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wundayatta's avatar

How contemplative are you when faced with an existential question?

Asked by wundayatta (58591points) July 19th, 2010

Life is filled with problems, of course. Some of those problems are just “let’s fix it” problems and some are more long term; perhaps unsolvable. They may require you to change your frame of reference—making lemonade out of lemons, as the saying goes.

Let’s say you’ve been sick for a long time, and you’ve been fighting it. Maybe you end up with permanently changed abilities. Or maybe you are able to recover your abilities, but you have had a very different experience during the time you were sick.

Do you think about this, and try to find a way to incorporate it into who you are? Do you ignore it, and just move on? Do you find yourself saying, “it was meant to be that way?” Do you see it as a blip in the road, best to be forgotten?

How do you make sense out of these kinds of things in life? Do you consciously think about it—“work” on it? Do you just let it go? What?

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36 Answers

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

I think of it as a new reality and that an old reality will not return – therefore, I must take steps to adapt and reach the same level of happiness as before. I get pretty contemplative, at times, but life has taught me that no matter my plans, there are surprises so I’ve gotten pretty flexible about how it’s all supposed to unfold. I do believe that there are life paths I am yet unaware of and so if something seems like it’s not working out or I didn’t get something I wanted, then it must be because there is something in the future that, when taken into account, will make sense for the current situation. This belief allows me to not dwell. I give everything my all and I never have regrets. I follow both my head and heart and I believe in living a very rich life, in living it in the moment and in trying to rid myself of as many conventions as possible because I believe conventions separate us from each other and distance us from truly experiencing life.

Cruiser's avatar

I never just let things go. I am working on a few of those issues right now myself. Some answers though just may never come no matter how hard you think about them but for me that is not a reason to simply stop thinking about them.

marinelife's avatar

I think about it some of the time, and the rest of the time I just move forward with life how it is at the moment.

lucillelucillelucille's avatar

I have both diabetes and mulitple sclerosis.
I feel that I have no other choice than to tough it out.I do and am quite good at it.There are others out there that have it far worse than I do and I am well aware of that.Find a way to be happy.Life is too short :)

CMaz's avatar

The truth and the facts. Will set you free. ;-)

Andreas's avatar

@wundayatta For me I’ll answer this question from my experience. I hope this is near what you want. MODS: Please have mercy if you think this is slightly OT.

I had a complete mental breakdown in 1994. Amongst other things I’d worked myself into a frazzle and could truly be regarded as a “human doing” and not a “human being”. Literally I did for everybody else and never for me.

For the next few years I was literally not capable of doing anything, and hence I did a lot of reading for pleasure (but with little lasting comprehension!), sleeping and only after about two-years did I start to function as a “human being”, doing small amounts of gardening for Mum, whom I was back living with for the time. Gradually I got better, went into counselling and had my thinking processes challenged.

But the old me was gone in many respects, and the new me had a better understanding of unremembered early days gleaned from conversations with Mum.

I still could not hold down a job as the whole subject upsets me, although most people who I tell this too cannot understand this.

So, for me, that which has happened I see as just part of life to be accepted and grow from. I know from conversations I’ve had with other people who have similar stories that many people are in a similar situation as I was, and so I see my experience as part of the rich experience of human life to be endured and survived, allowing a better and deeper compassion to grow for my fellow man.

tranquilsea's avatar

I’ve had a few things happen to me that I tried to just “let go”. I couldn’t change them so I reasoned that ignoring them seemed reasonable. Then I had more things happen and I tried the same. But my mind wouldn’t let me. In fact it pretty much forced me to deal. Because my previous M.O. had been just soldier on it took a long, long time to sit quietly and think about how those things had changed me in both the good and the bad. I had to mourn the old me and learn to celebrate the new me.

Several times in my life I’ve had to look around and come to some peace about what the new normal looked like. Not easy, but necessary.

stardust's avatar

I’m a firm believer that life is unfolding for me just as it should. I don’t always like what comes my way and there’s been things that have taken years to accept. In the past, I haven’t always been able to work through things as they were happening, but I always go back to work through those issues; take the good (the lessons), accept the rest and move on. I feel we’re always growing and changing. I won’t be the same person next year as I am now in a sense.
Life isn’t easy but it’s short and I want to learn as much as I can while here.

wundayatta's avatar

@Andreas I can relate to your comment about compassion. It was like that for me, too. Going through my own struggles taught me what they were like, resulting in a greater understanding of what it was like for others to go through the same thing.

Ltryptophan's avatar

I think about everything that has ever happened to me, if it comes to mind. I pour over it. I rehash it. I think of every way I could have acted differently. I think of how I could have acted better or worse. I also think about who I am not, and who I might have been for better and worse.

When I look up from this…I see many other people who are not introspecting. I know they don’t have it all figured out. Maybe they just don’t care. They are just going through the motions letting time do its thing.

I feel like there is a difference to be made, and as long as I have the ability to think clearly I can affect that difference.

When I have run out of that faculty…it won’t matter.

cookieman's avatar

I find I am happiest when I don’t spend too much time contemplating such things. Sure, when massive and/or disturbing changes happen in my life, I’ll spend some time studying the details and considering how to move forward – but sooner rather than later, I need to adjust to the new reality and put one foot in front of the other (as it were). If I spend too much time navel-gazing, I can feel myself getting depressed and my cynicism growing. Neither is a good thing for me.

CaptainHarley's avatar

After spending most of a lifetime thinking about all of that, I have come to the conclusion that some things are never going to make sense no matter WHAT we do, that we are never going to understand some things ( at least not in my lifetime ), and that one of the best things you can do in life is figure out which things we can understand, which things we can change, and learn to live with the rest.

Ron_C's avatar

I believe that I have mentioned something like this before but for a different question. In 2001 I went form being a person whose worst ailment was a cold or flue to being crippled so much that I couldn’t get through the airport without extreme aid. My last visit was for minor surgery for a bone spur to close brushes with death and being banned from work without a doctor’s permission to return.

I had to depend on other’s even for my food and a visiting nurse to keep my from ending back in the hospital. The only people, my mind that suffered more in 2001 were the victims of the suicide murders flying with airplanes. In fact, the day that I was supposed to be allowed to walk without a brace was the day those idiots decided to crash airplanes into living people.

Since then I have often thought about me, 9–11, and handicaps. I have become more empathetic with those whose handicaps are permanent, less tolerant of radical religion, and more accepting of people of different racial and ethnic backgrounds. I remember my first trip back overseas using the mandatory cane. I did get to board first but I hated some of the condescending attitudes of those around me. It is if a person that user’s devices or a wheelchair to move around somehow lose intelligence with the devices.

I make sure that I treat the physically challenged just like everyone else. I also never,never park in the handicapped spots.

I am also more careful and work hard not to repeat the mistakes that put me in a wheel chair in the first place. Despite best efforts, I occasionally end up back in the chair but also feel great when I am able to walk unaided. I hope I grew as a person but don’t thank a god for the experience. I learned that a good support system is better than praying for help.

lucillelucillelucille's avatar

@CaptainHarley -I couldn’t agree with you more!:)

mammal's avatar

i just drift into a transcendental dreamlike state of lofty indifference

YARNLADY's avatar

I don’t over think my life as I live it. Sometimes I do some research if a subject captures my interest, but for the most part, I just let my live unfold as it will.

zophu's avatar

People very rarely seem to view existential questions with broad enough scopes. We’re so used to the views we use just to get through our personal lives, a lot of the assumptions we use there carry over into existential ponderings. What people must understand is that when you think existentially, you can’t hold yourself (or even your culture) to be the center of the universe. When you think existentially you think for everyone, in a way. It is selfish to come to existential conclusions that are created primarily to better fit your personal adaptation to the world. But then, maybe we all have to do that to some extent in order to cope.

Blondesjon's avatar

It really does depend on what I have ingested at the time.

wundayatta's avatar

@zophu When you think existentially you think for everyone, in a way.

Where do you come up with that idea?

I believe that meaning is acutely personal. It can be no other way. People might try to speak for others in their philosophical maunderings, but it’s a fail no matter how successful they may be at gathering followers. You can’t currently force someone to think something. Maybe in the future, the drugs will be specific enough to make someone have specific thoughts, but not yet.

So we’re all on our own. I don’t see how you can justify saying that we think for everyone when we think existentially.

zophu's avatar

@wundayatta When you think existentially, you think for everything, and so everyone. Maybe I used poor grammar. When I said think for everyone, I meant in the service of everyone—or more correctly, in consideration of everyone.

wundayatta's avatar

@zophu I still don’t understand. I may think for everything, but that is not the real world everything, it is just my perception of everything. Service and consideration don’t have to be a part of it although I hope it is.

zophu's avatar

@wundayatta I think being considerate of Humanity comes with unstressed existential thinking. It’s when we turn to the universe when overcome with adversity that we have the tendency for more narrow thinking. Certain people become less human, certain types of people become less human, people who believe or don’t believe certain things become less human—all to suit a more comfortable world view. I guess being considerate of everyone doesn’t have to be a part of thinking about existence, but it happens naturally in a healthy mind I’d bet.

wundayatta's avatar

@zophu I think we have very different ideas of what existential thinking is. For me, it is personal, and has nothing to do with anyone else, except insofar as other people’s thinking have influenced me. It is about making sens of your own life. It is not about making sense of life, per se.

You sound like you are talking about religion. Or maybe some kind of universal ethical system. Or possibly your own existential view writ onto all of humanity, although I hope it is not that. Have I misunderstood you?

zophu's avatar

@wundayatta Either you have misunderstood me or I have misunderstood myself. I don’t consider my existential thinking to be anymore an imposition upon the world as most anyone else’s thoughts can be and surely often are.

My point was that personalizing existential thinking, while useful in dealing with personal life, should be avoided to a degree—or at least it seems natural to have an essentially humanistic perspective when considering existence. I think people become over-personal with their existential views as a coping mechanism, which is probably usually no more selfish than someone stashing away enough food for themselves during a famine. It’s not wrong, it’s just unfortunate.

It seems strange to me, to believe existential thinking to be an insular thing. Existential thinking is about making sense of life beyond your own. It’s just when people come to the irrational conclusion that they or someone else has made sense of all life—everyone’s life—that is when things become religious. Life is far too grand; it seems unnatural even using terms like “figuring out” or “making sense of” when in the context of existential life.

Existential thinking is by definition the consideration of everything. We all view everything through perspectives. It’s good practice to view existence through as many perspectives as possible. So, I try to see things from perspectives that are beyond what could be considered my “personal perspectives” when I think existentially. Or, at least I believe that is a good way of doing it. That’s what I mean, I think.

wundayatta's avatar

I think there is no perspective other than ones own. Even if you try to model someone else’s perspective, it is still you modeling it. You can’t get around this barrier, as far as I know. We can only be ourselves—even if we perceive ourselves to be multitudes. It’s still an individual perception.

Reality—whatever you perceive to be out there—is therefore something you construct, mentally speaking. It is mediated by perception. Your perceptions may or may not accurately reflect what is out there. They may just reflect it well enough to manage to survive—mostly, anyway. There could well be much more to reality than we can perceive.

I agree with you that it’s a good practice to imagine you are viewing existence through many perspectives. It helps us be compassionate. But I think it is a mistake if you actually believe you are being successful at imagining all these other perspectives with any accuracy.

So in the end, it’s just oneself and one’s relationship with whatever we perceive to be out there. That’s what we try to make sense of. We assign meaning to our experience with our environment. The process of and result of that thinking is what I think of as existentialism.

Understanding this is probably best done using examples rather than theoretical discussion. For the last several years I have been dealing with a new diagnosis of bipolar disorder. During this time, I experienced myself in quite different ways. At some times I made choices that I would never have made at other times. At some times I believed life was nothing but permanent unendurable pain.

At some points I felt like I was looking at myself as a person within a person within a person. I felt like I was worthless. I felt like that was an inaccurate perception. I felt like it didn’t matter because the weight was too heavy. I felt like if I was dead, nothing would matter. I felt like life was the greatest gift of all, and so temporary, so why give it up voluntarily?

For me, existentialism is a process of trying to make sense of that all. I want to model myself in a way that can incorporate all those contradictory selves. This is not a definition, by the way. It’s just a way of explaining myself to myself. It explains why I exist, and it gives me a sense of what I should do with my life.

I say, “should,” but I don’t believe there are any shoulds—at least, not externally mandated shoulds. A “should” is my personal “should” which makes it a want. “Should” just gives the idea extra motivating power. Or not. Maybe it just makes me feel bad when I don’t do it.

But I’m concerned with making sense out of my own life. I have no idea whether the sense I make of my own life has any relevance for anyone else. I assume other people try to make sense out of their own lives, and I know that some people try to convince others that the sense they made is a universal sense for all lives. Since that sense usually makes no sense to me, I resent their efforts to impose their ideas on me, and I try not to make an effort to impose my ideas on others. I try to talk only about myself, and if they like it, good, and if not, I am not trying to convince them of anything.

Having others like the sense I make helps validate it, and without such validation, I might not stand so strongly behind it. I’m not sure of that, though, because I might also just shut up, instead of putting it out there for people to trample on. I have found that people say they appreciate it when I tell the full story—admitting things that most people would prefer to hide.

I think that everyone makes meaning out of their lives. They do it for themselves. Some of them talk about it. In this exchange, we may make modifications to our own meaning-making. It’s a wonderful thing. Quite interesting. It’s a bit of a problem if people think they have to impose their ideas on others.

zophu's avatar

No one has meaning alone. The fact that we can communicate about existential thinking with nothing but digital text is proof enough that shared perceptions go deep and there is no autonomy when it comes to looking at existence as whole. It also means there is no one with laws competent enough to impose upon any large amount of people. And, that means that any culture that does so upon us is not our friend.

That’s where the harmful perceptions come from. But, those perceptions’ foolishness doesn’t mean they aren’t modeled correctly. I’m sure there are many people that would see you as worthless; you “simulated” their perceptions well. The trick is to find truer perceptions that negate the simpler, unhealthy perceptions that come about from simpler, unhealthy existential thinking—selfish existential thinking, actually.

When one thinks, one does so for others, even if that is not what one thinks. That’s what I think, anyway. Just talking about it. Not attempting to impose anymore than one does when talking about things.

I’ve been always open in my existential thinking, considering everyone along with everything. It made me vulnerable to foolish perceptions. To have hated me, was to have me hate me; to have thought me weak was to have me think I was weak. I was allowed to hide away from the world, was never quite forced into closing my mind enough to be existentially selfish. I got sick from the loneliness, but in my loneliness I nurtured the sensitivity required for true fellowship. Old enough now to be psychologically capable of being betrayed by my people, I step out of the safe darkness. My shame lost with my fear, I look freely. I see eyes cast upwards or downwards, but never ahead, towards each other. And when they look at you, they look with scorn or desire. It’s never love. I see married couples strangers to each other, their children contracts signed in blood and semen to God. It’s very likely the time will come soon that betrayal will send me back into the darkness—but this time it wont be my choice. People will be forced to look at me and see themselves, their actions taking toll on a human-being. But only once, maybe twice. Then they’ll look up, or down. Maybe call themselves bipolar if somewhere in their minds they hold out hope for finding eyes that meet theirs when they chance an observant glance; up, nothing, down, nothing, up, nothing, down. Nothing. And to think, we were afraid to find something! What if we did? When we chanced the look. Found eyes too strong or too weak for us to look into. Finally, we overcame the fear and looked, only to find nothing. Nothing! It isn’t fair! Well, it turns out I was only looking for myself, anyway.

You’re right, existential thinking is a personal thing. How else would we survive this spiritual famine? Not enough wholesome perspective to go around. I have no people. I have to make my own meaning. In three days, I’ll be given a bottle of up. For those as troubled as I am, resolve is a socially unacceptable delusion. I look forward to it. Well, not for long.

CaptainHarley's avatar

Help stamp out existentialism… pull the plug on angst! : D

zophu's avatar

@CaptainHarley That’s what the pills are for. And the new job. And maybe a girlfriend. I’ll join the uppers soon enough.

Andreas's avatar

@wundayatta @zophu All I can add is, Keep going, and maybe you’ll survive and thrive. Mental illness is no picnic. Mine was a simple breakdown, with attendant depression following years of no self-esteem and self-confidence. My antidepressants help now. And slowing down so as not to run (quite literally) doing stuff, and taking everyone’s problems as my own, yada yada. After a while I saw the light at the end of the tunnel, but I can easily slip back into old habits. Life for me (and I suspect both of you) is a daily fight to keep going.

What a deep and insightful discussion this was.

CaptainHarley's avatar

LMAO @zophu !!

Go for it, dude! : D

wundayatta's avatar

When I make meaning out of life, it is to serve others. I like to help. I like to be appreciated.

Serving others gives me something to do—to fill my time with. Appreciation makes me feel like it’s worth spending my time that way, and it makes me feel like I’m worth something; like people would miss me if I were gone.

When I’m sick, there is no amount of appreciation that will make up for that sense of being worth nothing. It is, to say the least, highly unpleasant. When I am well, the need for appreciation seems to disappear. I am perfectly happy doing whatever I am doing. I feel balanced and comfortable, yet uncomfortable enough to keep moving.

To answer my own damn question, I do take the contemplative approach (gee—who would have guessed)? I find that thinking about things helps me understand a lot, although it still leaves a lot left that I don’t understand. Of that that I don’t understand, there is a part of me, inaccessible to my conscious or linguistic mind, that does seem to understand. But it’s a struggle to pass that understanding to the me that can actually understand it.

It seems that the understanding by my non-linguistic mind is very, very important. I wish I could explain why, but that is one of the things my contemplation has not yet been able to crack.

zophu's avatar

@wundayatta There are probably things that can’t be used in the linguistic mind the way they can in the non-linguistic mind, but I guess that shouldn’t stop us from trying to articulate them. Maybe what we need most is new language.

wundayatta's avatar

@zophu Yes! That is something I have been working on for a few years now. I do think all we can do is try to articulate them, understanding that it is difficult. I’ve been getting better at it, I think. One key is to not label it with a feeling or anything, but just to describe the action, feeling and sensations as best you can.

But ultimately, you end up in the land of metaphor, and then all bets are off. Whatever works.

I’m not sure what you mean when you think we need a new language. In my mind, this is another part of our mind that can not manipulate symbols the way what we know as languages can. This other part of our mind thinks, though, and it can solve problems and come up with ideas, but when it needs to communicate those ideas to the linguistic mind, it is at a loss.

Sometimes ideas gradually perk up. They might appear in dreams. Sometimes they appear complete and full, like a flash of inspiration. But that’s on the tag end of the process.

I believe we have to still our linguistic minds in order to be able to hear the non-linguistic mind. Meditation, yoga, exercise, dance and many other things can help us still our minds enough to hear our minds. This is about reception, not production.

My experience of this non-linguistic kind of speaking (and now we get to the metaphors) happens in a number of ways. When I’m playing music, I imagine this three dimensional space in which there are objects and relationships existing as bands of color and balls of the stuff you see in lava lamps. The color and shape and connections are constantly changing.

My linguistic mind is also involved, knowing who is playing and who’s turn it is to solo and keeping track of the key and the chord structure and occasionally checking facial expressions. But my other mind pulls this stuff in and creates this visual image and shows me exactly what I need to do next.

When dancing, I focus on the person I’m dancing with, or the people I’m dancing with, and all linguistic thought drops away to be replaced by body thought. My body knows what to do in each circumstance, and I don’t have to guide it with any planning thoughts. It is me, but I don’t have access to how it thinks directly, so it feels a little bit like other.

These things—the images, the body, and whatever else happens—are languages. But they are not languages that translate well into linguistic or symbolic form. Our other minds process so many different kinds of information. They process it directly, instead of being shielded by symbols. It’s just a different way of being in and understanding our environment.

However, because it is so hard to translate it, people either discount it as nothing or do just the opposite: turn it into God. There seems to be little inbetween. Perhaps this is because the experiences happen very rarely in a way people are conscious of them (they rarely still their conscious minds). So when it does happen, they either make a mountain out of it, or a molehill, depending on proclivity.

zophu's avatar

Our minds are fragmented because it is what allows us to fit in smaller places than we would otherwise. We are fragmented, as individuals, as peoples. Balance has been lost.

Yet each is born into Life that only seeks balance, and with new generations come new journeys.

Places grow smaller the higher up on the holy mountains and golden pyramids; it is what defines their form. So climbers grow more fragmented further along their journeys.

Until they have only one piece left. What piece that is, is hard to say. It could be any of the pieces. It’s just the one the climber chooses to hold on to—the one for which the climber sacrifices everything for.

Workers have stopped climbing and have more fragments than those above them. But they forget what was lost, because it was truly lost—those, perhaps very few, fragments.

Below them are the vagabonds; they have more fragments than any and they refuse to give any up, so they stay on the bottom.

But no one is balanced. We are all the same world.

All we have are our metaphors—referring self to other selfs—until we are one, or until we are none.

Jellybean9's avatar

Existetial is the complete cognitive of human brain manurvering of which we have no complete answer.

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