“Man stands face to face with the irrational. He feels within him his longing for happiness and for reason. The absurd is born of this confrontation between the human need and the unreasonable silence of the world.” -Albert Camus
I'm making my way through Camus's "The Myth Of Sisyphus" currently. It's a fascinating book, mostly because I find that my existential worldview and his matchup rather well...
I do not think life has meaning. That is probably blasphemous for a psychotherapist to say. But I believe that meaning is largely a human concoction. The outside world is terrifying and makes little sense for most animals. Survival is the only true imperative. Everything is built around this.
Because of this terror and the deep anxiety we feel, our species seeks unity and understanding to make sense of our experiences. This is what a narrative is. Each of us tells a narrative to ourselves about our life. In this way, it makes sense to us. Human existence can be described as finding unity where there is none.
Most human narratives fall apart on examination. I think about my own life. I was blissful about my own narrative for too long, well into my adulthood, until I tasted real suffering for the first time. Once that happened, my narrative exploded. The course of my life was thrown off course.
I see this continually with my patients as well. It's not necessarily the event that is painful for them but that the narrative they have has been destroyed. And suddenly their lives feel out of control. And suddenly anxiety fills them up.
A person once said to me, "I sometimes wonder why we're all not running up and down the streets and freaking out all the time, screaming 'what the fuck is going on, this makes no sense.'" I thought it was one of the more insightful things I've heard.
We are born into a life we did not want. We are nothing. Our parents and the culture around us molds us. It tells us that we are consumers, and Christians and Americans. It gives us an identity. That identity fits into a larger narrative of one's own life. And then we live and work and die.
But if we really pay attention in a moment, all of those narratives and identities will dissipate. All that is left is the experience of consciousness. Meditation is useful to find this. It is truly strange but also beautiful. And it is absurd because we will die.
Like Camus, I do think death is central to a philosophy of living. Unlike him, I am less concerned with suicide. What I am more interested in is using death to become free. By free, I mean a psychological freedom.
To know that you will die is to be in touch with your deepest anxieties. It means to give up hope in any traditional sense. It also means that the traditional narratives have less meaning to you because you know they are absurd in the face of death. That means traditional American values like consumerism means less to you. What does mean anything to you? Experience. Being alive. Being present. To touch and smell and taste.
I do not think that means hedonism. Hedonism is its own philosophy of unity that tells us that seeking pleasure will save you. It will not. I do think it's worth asking though: if you know that you are going to die, what do you want to do with your time? It's an absurd question with no answer. But in some ways, I think, it's the only question.
Most of us do not live this way. We are locked into the narratives given to us by our culture. And we can pretend some happiness in those narratives. But the cracks often seep in. Anxieties come out. They cannot hide. We are all terrified. We are all closer to despair than we think. Even the most put together of us are incredibly fragile.
I often wonder if I'm living as if I know that I will die. It's a tricky question. I think so for the most part. I feel free in many ways. I am less locked into narratives about religion or country than others. And I find my work meaningful despite it all being absurd in the end, maybe because I feel like I am helping become more psychologically free.
And I try and live with real awareness for my daily experience. Not that it matters in the end. LIke you, it will soon all end for us, and we will be forgotten just as almost everyone in history has been forgotten. It is only thing that is certain.