Existentially Lonely

I’ve been reading a lot these days about environmental psychology— the impact of place on our thoughts and feelings. According to the existentialist, a human being’s existence is a lonely existence. At the end of the day, we are all alone. Can anyone ever truly understand what it is to be you, to experience all the things you have experienced, to understand your joys and happiness, your pains and sorrows? Surely we can talk to other people about how we feel, we can draw pictures, we can play music, but all this attempt to communicate ultimately leaves something behind. We cannot always get our feelings, ideas or experiences across exactly. There is a painful reality that ultimately we are alone, by ourselves, and ultimately lonely. Some people are better at alleviating their loneliness than other people, at hiding their monodic existence than others. For them, loneliness is a fleeting feeling that visits them on cold winter days or cold gloomy rainy days when human contact becomes minimal and they are left only with the thoughts in their heads. For others, loneliness is a curse, a shadow that follows them all the time, that rears its ugly head at every human contact, that surrounds them in their waking and in their dreams. They replay past mistakes over and over again in their heads, allowing feelings of shame and regret to shape the actions of the present. They cling to frustration and worry about the future, as if the act of fixation somehow gives them power. They hold stress in our minds and bodies, potentially creating serious health issues, and accept that state of tension as the norm. There will never be a time when life is simple. There will always be time to practice accepting that. Every moment is a chance to let go and feel peaceful.

The idea is to remain in a state of constant departure while always arriving.

For the philosopher, the question “what is love?” generates a host of issues: love is an abstract noun which means for some it is a word unattached to anything real or sensible, that is all; for others, it is a means by which our being— our self and its world— are irrevocably affected once we are ‘touched by love’; some have sought to analyze it, others have preferred to leave it in the realm of the ineffable. Yet it is undeniable that love plays an enormous and unavoidable role in our several cultures; we find it discussed in song, film, and novels— humorously or seriously; it is a constant theme of maturing life and a vibrant theme for youth. Philosophically, the nature of love has, since the time of the Ancient Greeks, been a mainstay in philosophy, producing theories that range from the materialistic conception of love as purely a physical phenomenon— an animalistic or genetic urge that dictates our behavior— to theories of love as an intensely spiritual affair that in its highest permits us to touch divinity while attempting to eliminate angst.

Angst in its simplest sense means fear or anxiety. The word is derived from Nordic and Germanic languages. Danish philosopher, Soren Kierkegaard, used the term angst to express the human condition which, he felt, was riddled with despair. This definition of angst was an integral part of the term used by existentialists. Angst in existentialism was struggle between the needs of the self and the requirements of others, as well as spiritual requirements. Angst was the fate of Odysseus caught between the Scylla and Charybdis, or “a rock and a hard place” as it is more commonly expressed. Serving oneself was in conflict with serving humanity, and thus created angst. A modern usage of the term angst is descriptively applied to teenagers. The process of becoming adults, and sometimes being frustrated by authority seems to be first felt in teenagerhood. As well, shifting hormones often lead to teens to angst. They seem a little world-weary before their time, and are steeped in emotional conflict. The despair that can accompany the teenage state, often expressed in popular music among teens, is the angst of the teenager’s soul… which breeds loneliness.

Existential loneliness is a new concept in existential philosophy and psychology. This sense of emptiness and void is really a problem within each person, not a lack of meaningful relationships. But we are very familiar with beliefs about loving relationships. So we often believe that our deep deficiency is an interpersonal problem. Another idea that tends get linked to the notion of loneliness and creativity is the notion of loneliness and existentialism. The idea goes like this: Loneliness makes us aware of the fact that we are ultimately alone. Awareness of this essential aloneness is, in theory,  freeing and enlightening, since it allows us to march to the beat of our own drummer, create work that is true to our inner self, and turn our backs on social expectations.

We’re all works in progress, and we derive our moods, ideas, and indiosyncracies from relating to the people around us. It’s not uncommon to know when someone is thinking of you; it’s not uncommon to hear the phone ring and to know who it is that’s calling (even if you don’t have call display); and it’s not uncommon for emails to cross, with each message writer being prompted to write by thoughts of the other. I think that, at our best, we’re linked. We’re supposed to be linked: for safety, happiness, protection, and growth. We develop in relation to the people around us: if you take those people away, we become not stronger and more insightful, but weaker and more limited. Loneliness in small, bite-sized doses might indeed pull you away from the crowd for a while and give you a chance to recognize your own concerns and priorities. Excellent. But let’s not characterize long-term loneliness as something that makes us profound. We need other people in our lives, and telling ourselves that loneliness is a “gift” is a rationalized hoax… like any other.


~ by upbeatmag on December 10, 2011.

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