In September, Beth and I will welcome and indulge in reflection on existential questions. In light of these questions, we will seek to both obtain wisdom and experiment with practices that may lead to a more fulfilling existence. I will also complete all assignments with Beth this month.
My old Existentialism: Basic Writings book from college cites a core existential agreement that “what is unique to humans is that their being is ‘in question’ or ‘at issue’ for them. Humans are not content with simply satisfying their basic desires, for they care about what kinds of beings they are, and they therefore reflect on the worth of things they desire.”[i]
The core existential concepts examined within this human condition are:[ii]
- “Existence precedes essence”: we exist in the world first and then determine how we want to be in the world. We are our own creations.
- We are free: we can make choices at every moment that have significant consequences.
- Life is absurd: There is no meaning to be found in the world beyond what meaning we give it.
- Anxiety is part of life and is inherently part of the human condition.
- Facticity: we are who we are and cannot change our pasts; yet we still can make choices and create our future
- Authenticity: in creating oneself, we must take into account our facticity, our freedoms, and assume responsibility for conducting ourselves and our lives in a way that is constructive and true to who we are. The inauthentic self can be described as a conforming (with the masses or with the alternative rebels).
- Despair: can be the byproduct of living a life that is mundane. As Wikipedia puts it, “So long as a person’s identity depends on qualities that can crumble, he is considered to be in perpetual despair.”
Sounds dizzying, right? In our everyday lives, these concepts translate into more practical, reoccurring, modern dilemmas that result from nagging questions like:
How do we lead an authentic, meaningful, and fulfilling existence?
What is the gap between what is/where we are and where we want to go/what we want to be like? How do we bridge that gap?
Does happiness really exist? How can we create it or feel it?
We will let these questions serve as a guide this month and will draw wisdom from secular thinkers who share the existential view of the human condition and from those that claim to have the answers to these questions. We will take both a cognitive/intellectual and physical approach this month. Through the physical approach we will employ techniques proven to assist in strengthening the connection between mind, body and “happiness”/that which is bigger than us (you know, “spiritual feelings”).
General rules for September:
- Eliminate expectations. We are not trying to achieve nirvana or enlightenment.
- Try to consume all things moderately: media, food, alcohol, coffee, etc.
- Identify a single location where you will privately record your reflections and written assignments this month.
This chapter theme is very intimate. It commands solitude, reflection, experiential learning, and presence. Thus, we will avoid publishing the whole month’s plan at the outset. We will post a weekly topic on each Saturday with new assignments (*excluding the first week’s theme, which will be disclosed on September 3rd). Beth can report out when she’s inspired to, but we want to avoid the notion her readers are waiting for her to have and share transcendental experiences.