Existential Choice + Participating in Ur Own Existence
“We have two lives, and the second begins when we realize we only have one.”
Hello you. Whoever you are--Whether we’ve met before or not--There’s one thing I know about you without knowing anything else about you...You are here. Not just at this moment, this sentence--Which I’ve written in my past and you’ve just read in your present--But you are here, encapsulated within a sensation, intimately and unmistakably yours...You exist. And in your existence, you are.
But the problem with this existence is that at some point you realize it comes with an expiration date. One day, you will no longer be here. So that thing you are, that sensation you feel yourself being will inevitably cease. Blown out like a candle. You will die.
Death is a troubling concept to us primarily because we have no reliable point of reference--No one’s as yet written a yelp review regarding how it feels to have died. By contrast we have a lifetime’s experience of what existing feels like--Not only from our own POV but also others who are living or were at one point and gathered up their notes. The human condition permeates through so much of our art and culture, there’s no lack of study or interest on what it feels like to be a living person, but what of a dead one?
Reincarnation, which promises us we’ve done this living thing before, also grants that we’ve experienced death just as many times. However it’s accompanied with an impenetrable amnesia that blanks out any previous life, and with it, that life’s death. Which kind of feels like being given a million dollar check inside an envelope you can never open, thus are unable to cash it in. And while we can guess and theorize; we can study the mind; study spiritual intuitions; and observe death, or paranormal phenomena involving ghosts, seance, etc., at the end of the day none of these are sufficient enough to tell us what our first hand account of death will feel like.
This sets up an existential dilemma we must all somehow face. Existing as we do now, will have an end--And as there is neither nothing we can do to stop death when it comes, nor no hint as to what to expect from death, we must somehow continue living out our finite, mortal lives because in short, we still got shit to do. We have to accept the finish line that eventually meets up with us, and in the time we have in between, decide how we will journey toward it.
How does one make this existential choice?
It isn’t necessarily true that one has to choose. There’s so much of existence that happens without our choice. After all, we don’t select, as far as we can tell, our parents, the era, area or any of the preexisting conditions in the world to which we’re born. To function and navigate in the human society to which we grow up in, we simply adopt whatever’s already around. Our traditions, customs, knowledge of the world or worldview are first built out of a choiceless acceptance of what is already here and proven to work simply by its endurance throughout generations. However, the world changes--Both environmentally and socially--And depending where we find ourselves among that change, what worked before might not prove as effective by the time we arrive on the scene.
The aforementioned existential dilemma usually occurs in fact, when we doubt the existential choices that we automatically ‘adopted’ and ‘accepted’. For whatever reason, they no longer fit and suddenly there’s a void that stares hard into you, and you feel naked. The layers of ideas that were meant to clothe you against it, feel thin and even invisible. The compass of passed down navigational knowledge, unreliable--And you have no idea where you are or what to make of this world which has suddenly become a stranger. You feel unprepared and super vulnerable. That’s despair.
Possibly most unnerving of all, is the sensation that you seemingly have only just at that moment, discovered yourself. As if waking from a dream, to discover you were sleepwalking, playing a role in a meaningless play. I shouldn’t say meaningless, but nonetheless, a play which suddenly seems dissociative to, or separating from, who you really could be.
That’s the dilemma: you don’t know who you’re supposed to be but you know the stranger you’ve thus far existed as, doesn’t quite sufficiently cover it. And because you know Death will one day come, there isn’t an infinite amount of time to be any person. So suddenly there’s again, this despair of not being prepared for existence, despite all the years you’ve existed playing the role assigned to you. It’s like being in the passenger seat of a car speeding downhill, only to discover that what you thought was the driver, was just an illusion of light and shadow.
Imagine that, being the moment you have to learn to drive.
And while there is a valid case to be made about the purely driverless car (the one without even a self-driving system) being the true state of the universe, it isn’t at all helpful to the fact human existence almost certainly will bring you into contact with other humans--So to continue the analogy: many intersecting streets, hills, and of course, other cars. If no one is behind the wheel of any of them, the good news is that maybe you’ll get that first hand account of death a lot sooner.
The question however, if you’re happy not to lift that potentially terminal veil any sooner than necessary, is how do you become the driver?
[ to be continued ]