Archive for the ‘ existentialism ’ Category

Pearls of Wisdom

“Purity of heart is to will one thing.” -Soren Kierkegaard

So what does this quote have to do with anything? Well, nothing, other than the fact that I heard my pastor David* say it the other day, and, well, I’m a sucker for quotes by the father of existentialism (Kierkegaard), especially when spoken in a Christian church. See, I am convinced that existentialism and Christianity, even reformed Christian theology, are not mutually exclusive. But, I can hear you yawning, so I’ll move on to my next point, and the real reason for writing this entry.

David* periodically breezes past my office to and from his, and he always manages to drop some great pearl of wisdom as he goes by.

I do not cry frequently or easily, though I am generally comfortable with crying and feel it to be healing. But I swear, David seems to see right into my soul at times and with one tiny statement as he rushes past, tears are welling up in my eyes. How does he do that?

A few weeks ago, I asked David to set me up with someone, anyone, who he thought might be a good fit for me. He is very insightful and intuitive, and he knows a lot of single guys in my age range. He also knows me really well, and understands Myers-Briggs personality theory extremely well, and I have a lot of respect for him. There is probably no one I would trust more to suggest a potential date. He said, “I have 1,658 facebook friends, and I will find you someone.”

So yesterday, he called me into his office and said he cannot find one person to set me up with. I’m not sure if that is good or bad.

He said something to the effect that none of the guys he knows are good enough for me, and also that some of his facebook friends are married or lesbians, so that ruled those people out. I asked him if he thought I was too hard to handle, but he said no.

As we were talking, what he said that made me cry was, “You are special and precious.” Wow. He said that I was special and precious and deserved someone really amazing, and that none of the guys he knows could fit the bill.

I do not hear those words very often. I certainly never heard them growing up. That one little statement meant so much to me.

David told me that when I find the right person, I will think very highly of him and respect him a great deal. (Respect is a huge issue for me, and very crucial in how I perceive and relate to others.) He said that the guy will be so awesome that we will both feel like we do not deserve each other.

Well, David, thanks for making me cry, for making me feel sad but good, and for your wisdom and encouragement. I treasure it dearly.

*Names have been changed.


Searching for Meaning

My counselor asked me the other day if I had ever read any Irvin Yalom, because she said, “You keep bumping up against things that are meaningless and trying to find meaning in them.”

I lit up immediately. I hold Yalom in the highest esteem, along with Chuck Palahniuk and the apostle Paul.

Yalom forged the bridge between existential philosophy and psychology, specifically addressing a theoretical approach to therapy based on existentialism.

Yalom espouses four givens of existence.

One, we all experience existential isolation. We long to be connected and experience significance in each other’s lives, but we are fundamentally alone. We experience existential anxiety in the knowledge that validation does not come from others.

Two, we possess the freedom and responsibility for our actions and to apply value and meaning to our existence. Freedom is a source of anxiety, as we must summon the strength to find meaning in our lives, to make meaningful choices and decisions. On some level, to greater and lesser degrees, we all pretend that we do not have a choice and are not responsible for what happens to us, which Sartre calls living in bad faith.

Three, we are mortal. On some level, we are afraid of death, some people more or less so. Often, I think to myself that I am not afraid of death. While I am not suicidal, I would welcome death because this life is very hard, full of strife, and I know that on the other side awaits a life of glory and fulfillment, the life for which I was originally created. However, my time here is limited, and that can create some tension. We want our limited time here to be meaningful.

Four, our lives are meaningless. This is the point on which I struggle most, because I do believe that there is absolute meaning and design by an ultimate Creator, but many existential philosophers believe there is no absolute meaning, that meaning is found only by constructing it within ourselves. Nonetheless, finding meaning is important to us in our lives, whether we construct it for ourselves or whether God has chosen to imbue our lives with significance.

Whether we are Christians or not, we all have free will and are responsible for our actions, we are all mortal, we are all existentially isolated, and we are all searching for meaning in the face of isolation, death, and responsibility. Whether there is an absolute source of meaning or not, much of what is meaningful to each of us is related to what we individually believe. According to existential psychology, a more enjoyable life may be found in having the courage to face our anxieties, to boldly take responsibility for our actions, and to forge meaning in our limited and isolated existence.

I have read many of Yalom’s books, my favorite being “Love’s Executioner,” a book of short stories of clients with whom Yalom has worked and how existentialism plays out in their struggles (and in Yalom’s own life). I had the opportunity to meet Yalom one time, and of course I jumped at it (I would have skateboarded to it, had I had the skills), and he autographed one of his books for me. I am fascinated by existentialism, and it is the first theory I ever heard that resonated with me so deeply.

Note: I am now a Christian, and a Calvinist at that, and there are some apparent discrepancies between existentialism and Calvinism that are beyond the scope of this writing.

So, my therapist laughed with me when she identified my struggles with attempting to find meaning in the meaningless (absurd), and when I got so excited when she mentioned Yalom and existential psychology.

I am a strong Myers-Briggs intuitive (“N”), and as such, I often cannot see the trees for the forest. I love the theory and broad ideas, but at times I miss the specifics of the practical application.

While I do not completely understand myself and how the givens of existence play out in my life, I notice a few items. I think I take on too much responsibility in some situations. I have unrealistic expectations of myself. I am searching for meaning and significance and belonging. I am a perfectionist. I feel I have to be perfect in order to be significant and gain a sense of acceptance, love, and belonging. I often feel that people don’t get me. When I do meet someone who sort of gets me, I do not feel like I deserve that kind of interpersonal enjoyment, so I do not pursue time with that person. My emotions exist for a purpose; they are a signal. I sometimes think that my anxieties and insecurities signal emotional unhealth, although anyone would feel anxious or insecure in those situations. So I fruitlessly look for the meaning behind them.

Home Is

This may come as a shock to some of you, but I have been thinking. Specifically, I have been thinking about home and the meaning of home.

This concept has intrigued me for most of my life, particularly my adult life. I have never really felt at home anywhere. I desire to find a feeling of home, yet at times it seems so unattainable, which is a source of despair and frustration at times.

I did not feel wanted or accepted in my parents’ house, although I suppose that was the closest approximation of home I have ever experienced. I ran away from this “home” one time as a teenager. I did not feel a sense of belonging there.

I remember in graduate school, when we covered the lesson on Adlerian psychology, and my professor said that everyone is looking for a sense of belonging. That was the first time I ever realized that I was not alone in the way I felt. I began to realize that a vast majority of people do not feel like they fit in, they are seeking a feeling of belonging and community and significance.

Since moving out of my parents house fourteen years ago, I have moved from place to place, often living with a roommate, and sometimes living alone, and while I have lived in places I enjoyed and some I did not, I never felt at home in any of these places.

One of the reasons I desire to be married is that I long for a sense of home, someone to come home to, a place where I feel I belong, and someone who is looking forward to seeing me each day.

Zach Braff, as Andrew Largeman, in “Garden State,” which is one of my favorite movies, describes home.

You’ll see when you move out it just sort of happens one day, one day and it’s just gone. And you can never get it back. It’s like you get homesick for a place that doesn’t exist. I mean it’s like this rite of passage, you know. You won’t have this feeling again until you create a new idea of home for yourself, you know, for your kids, for the family you start, it’s like a cycle or something. I miss the idea of it. Maybe that’s all family really is. A group of people who miss the same imaginary place.

To Braff/Largeman, home is not a house, but it is an imaginary place whose members get homesick and miss each other.

My pastor talked about home at our recent Easter service. He said that home is a place where one receives unconditional love, and that we are all seeking unconditional love. My pastor averred that much of our behavior, whether glorifying to God or sinful, is a quest to find unconditional love.

I have a friend who is an alcoholic. He tried sobriety for six months, and at that time, he reported that he felt very good and clear and goal-directed. But later, when he went back to drinking, he let the alcoholism convince him that he did not like the period of sobriety, specifically because he did not feel like he fit in (because he did not try to make any sober friends at the time, perhaps he was not equipped to do so). For many, alcohol is a social lubricant that helps people find a sense of belonging, albeit a superficial sense, since people are not really authentic while drunk.

This time in my life is when I have found the greatest sense of community and belonging. I am a daughter of God, and as such, I have many brothers and sisters in Christ. I have wonderful friends, and I no longer feel like a social outcast. Yet we typically do not come home to our friends. We leave them at the end of the day and head. . . home. At my core, on a very basic level, I long for home.

Favorite Quotes

C. S. Lewis (former atheist turned Christian apologist) from “The Great Divorce”
Both good and evil, when they are full grown, become retrospective. . . That is what mortals misunderstand. They say of some temporal suffering, “No future bliss can make up for it,” not knowing that Heaven, once attained, will work backwards and turn even that agony into a glory. And of some sinful pleasure they say “Let me have but this and I’ll take the consequences”: little dreaming how damnation will spread back and back into their past and contaminate the pleasure of the sin. Both processes begin even before death. The good man’s past begins to change so that his forgiven sins and remembered sorrows take on the quality of Heaven: the bad man’s past already conforms to his badness and is filled with only dreariness. And that is why, at the end of all things, when the sun rises here and the twilight turns to blackness down there, the Blessed will say “We have never lived anywhere except in Heaven,” and the Lost, “We were always in Hell.” And both will speak truly.

Jean-Paul Sartre (existential philosopher) from “Nausea”
Suddenly the names of the authors he last read come back to my mind: Lambert, Langlois, Larbaletrier, Lastex, Lavergne. It is a revelation; I have understood the Self-Taught Man’s method; he teaches himself alphabetically.
I study him with a sort of admiration. What will power he must have to carry through, slowly, obstinately, a plan on such a vast scale. One day, seven years ago (he told me he had been a student for seven years) he came pompously into this reading room. He scanned the innumerable books which lined the walls and he must have said, something like Rastignac, “Science! It is up to us.” Then he went and tood the first book from the first shelf on the far right; he opened to the first page, with a feeling of respect and fear mixed with an unshakable decision. Today he has reached “L” – “K” after “J,” “L” after “K.” He has passed brutally from the study of coleopterae to the quantum theory, from a work of Tamerlaine to a Catholic pamphlet against Darwinism, he has never been disconcerted for an instant. He has read everything; he has stored up in his head most of what anyone knows about parthenogenesis, and half the arguments against vivisection. There is a universe behind and before him. And the day is approaching when closing the last book on the last shelf on the far left: he will say to himself, “Now what?”

Tim Keller (Reformed pastor) from “The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism”
The Biblical view of things is resurrection—not a future that is just a consolation for the life we never had but a restoration of the life you always wanted. This means that every horrible thing that ever happened will not only be undone and repaired but will in some way make the eventual glory and joy even greater.