent ourselves or try out new skill sets. We accept personal responsibility for our lives and reject the easy way out of blaming others. We rediscover our primal morality about what is good or bad and right or wrong. An existential crisis can lead to totally re-inventing oneself.
The Blue Jay of Happiness quotes existentialist playwright Eugene Ionesco. “Politics separate men by bringing them together only superficially. Art and culture unite us in a common anguish that is our only possible fraternity, that of our existential and metaphysical community.”