Ah, the good old existential crisis rears its head. Suddenly the world does not make sense. The beliefs that you build your world upon are shattered and you find yourself questioning everything. This can creep up on you slowly or smack you in the face.
This can happen for many different reasons. Death touches your life, the betrayal of someone close, being let down by someone you trusted and valued, the moment where you wake up in the middle of the night and realise you cannot breathe because you are only existing and not living. It can happen because of a lie or a truth you uncover, it can be other people’s unfathomable behaviour, it can be a traumatic event or an everyday pattern.
Something bewilders us, confuses us, dumbfounds us and suddenly, the world does not make sense. The very core of our being stumbles upon a shifting surface as we flail desperately for something solid to cling to.
“Every person must choose how much truth he can stand.” Irvin D Yalom, When Nietzsche Wept
What do we do with this? The human mind and its meaning-making instinct will do a number of things with this. We can develop a seemingly robust system of cognitive dissonance where we find a deep dark chasm of our minds to launch those messy things which do not fit with what we believe and we carry on our lives as though they never existed. This tends to have the effect of ill-fitting underwear. It is slightly uncomfortable, but bearable. Over time, the chaffing can become more than an irritation or an inconvenient thought, it can become unbearable. The box we put things in begins to spill over.
We might also just develop a new set of beliefs. Ah, this is how to make sense of the world. It’s because of…if everyone would just do this…then the world would work better. And as a shortcut, we might just use the clichés and banal little greeting card sayings that get plastered up on facebook or so easily drool out the mouths of the masses. After all, that’s much easier than thinking for yourself, isn’t it?
“One should not search for an abstract meaning of life. Everyone has his own specific vocation or mission in life to carry out a concrete assignment which demands fulfilment. Therein he cannot be replaced, nor can his life be repeated. Thus, everyone’s task is as unique as is his specific opportunity to implement it.” Victor Frankl, Man’s search for Meaning.
It could be said that this place of uncertainty, not-knowing the answers, of not being able to come up with logical rational explanation for what is going on, is the most uncomfortable place a human being finds themselves. I think this is true. I also think that this is magical place of opportunity where pain and grief and hurt and anger and disbelief can be transformed into something else.
But transformation is not some nice neat comfortable process. Because sometimes things cannot co-exist. Sometimes one thing has to die for another to live. This is also true of ideas, thoughts and beliefs. When you are writing, you must choose one word over another, you have to let some go. And you always, no exceptions, begin with a stark white blank page. Somehow that gets transformed into something else.
As we, moment-by-moment, write the story of our lives, there will always be blank pages, words which have to discarded, characters who are painfully sliced away. The end product is beautiful, unique, sometimes bizarre, sometimes tragic and painful, sometimes hilarious and often, so very often, sometimes does not make sense – until the final word.
Dr Murphy - signing off