After just over a year of writing I finally decided to take a closer look at existential philosophy. To be honest I used to think that the whole idea of existentialism was pointless and I had very little time for it. But that was before I understood what it really means. Funny how that works sometimes isn’t it?
The reason that I initially resisted existentialism was that I thought it was fatalistic. I thought that the statement at the core of existentialism was that life has no meaning and no purpose, que sera sera so to speak, but as I began to take a closer look at it I realized that couldn’t be further from the truth. In actual fact the core of existentialism isn’t a statement all but a question.
Existentialist don’t start by saying there is no meaning, they start by asking what the meaning is. When I realized that I began to understand that I am an existentialist and that The Earworm is an ongoing existential study of our post modern society.
While the search for a meaning to life is at the heart of existentialism, according to psychiatrist Dr. Viktor Frankl the question itself is actually a red herring. In his landmark book “Man’s Search for Meaning” first published in 1945, Frankl explains that life demands meaning from us, not the other way around. For man to ask “what is the meaning of life” is to confuse the issue by trying to put the answer outside of ourselves when it is really life itself that demands, “what is the meaning of you?”
Put another way; it is up to each of us to find meaning in our own lives. Without it we may as well just give up and die right now.
When Dr. Frankl returned to clinical practise after three years as a prisoner at Auschwitz, witnessing and surviving through some of the worst human atrocities ever perpetrated, he would often ask suicidal patients what had stopped them before they came to him. After all, if they really wanted to kill themselves, wouldn’t they be dead already? The answers he got pointed to the meaning and higher purpose that his patients were able to find even in the depths of their own despair. They would talk about love, family and unfulfilled dreams. In a word, they would talk about meaning.
Nietzsche said that “He who has a why to live can bear with almost any how”. Pain and suffering are a fact of life. No one knew that better than Dr. Frankl, but it is meaning and purpose, despite that pain and suffering that can see us through absolutely anything.
There is a meaning to life, but it’s up to you to find it. In the words of an old American Spiritual;
We must walk this lonesome valley,
We have to walk it by ourselves;
O, nobody else can walk it for us,
We have to walk it by ourselves.
Our task is to find meaning in the walk.