Buddhist believe that all kinds of existential life changes such as birth, old age, sickness, death, association with unpleasant persons or conditions, separation from beloved ones, and not getting what one desires are universally accepted as legitimate suffering and pain. For us to account for the pleasures in life, we must accept the pains and sorrows.
The Four Common Reasons For Existential Issues
By Ray Doktor, Psy. D.
Death is an insidious phenomenon that lurks amongst us. One could be an avid student of Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, author of “On Death and Dying” and still perceive death as like a foreign entity. My mentor facilitated workshops with Kubler-Ross in the 1970s and said that toward the end of her career and life, she took poor care of herself and was in the denial and isolation stage before she passed on. This is not to underscore the gifts she brought through her writings but to acknowledge that she could not be an expert in her own mystical, transformational experience of dying.
The transcendence of death, whether one is dying or observing another dying, is a deeply intrapsychic phenomena that elicits nightmares, defenses, and behaviors because it is an unknown experience for which one is never prepared for. Yalom believed that some of the reasons for death anxiety are: 1) the fear of pain and/or dying process; 2) there may not be any more experiences; 3) there might not be someone there to care for the dependents; 4) there is uncertainty pertaining to where one will be when one dies; 5) opportunities to finish projects will cease; 6) and, one’s death could cause grief for others.
The psychopathology that could develop regarding death is from ineffective adapting mechanisms. Yalom believed that individuals must acquire healthy defense strategies to ward off severe anxiety. Otherwise, an individual might cope with death by using strategies such as suppression, repression, and displacement. However, when an individual uses defenses, I feel that it is still a form of resistance. There might be forms of healthy defense mechanisms in order to transition from one experience/process to the next. According to the first noble truth of Buddhism, which is called “Dukkha”, the first step in fully relinquishing suffering, pain, and death is acceptance.
Buddhist believe that all kinds of existential life changes such as birth, old age, sickness, death, association with unpleasant persons or conditions, separation from beloved ones, and not getting what one desires are universally accepted as legitimate suffering and pain. For us to account for the pleasures in life, we must accept the pains and sorrows. Death is a transition that needs to be understood objectively. Only then can true liberation from the anxiety surrounding it can be liberated.
When Jesus said, “It is done unto you as you believe,” he implied that there is a law which operates on your perceptions. Is life solely governed by external forces or are we participants in our experiences? Suppose you want to change the position of the furniture in your room. You move the piano from one place to another. This is an act of volition on your part. When you choose an intimate partner, a job, a place to live, what to eat, where to go, or the choice of words to express yourself, there is responsibility involved.
At the primal level, responsibility from an existential perspective means that one takes ownership – that one patents one’s product of words, choices, and predicaments. Yalom believed that several forms neurosis or existential crisis stem from an individual avoiding personal responsibility by displacing it upon another. Blaming external forces produces avoidance and allows an individual to remain a victim and not responsible. Once again, whether the complex situation is over death or reckless decisions, the individual needs to move to the position of accepting that things “are” and/or “I am where I am.” This could elicit the freedom one desires and unshackle one from the past.
There are several forms of isolation that an individual might experience. I will address existential isolation. This could be an experience where an individual feels separate from the world. He might feel a sense of nothingness or loneliness. An individual dying might feel this sense of isolation as he walks through the valley of death alone.
What is interesting about the notion of existential isolation is that in many spiritual practices such as meditation, an individual attempts to enter this realm of nothingness. Through this practice, he might experience a period of feeling isolated and separated from the world. This has been seen in native American tribes where an individual will participate in a vision quest, where he fast for seventy-two hours and sits on mountaintop. There are caves filled with monks in the Himalayas isolating themselves to reconnect to their true “selves” and higher consciousness.
Isolation in this sense, could be viewed as a transitory period. Many individuals have suffered with depression due to feeling isolated. Some have broken free from this stagnated energy and had a religious or spiritual awakening. In this place of nothingness, an individual might have the opportunity to be free from all his complexes and obsessions. Isolation is not an illness or a reflection of bad karma, as some would explain it. It is a natural part of a life full of challenges that allows us to flex our psychic muscles to persevere. Only when we strive to avoid suffering or isolation at all costs- through human weakness, lack of courage or simplistic understanding- do troublesome complexes and psychic somatic illness proliferate.
Dharma is a Sanskrit word that means “purpose in life.” The law of Dharma says that we have taken manifestation in physical form to fulfill a purpose. Viktor Frankl claimed that twenty percent of the neurosis he encountered in clinical practice was because patients did not have any meaning for their lives. Yalom, like Frankl, May, and Jung, felt that human beings require meaning. That if a person lacks goals, values, or dreams, he might be unmotivated or unenthusiastic about living.
This experience of meaninglessness is very delusional but also necessary. After Jim retired from his company after forty-five years, he did not know what to do with his time or life. Mary’s kids went off to college and she felt alone. She did not know who she was anymore without being able to care for her children. Bob was told he was going to die in one year and found no meaning to live another day. Jenny was going to college and got into a car accident. She was unable to finish school due to head injuries. It was impossible for her to accept that she would never become a teacher.
These are oversimplified reasons as to why some people experience meaninglessness. However, all of these are common and are based on object-referral. As long as these individuals have a certain title or that they can depend on a predictable outcome (e.g., will get college degree) they have meaning to their lives. When these objects and situations crumble, individual may wallow in disappointment. However, in these excruciating transitory periods, an individual might proceed from isolated towards new meaning. His new meaning might be based on the knowledge of “self”. When making new choices that are in alignment with this new “meaning”, he might feel more empowered and have a spiritual experience. His new meaning to live might be based on self-power rather than the personas he has overidentified with and portrayed to the world. This could lead to the experience of freedom.
About Ray Doktor, Psy. D.
Ray Doktor, Psy. D. is a clinical hypnotherapist, past-life therapist, spiritual counselor, and life coach based in Los Angeles and Santa Monica. He can be contacted at his website http://www.wholeminds.com