“You are standing on the corner of a busy street imagining that you don’t exist. Pedestrians are walking, cars are signaling, doors of the shops are opening, passengers at the bus stop are changing. The world continues to live without you. It hurts to realize it. But it is important.”
~ Sergey Bodrov Jr.
Existentialism is a philosophy built around the notion that all thoughts, feelings, emotions and other intricacies of the inner experiences are forever contained within an individual mind and hence can never be entirely understood by anyone except the individual himself.
The realization of your existential solitude strikes you as an inescapable intellectual epiphany. As you mature and learn more about the world and yourself you start to discern how unique you are. Your life experience is special. You are a one-of-a-kind reality encapsulated in the form of an unprecedented human consciousness. Sadly, no one will ever be able to fully grasp what runs in the deep waters of your soul. Sooner or later we all have to face the fact that our very existence is isolated by design.
This insight into the nature of your ultimate solitude may be hard to accept but it comes with a remarkable implication: since a complete understanding of life with all its depth and complexity is limited solely to your mind, what others think about this life is absolutely irrelevant. The only way to a sensible life lies through the elaboration of your own system of beliefs, values, and definitions and living in compliance with it. To put it another way,
Life makes sense only when you endue it with sense.
Life flows through you as the light goes through a prism. You won’t see the “rainbow” unless you turn the prism at a certain angle. The prism is your mind. The “rainbow” is the meaning.
Your time here is a fraction of blink on the timescale of the Universe. You are an evanescent grain of sand clenched between the millstones of time, a cloud of space dust on the windshield of the planet Earth that propels itself through the infinite darkness. Your life is so transient and microscopic, it is unsurprising why meditations about your mortality are so overwhelming.
Yet there is a power in feeling insignificant. The existential angst is a bitter pill to swallow however, it is an effective remedy against the wishful illusions we have such a hard time to part with. It is an indispensable condition for incubating some of the most liberating conclusions in this life. Let’s look at some of them.
#1. Do not search for meaning. Create it.
Even though it is hard not to entertain the possibility that ultimately life on earth has no meaning whatsoever and that the emergence of conscious humanity is just a result of a funny cosmic glitch, for every one of us the meaning of life is certainly a matter of choice. Our ability to choose what we want from a multitude of variations that life offers us using our gift of abstract thought — that is what makes us human.
The preconditions to our life might not be under our control, but the way we comprehend the meaning of life is based only on what we choose to do with what we’ve been given. Jean-Paul Sartre writes: “We are our choices”, and indeed, our words, our actions, the environments we place ourselves in — everything eventually becomes us.
Therefore, a man’s search for meaning is never a search per se, but a path of experimentation targeted to cultivate spiritual values through the manipulation of reality. Continuing along this path a man also figures out how to adjust his reality in accordance with the values he has. With time it becomes apparent, that both what he makes of his life and what he thinks of it are solely a product of his own creation.
#2. Judge not, and you shall not be judged.
Nobody has a right to judge you. No one knows what you have been through and no one is capable of understanding the amount of physical and mental suffering it took to make you the person you are today. No one has ever been you.
Your experience is exclusively yours.
Others may only guess at the true motivation behind your actions but the true nature of the driving force that pushes you forward is forever beyond their grasp. You shall never be understood and that is your freedom. You don’t owe an explanation to anyone.
However, the same applies to you. Do not rush to conclusions, bumping into a life philosophy that drastically differs from yours. Regardless of how great is your capacity for empathy, you will never be able to see the world the way it presents itself in the eyes of another beholder.
Resist the impulse to judge. You don’t know the story behind a faded gaze of a tired dispirited man who is sitting on a sidewalk staring into nowhere. You don’t know his pain. You have no idea how hard life had hit him prior to the day you met. You can never be sure that what breaks others wouldn’t break you.
#3. Do what you think is right.
We live in accordance with what we believe is right. That’s the only way we can walk through this life. That’s the only way we should. But no matter how eloquent any one of us can be in describing his own ideology, at the end of the day your life philosophy is equivalent to one thing and one thing only: your actions. It is only through intentional action and the work of will we may draw tools of meaning that can help us to overcome the spiritual difficulties that we as humans are destined to face.
Life is perplexing. It is full of binary decisions that lead to diametrically opposite sequences of events. Existentialism as a practical philosophy brings one simple guideline to such dilemmas: in this life, you either own who you are and do what you think is right or you relinquish your right letting someone else decide what is best for you. Either way, your choice will define the degrees of your freedom. Stated otherwise in the words of J.P. Sartre: “Freedom is what you do with what has been done to you.”
Our five senses seize us in a tenacious grip forcing our mind to constantly seek pleasure and comfort. On the other hand, our spirit is in the never-ending search for meaning. Clearly, as long as you are here, there will always be some degree of dissatisfaction and longing for change. So, change. Act. Do what you think is right. Trust your instincts. Operate within given conditions, give your best and let the uncontrollable take care of itself. Nothing is true unless you have accepted it as truth.
#4. You are alone. Get over it.
We arrive in this life alone. We walk on Earth alone. We face death alone. Nonetheless, the fact of your absolute aloneness does not imply that you must distance yourself from people. On the contrary, it means quite the opposite.
Relationships with other people are opportunities to touch one-of-a-kind unique Universes. A human needs a human. It is when we connect with another soul that we do not feel so lost.
A man who came to terms with his ultimate solitude seeks to develop true bonds but create no attachments. He knows that in case he succeeds in doing so, he will get one step closer toward becoming a fearless being he is meant to be when it is time for the journey to come to its end.
Being all alone in the world can be seen as a tragedy of human life, however, it also appears to be a source of the meaning of paramount importance. As we dispel the fear of loneliness in those around us, we find means to fight that same fear inside ourselves.
#5. Take more responsibility than you think you can.
Destiny is a fusion of the countless choices you make. Your subconscious mind is a “soup” made of all that world’s complexity that you let in: the material things you possess, the places where you spend your time, the people who accompany you in life. Everything you have ever consumed — physically, intellectually, emotionally, spiritually, comprises your mind.
Everything that exists is You.
Like a strange mysterious substance, the existence is simmering inside a fragile human being. It keeps flowing and mutating as the new knowledge and experience permeate the mind. Knowing that, one must always be careful with what he lets inside his soul as the processes it evokes within do not just chart a course for life, they are the life itself.
Jean-Paul Sartre writes: “Once we know and are aware, we are responsible for our action and inaction. We can do something about it or ignore it. Either way, we are still responsible.” Our ability to decide on what is good and what is bad obliges us to do so. We must never forget that we have freedom of choice to make something of ourselves and that freedom alone is the reason enough why we must. As human beings, we cannot abandon the responsibility that is bestowed upon us by the very fact that we have consciousness and are capable of awakening our higher nature. Our mission is to save ourselves and by doing that save others.
It could be frightening to realize that we must face the gravity of such responsibility when all we have is what we are. But isn’t it enough? Saving mankind starts with saving one man, but this interrelation is mutual: a man can save himself by embarking on a mission of saving mankind.
#6. Do what you have to do and don’t look back.
Sooner or later we all wake up in “that” morning: the morning that brings us a feeling of hollowness. Nothing makes sense. We don’t know what we want. We are confused and scared. We lose our way yet for some reason we run faster. We are urged forward by the worst kind of whiplash — a spasm of existential panic.
Nevertheless, no matter how lost we are there is usually an uncomfortable yet undisputable clarity on the things that are ought to be done. We know that our existential depression can be ended.
When you think of death, you must remember that you are the only person who can make you feel alive.
When you think of isolation, you must remember that you are a being that shares an unbreakable spiritual bond with all living things.
When you think of freedom, you must remember that it is given to you along with the responsibility to use it for good.
When you think of meaninglessness, you must remember that life remains meaningless unless you start to put your mind and spirit to work with a purpose to build a more loving and hopeful world.
At all times, you must never forget that, as J. P. Sartre said, “a man is nothing else but what he makes of himself.”
That existential vacuum that threatens to consume you is at its strongest in the hour of boredom. Keep yourself engaged. Live your life. Make choices and own them. Don’t try to live up to some externally imposed expectations. Do what you have to do and don’t look back.
And one last thing, remember:
“Just because we are all doomed, doesn’t mean we cannot have a good time.”
Thank you for reading my book “Meditations of the Millennial”.
If you want to support me on my mission, please, share this book with someone you love. Maybe they will find what they seek on its pages.