Have you ever had one of those sweaty, scary, claustrophobic moments when you stared into the void and become paralyzed by the view?
Has the world just pulled the rug out from under you, shattered your sense of reality and informed you that life was actually much more complex, mysterious, larger and beyond your understanding than you thought?
Congratulations. You have experienced what psychologists and philosophers call an existential emergency.
And the silver lining is, it is completely normal and nonfatal.
Now, you may be tempted to escape. Thinking to yourself, wow, get me the hell out of this moment, anything to avoid feeling the way this feels right now.
You also may be tempted to berate. Thinking to yourself, crap, everyone was right about my myriad faults and failures, and my delusions are not working anymore.
You might even be tempted to globalize. Thinking to yourself, shit, this is all a catastrophe and it’s bringing me one step closer to dying broke and alone.
These responses are also normal.
However, so as not to send ourselves into free fall, it is critical that we have an existential emergency plan ready to go.
Maisel outlines in his book about human helping that each of us must learn to deal with existential danger in a different way. We must enter into a different relationship with meaning so that fewer of these emergencies occur. Otherwise we will become physically debilitated by a flood of worries about our struggles.
For me, a useful tool for gaining perspective and snapping me out of my fragile spiral is by asking some grounding questions.
Are these really tragically insurmountable hurdles, or just routine troubles of life?
Are we legitimately having a biological even panic attack, or simply a normal expression of a human emotion?
Are we truly in need of professional medical attention, or is this yet another passing moment of clarity about my everyday problems and challenges?
This form of inquiry is about investigating or awakening to our experience in this moment, exactly as it is and not how we would prefer it to be.
It proves that a little education may show us there is no need to panic after all.
Have you lost the ability to tolerate ordinary misery? Have you become incapable of navigating the normal downs of life?
Perhaps you need an existential emergency plan.
LET ME ASK YA THIS…
How will you enter into a different relationship to making meaning?
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That Guy with the Nametag
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