My Life is a Perpetual Existential Crisis

“Is there something? Is there anything? Is there any evidence of something? Any signs that there’s more to life that the sum of its subatomic particles – some larger purpose, some deeper meaning, maybe even something that would qualify as “divine” in some sense of the word?”
– Robert Wright, The Evolution of God

Those are questions I rarely go a day without thinking about. My desk is littered with dozens of loose pages of questions, notes, and associated ideas. I feel as if life is just this huge, continually shifting paradigm that I can never quite wrap my head around; yet, I continually and passionately seek out answers I’m sure I’ll never find. It’s an exhausting rat race, but I simply can’t stop running. Continually contemplating life and maintaining a malleable perspective allows your life to sway and shift towards a fuller and deeper understanding of existence. The experiences will often oscillate between disconcerting and breathtakingly incredible. In the process, it’s easy to become disjointed, to develop a subtle sense of detachment from the world, meshed with a keen sense of intricate involvement.

The term “existential crisis” generally has a negative connotation, but that’s not necessarily right. Within this state, one becomes acutely aware of everything, from the tiniest of insects, the feeling the warmth generated by rubbing your fingers together, the crisp and seeping sound of water being absorbed into the soil, and an abounding awareness of the world around them. It’s the little things that make you feel alive, that have the power to draw out your curiosity as to what the “big picture” truly entails and where you fall into this cosmic masterpiece. Questioning existence grants one the opportunity to, at least momentarily, become a part of everything, to transform into an important element in the game of life.

However, along with the beauty of discovery and enlightenment, prying into life’s big questions can also have adverse effects. When noticing, dissecting, and rebuilding concepts, the smallest and most mundane experiences can sometimes trigger massively overly dramatic responses. There are so many ideas, ideals, and means of trudging through life; yet so many are at odds with one another, a constant clashing and convergence of contrasting ideas. How are you supposed to figure out which are right and which are going to hinder your progress?

We’ve invented this life that hangs on symbols and make-believe ideals. This hand-crafted social captivity hinges on misaligned clockwork, mechanical behaviors, and underwhelming apathy. A carefully plotted demise, to which we’re all blindly ignorant. It seems as if somewhere in the process, we’ve all lost the capacity to live, to achieve, to become. Some people don’t know and don’t care, while others tensely lie back staring at the ceiling wondering, “Is this it? Have I become complacent and hopeless? It is possible I’m falling short of my potential by unfathomable degrees?” The phenomena of being aware is simultaneously comforting and terrifying, a endless cycle of abuse and embrace. And it seems as if those who do try to swim against the current become trapped in the rip tide – fighting the natural flow of things will only carry you further from the shore and leave you breathless. In regards to understanding life, maybe ignorance is bliss.

As humans, and particularly in the case of deeply thoughtful individuals, we have tendencies towards disconcertingly fitful approaches to understanding, which often entail phases of stagnation and regression, as well as fits and starts of longing and passion. Outside these burst of humanity and progression, life is generally a tactical, pragmatic, and selfish game in which everyone is responsible for their own mere survival, and nothing more.

Life is full of perplexing ambiguities, astonishing realities that are hard to ignore. A successful journey should consist of consolidating and supplementing one’s understanding and beliefs, hopelessly striving to make sense of things. It’s a rigorous failure, a series of majestic leaps forward and anguishing backslides. Whether good or bad, these deep thoughts and active steps towards understanding are a form of sober intoxication, an inexorably beautiful effort toward something, however mysterious and obscure that something may be.

What is my higher purpose, and where do I fit into this cryptic and rapidly unfolding plan? As I inhale my last gasping breaths, what thoughts will cross my mind? What will have I discovered over the course of my lifetime? Will any of this have even mattered?

Maybe I think too much. Maybe I care too much. Or maybe I’m nothing more than a pretentious, angsty arm-chair philosopher. Regardless, I believe these are the thoughts that bring a fullness to life, the type of ideas that are futily amusing. Whether life has been divinely crafted, whether existence stems from resonating atoms and cosmic chemical reactions, or whether all of this is purely a figment of the creative imagination ultimately doesn’t matter. Life, in and of itself, independent of meaning and purpose, is pretty incredible.

An existential crisis doesn’t have to be some hopeless sense of celestial nothingness. Rather, it may instead be some deeply rooted appreciation of universality, existence, and the unknown, because maybe the mysteries of life are what truly make this life worth living.

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A Piece of You for a Piece of Me

“A Piece of You for a Piece of Me”

A few months ago, my friend asked me to be the subject for a conceptual photo project she had planned. I couldn’t say no to the two-fold opportunity to help out a good friend and immerse myself in someone else’s creative process. It was a fun experience, and we were both happy with how the finished product turned out, although she gets full credit – she is amazing! I’ve wanted to share it for awhile, but was unable to settle on the context until now.

I love how simple the image is, yet what I relish even more is the dichotomy between the elementary idea of “A Piece of You for a Piece of Me” and the complex implications behind the idea of “giving of yourself” in a relationship. It brings a smile to my face thinking that the complicated and messy idea of give-and-take in a social interaction could be reduced to the simplistic, yet evocative image of an extended hand. It’s almost a child-like interpretation of love and trust, before the concept has had a chance to become tarnished and skewed by negative life experiences.

I personally find the picture to be comforting. I believe that being single is the closest one can get to being themselves…that is, until one finds a partner that elicits complete trust. Someone with whom you can fully expose yourself without fear, and expect the same in return. Someone who does not require you to compromise your values and ambitions. Someone who won’t implement secret tests in order to gauge your commitment.

From my observations, the best, most successful, and longest-lasting relationships are those in which the couple can be, simultaneously, best friends and lovers. Where there’s a healthy balance between playful moments, affection, and seriousness. It’s about offering a piece of yourself for a piece of the other, and then continuing this exercise indefinitely. It’s about vulnerability, and being loved for who you are, once all the layers and defenses have been stripped away.

Several years ago, I came across of list of children’s interpretations of what love means. It initially shocked me how profound some of the statements from the four- to eight-year-olds were, but rethinking it, children surely have a pure and more honest view on love and life than the rest of us.

“Love is what makes you smile when you’re tired.”

“When you tell someone something bad about yourself and you’re scared they won’t love you anymore. But then you get surprised because not only do they still love you, they love you even more.”

“When someone loves you, the way they say your name is different. You know that your name is safe in their mouth.”

“You really shouldn’t say ‘I love you’ unless you mean it. But if you mean it, you should say it a lot. People forget.”

Love and all related concepts are far simpler than we give them credit for. Giving wholeheartedly of yourself and trusting without reservation is easier, safer, and more fulfilling than most people would believe. Taking on the perspective of a child – seeing love as simple, fearless, and beautiful – is an admirable aim, and an achievable one, at that.

Today is not a day for roses, chocolates, and cheesy poems, but a day for recognizing all the love in your life, although that is something that can and should be done continually throughout the year, regardless of the day. Happy Valentine’s Day, everyone! You are all loved, far more than you could possibly fathom.

Urban Isolation

Have you ever felt alone in a crowd, been surrounded by dozens of people, without one even glancing your way? Do you ever feel like when you talk to people, they aren’t actually listening, don’t really care?

One of my favorite pastimes is people-watching. It’s fascinating to notice mannerisms, to listen in on a distant argument, to catch a glimpse stolen kisses. To notice how little people actually interact with one another, and how distracted they are when they do.

My friend and I had a conversation on the topic today. We’re both deeply thoughtful and curious, seeking out new knowledge with more voracity than a heat-seeking missile. We’re both kind and honest with a good set of ears and an open heart, we both value good friends, and thus try to be the same to others. We seem to be a rare breed.

As I’ve surely expressed a dozen times, I’ve never particularly fit into the mainstream expectations or thought on the same level as everyone else. I was my own best friend, with books, educational videos, and intelligent adults trailing not too far behind. My imagination has always been my favorite toy, balanced with the logic and reason fortified by puzzles, Scrabble, and my beloved Mensa math book. Video games, playground drama, and new clothes never excited me. I wasn’t concerned with the same things, and I didn’t worry what other people thought about my apparent disinterest. Things really haven’t changed much.

As much as I feel I have to offer the world, to offer each individual I encounter, I’ve always felt at a disadvantage. If I say something too intelligent or obscure, eye will roll. If I say something critical, yet constructive, feelings will inevitably be hurt. If I want to try something new or out-of-the-ordinary, I’ll receive questioning glaces and be called strange. Different priorities, interests, and ideas are rarely seen as opportunities for learning; rather they are generally viewed as incompatibility, a ticking time-bomb leading up to an ugly confrontation.

While others are content with their superficial surface talk, I’m not. I could never be. I thoroughly dislike small talk, but understand its necessity. However, being completely open and honest from the start is surprisingly easy and rewarding. I don’t think the whole starting off small and safe is as essential as people make it out to be. Although, I often feel many people lack the depth to ever move beyond mundane and complacent conversation, let alone do so right away.

I recently complete the book, Paper Towns, by John Green, in which Margo runs away from from her weary, artificial life shortly before her high school graduation. She is beautiful, popular, adventurous, intelligent, and simply knows that there’s so much more to life than any of that. But no one around her seems to understand, or even accept the concept.

“Here’s what’s not beautiful about it: from here, you can’t see the rust or the cracked paint or whatever, but you can tell what the place really is. You see how fake it all is. It’s not even hard enough to be made of plastic. It’s a paper town. I mean look at it, Q: look at all those cul-de-sacs, those streets that turn in on themselves, all the houses that were built to fall apart. All those paper people living in their paper houses, burning the future to stay warm. All the paper kids drinking beer some bum bought for them at the paper convenience store. Everyone demented with the mania of owning things. All the things paper-thin and paper-frail. And all the people, too. I’ve lived here for eighteen years and I have never once in my life come across anyone who cares about anything that matters.”

– Margo, Paper Towns

I currently have two friends with whom I really connect and can carry on stimulating conversation, in which I can learn and better myself. That’s sufficient. Yet, it makes me a little sad that after all the effort I put into meeting new people, maintaining friendships, and even simply engaging in a good conversation here and there, most of my efforts are fruitless. And even worse, they leave me frustrated and a bit hopeless. I enjoy solitude, but I think a big reason for that is that my options are limited. It would be so nice to relate to someone, to discover similar interests and ambitions, to not feel so alone in this hugely vast and uninviting world.

My friend made a very interesting point. The way in which both of us are best able to connect with others is through art and creativity. Some of the best discussions of my life have occurred in the comments section of different posts. That makes me exceedingly happy. Yet my beaming smile is immediately followed by an internal crash, an exaggerated sigh. Why is it so hard to find that in real life?

Sometimes, I think I’d be nice to just rise above it all, to see the clockwork of the world ticking away. I wish everyone could have that view, to see that they’re a part of something bigger, that we’re all ultimately benefiting from and contributing to the same future, the same end. It’s important to focus inward in order to develop and better yourself, but it’s also important to live life and engage with others, to have a positive impact.

When everyone considers themselves to be self-sufficient and independent, so long as individuals see themselves as separate from everyone else and the world around them, we’re all going to remain caught in this vicious cycle of urban isolation.