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The death of myths and the age of anxiety – the great existential dilemma

Author of this article is Mr. Atit Shanti Rijal.  Mr. Atit holds a great interest in philosophy and is an avid reader and likes to share his knowledge and understanding and sometimes, his own philosophical ideas and thoughts through publishing platform like us.

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Myths have remained an integral part of human history. We believe that we are being looked after and that we are loved unconditionally – by a “creator” and a “controller” force.

We believe that there is a meaning to life and that we have a central place in the cosmic existence. We have believed in myths for they have provided easy answers to our questions. We believe we have a duty to fulfill and that we expect others to fulfill theirs’.

We humans have found comfort in religious documents and in romantic literature. But, as we moved on in time, our natural tendency to question things gave rise to realism. Realistic views of the world has made several of us fearful of the huge void that is our existence. We now have varied answers to how and why we exist, we have varied philosophies dealing with human existence.

We do not know for a fact what existence actually means and, now find it harder to give meaning and purpose to life.

As answer-hungry beings, we suffer. We suffer, since we do not know why “we” exist in a rock that hangs on a vast nothingness.

We do not know the beginning and might never know the end.

Does a moral life lead to a smooth after-life? Does an immoral life continue the circle of birth and death? What is a moral life? How do we define a “normal” course of human action? Is life what a group of people (society) define it to be?

These questions are asked by many of us, but, find it hard to put forward because our society has made us to believe that life is in fact beautiful, that success is the ultimate goal, failure devalues life, that love can be easily found, and, that respect is gained through our taste in and choice of class. The “meaning” of life is pre-determined “for us” by those who were born before us.

We fear of being judged – judged of our sanity being questioned, since these are not normal topics for a normal societal person. How dare you rise above the general mass and ask questions that we do not seem to like? Existentialism bores us, do you not understand? Reality is what we have made it to be. This is existence. This right here is the reality.

We would rather believe that human civilization is “certain”.

We are afraid of changes.

And, thus, as we grow older, we slowly begin to “accept” the normality, that is society. We go to functions with the intention of showing our class to people – our class that has been defined by our societies. We have less intellectual discussions and try to stay away from topics that do not suit our liking. We confirm with the norms of the society no matter how hard some are to achieve, or, how meaningless and futile they are to perform.

We build our image as our society wants it to be. We find it extremely tiring to revolt against some of the childish illusions our society wants us to put up with.

But some have indeed started to question myths. They have started questioning the “existence and creation myth” that we are made to believe. From the 129th hymn Nasadiya Sukta to modern thinking and discourses, some of us have started to revolt.

Some of us have started to separate myths and the existence of consciousness.

We have started to question our being. Why are we here? What purpose are we to serve? We have stopped sticking to a singular idea of creation – we have started questioning all of them.

To some this is a welcome release from the restraints of moral, social, and spiritual dogma. To others it is a dangerous and terrifying breach with reason and sanity, tending to plunge human life into hopeless chaos. To most, perhaps, the immediate sense of release has given a brief exhilaration, to be followed by the deepest anxiety.” (The Wisdom of Insecurity: A Message for an Age of Anxiety, Alan Watts)

Those of us who have now started revolting the old ideas are but faced with anxiety. We are very desperate to rid ourselves of this angst. We are anxious because we as humans have killed myths and now have no answers.

For if all is relative, if life is a torrent without form or goal in whose flood absolutely nothing save change itself can last, it seems to be something in which there is “no future” and thus no hope.” (The Wisdom of Insecurity: A Message for an Age of Anxiety, Alan Watts)

One clearer thing is that we are not promised with an after-life, neither are we promised with God’s love and affection for maintaining our life as per our religious standards. We might have no purpose after all. We will study, work for the rest of our lives, retire and then die – quietly around a group of a few people and, then slowly and gradually be forgotten.

This knowledge, however, creates a dilemma – and the dilemma creates an existential crisis.

Many of us find liberation in being able to question the long known traditions of our family, our social life, of our government, the economy of our nation and of our religious belief. We begin to understand that only few things can be regarded to be true and fixed.

But many of us are anxious because we see these institutions fail and now have no rock to hold on to. We have been accustomed to believe that the pain and suffering of our life has some meaning and that we will be able to grab some surplus in the future. It is hard for some of us to believe that we as humans can however, fail.

We cannot accept that we as humans are insignificant in this cosmic reality because, we have, for much of our history, found comfort in myths – we have believed them to be true. But since myths are debunked, we find it hard to grant them positions in our consciousness.

We have abandoned gods and their mythical stories and have said frequently that our scientifically enlightened mind rejects something that has no basis in reality.

In the course of our scientific development, we forgot that myth while still alive had helped us with our existential questions. “Among the so-called neurotics of our day there are a good many who in other ages would not have been neurotic—that is, divided against themselves. If they had lived in a period… in which man was still linked by myth with the world of the ancestors…. they would have been spared this division within themselves.” (Carl Jung, Memories, Dreams, Reflections)

Myths provided ready answers to our questions about the unknown, it helped us to construct a meaningful story about the existence of life. Nietzsche and Jung point out that myths and religions in a teleological manner provide meaning to life. “The Pueblo Indians believe that they are the sons of Father Sun, and this belief endows their life with a perspective (and a goal) that goes far beyond their limited existence. It gives them ample space for the unfolding of personality and permits them a full life as complete persons. Their plight is infinitely more satisfactory than that of a man in our own civilization who knows that he is (and will remain) nothing more than an underdog with no inner meaning to his life.” (Carl Jung, Man and His Symbols). “Considered from the standpoint of realism, the symbol is not of course an external truth, but it is psychologically true, for it was and is the bridge to all that is best in humanity.” (Carl Jung, Symbols of Transformation)

We are now enlightened and have “killed” all the existing gods, and cannot go back to a debunked theory that we now know was never true. Carl Gustav Jung in his autobiography explains how we cannot go back now for we have been aware. But, Jung also saw the psychological problems of not having myths around and, how uncomfortable he was after having realized this fact.

Man today, stripped of myth, stands famished among all his pasts and must dig frantically for roots…” (Friedrich Nietzsche, The Birth of Tragedy). Since the death of myths, we are unable to make sense of our existence and are desperately trying to run away from the existential angst. We are frantically looking for distractions, to avoid anxious thoughts of our insignificance in this universe.

Now, we have built a coping mechanism against the death of myths – we have found comfort in entertainment. We are pleasured by television programs, photos and stories in magazines, shiny vehicles, alcohol and pornographies. We want to find good looking partners, easy payments and, less disputes. We find comfort in the lives of celebrities and search for their stories in internet where we spend countless of daily hours without realizing how wasteful our search for pleasure actually is. We would rather scroll downwards to new Facebook and Instagram posts than getting things done that we have been promising ourselves to complete.

We have time and again realized that pleasures are addictive because they are short lived. But they have temporarily ridden us of our existential angst and, have thus become important aspects of our lives. We thus exceed our limits to attain them. We are irritated and angry at ourselves and others when we fail to receive pleasure.

We require distractions so much so that we will sub-consciously jerk our legs or bite our lips frequently to avoid thoughts when we have our eyes off our phone, television and computer screens. Though we have killed our myths, we are still frantically searching for the meaning of our existence and thus are in a dilemma because we do not know how to.

According to Nietzsche and Jung we have replaced myths with other collectivist ideologies like politics. These ideologies have made us believe that they are indeed contributing to something big. We worship certain ideologies like the communism and democracy or whatever form these ideologies take. But they have time and again proven inadequate. Through multiple failed revolutions we have chosen our rulers and we still are in agony.

We have found pleasures and comfort in identity politics, but have lost our individual being. We have forgotten cultural unity by tying them with political theories. We have encountered multiple examples of how political ideologies have failed to provide happiness to people but we still run after them with desperation to find meaning. Jung portrays state as a mere modern pretence, a shield, a make-belief, a concept. Politics fails to provide individual importance. Politics is thus another myth that we have used to replace the original one.

Now, that we realize that these myths are not true and that they have died, can we remain intact with our being? The real question is, do we succumb to a nihilistic attitude after finding out how our existence is meaningless or, that we are not as important as we think? Do we have a rather negative view on life or, our existence as a whole?

Jung and Nietzsche argue that a nihilistic attitude would certainly lead to a wasted life. But what are we to do about the anxieties that follow the existential angst?

Nietzsche points out that we are in dire need of organizing our “own” individual meaning to our individual life. We are not in an age of the death of god but are in an age of the hero. The hero as per Nietzsche is someone who has the strength of his/her willpower to control his/her inner chaos which has been built because of our attachment to myths. The hero takes the challenge and faces up to the existing “individual” chaos and discovers “individual” solutions. The hero does not negate the past myths, but acknowledges them as sources of knowledge to find solutions for existential burdens of our time.

In order to be this “hero”, Nietzsche thought that it is necessary to stop clinging to religious theories or, mass movements and, to start to look within oneself. Every single individual according to him has a seed of unrealized potential, and the purpose of life is to see that potential and work towards actualizing it.

Nietzsche thought that “…we are not humans from the start; we need to become human. Toward this end, we need the insight “that only we are responsible for ourselves, that accusations that we have missed our life’s calling can be directed only at us, not some higher powers”. We are in no need of the delusion of a supernatural world, because the very task of becoming human is the truly colossal achievement.” (Nietzsche: A Philosophical Biography: Rudiger Safranski).

Though everyone has an inner desire to become their best self, the path to self-realization and self-improvement is hindered by fear and laziness, which according to Nietzsche are two universal human characteristics which prevent people from realizing their potential. These characteristics stop people from realizing their dreams and for most part of their life, people are disappointed and regret that they have missed several opportunities. A human’s life is thus filled with guilt and anxiety of not being able to achieve.

Nietzsche provided some solutions to these innate characteristics. He thought that humans need an “organizing idea”. He urged people to set an ultimate goal that they desired to achieve. The harder the goal, the greater one has to become to achieve it.

On the path towards the realization of such goals, the individual according to Nietzsche will find plenty of setbacks and pain. Nietzsche also thought that many individuals will run back to the comforts of ordinariness once they are faced with such difficulties and thus, leave their goals midway to their realization. These individuals are thus, ignorant regarding the value of such goals.

People are accustomed to believe that suffering is malevolent. The first reaction of people on suffering is to flee. We will again try and find sources of distractions to be temporarily released from these psychological pain. We do not wish to believe that our life can have sufferings.

Nietzsche on the other hand, saw value in suffering. He explained that “there is as much wisdom in pain as there is in pleasure…that it hurts is no argument against it but its essence.” (The Gay Science, Friedrich Nietzsche). This idea was also explained by Jung, who thought that anxieties and other forms of neuroses were not negative phenomenon. These neuroses may produce suffering, but they also inform us that our current way of living is concerning and that we are in need to improve it.

Nietzsche in his famous “the will to power” says “To those human beings who are of any concern to me, I wish suffering, desolation, sickness, ill-treatment, indignities – I wish that they should not remain unfamiliar with profound self contempt, the torture of self mistrust, the wretchedness of the vanquished: I have no pity for them, because I wish them the only thing that can prove today whether one is worth anything or not – that one endures.” (The Will to Power, Friedrich Nietzsche).

Nietzsche thought that suffering could be the key to liberation, if one learns how to utilize it to his/her advantage. An individual is to acknowledge his/her suffering, willingly face it and see that there is an opportunity to grow and increase his/her wisdom.

Anxieties are an innate human characteristic. We as humans are troubled by everyday existential angst. But we need to understand that, that is the only true reality of life. We will experience births, illnesses and deaths of people around us and ultimately ours’ own. We will not be here forever, we will not see or experience everything since our lives are very short. We need to understand that our existence is nothing more important than a mere dandelion. This realization would lessen our ego and we would start seeing everyone and everything as having an equal existence. This awareness should liberate us from holding on to things that have become problematic.

We need to know and accept that life has no meaning, and that it would be foolish of us to find something that does not exist. We are here to not find meaning but experience our “personal” existence and create our “personal” meaning as we move towards the basic truth – the end.

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Arts & Literature

JPT story: Marry me because I am rich

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“Marry me.”

“I have a boyfriend.”

“Dump him.”

“I can’t. I love him.”

“Love is just a feeling. Leave him and that lovely-dovely feeling will be gone as well.”

“I don’t want the feeling to go away. I am happy this way.”

“I can keep you much happier.”

“Oh really? How?”

“I will get you a mansion with everything in it that you ever dreamt of; will have a swimming pool to the theatre, servants to caretakers. Give you the best car available. Invest in your passion and help you establish yourself as a successful businesswoman. Let you buy anything you want to have. Just imagine a life that you have everything and you can do anything before you die, would not have a perfect life? That’s your happiness I am guaranteeing you if you marry me.”

“WOW! So you are actually buying happiness for me! All this time, I was thinking one can’t buy happiness, but you just claimed that you actually can.

“Yes, I believe happiness can be bought. You just have to be rich enough.”

“Are you happy, since you are quite rich?

“Yes.”

“Then why are you forcing me to marry you as if you are so desperate and in need of someone in life to fill your empty unhappy life?”

“I am happy already. Just that now I want a wife to complete my life.”

“You don’t know anything about me but you are so obsessed to marry me. It can only mean you are attracted to me and basically, you want to marry my outlook, and in return you want me to marry your money, isn’t it? And you want me to carry your babies and raise them up, that your parents and relatives be happy and proud of your life. You actually want a machine that can produce babies and you are here to buy the machine at any cost since you have money. OR, you want to marry a girl that you can flash around saying “look what a hot and beautiful woman I found.” It’s all your ego and your life, isn’t it?”

“You are overreacting to my simple interest in marrying you.”

“Wow! so marriage is just that “simple interest” for you?”

“You are blind in love so you are not understanding how lucky you are that I am showing interest – the richest guy in town – that many girls would die to marry. Don’t be stupid. Once all this love crap is gone, you will realize what a mistake you did by rejecting my proposal.

“Let me explain to you my love life. Every morning I wake up with his good morning message and that lightens up my day. You see? I start my every day with a smile. Then I go to the gym. He is my motivation to stay young, stay healthy. I probably would not hit the gym and jog every day, if he was not in my life. I would just be lazy most of the day. My career, my study, it all revolves around our future life and dreams and desires. We dream to buy our house in some place, we dream to buy a car and go around touring the country. We have lots of plans and dreams. All those plans and dreams keep me moving, keep me focused, and it is the same for him. Now, let’s assume, I just leave him and marry you right away. I wake up with no good morning message and that would feel horrible. You may try to take his place but I don’t have that feeling and connection with you, so I will never feel that exact oxytocin rush. You will give me the house but it won’t be the same as the house I had dreamt to share with the man I love. You will give me the best car but the man sitting next to me would not be the man I love and I would feel empty. Servants would serve us dinner but I will be always missing the life where I would serve food for the man I love. Marrying you is like marrying Mr. Trump. I will have everything but not joy and happiness. And with this empty soul walking around your house and life, you too will feel sad and angry and guilty. Then our kids will suffer. That will make us more sad and depressed. You see, Mr. Richie? you can’t really buy happiness.

“But once married, you have no choice than to accept me and you will learn to love me and all these filmy notions of romance will be back to cheer you up, darling. What’s your problem?”

“Oh poor boy, you don’t even know how love works.”

“Ugh! Love, love love!! isn’t there anything in life that will compensate romance and love and still keep people happy together?”

“Okay listen. I have a friend who I am sure would love to marry you. Wanna meet her?”

“I don’t want to meet anyone. I just want you.”

“Why is that?”

“Because I like you more than anyone else.”

“There you go. You see? That “I like you” feeling matters more than anything. I like my boyfriend. I don’t like you. Find somebody that you can like, and you be liked back for what you are to each other in wild. That’s what marriage is all about. If you look for a breeding machine or look for a woman that can be bought, you will invite nothing but misery and sadness in your life. The Sooner you understand it, the better your life will be. Decades of togetherness defying the biology and nature won’t work, Mr. Money guy.”

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Arts & Literature

Living is enough

JPT Story

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Father: “Bachnu matra thulo kura ho? Bachna ta kukur pani bachirako chha” Is life all about living? What about achievement in life?

Son: Tell that to a wife whose husband is suffering from cancer and going to die soon. Ask her if she wants her husband lying and breathing and nothing much or she wishes him dead. Tell that to a mother who lost her son over a suicide that if doing-nothing-but-only-alive son would be enough for her or not. Tell that to a child who lost one of the parents who anyway wasn’t doing anything in life.

Dad, you haven’t lost anyone in life, so you can tell staying alive is nothing. When you lose someone then you will know staying alive itself is an achievement when millions die everyday prematurely.

I am alive, and that’s an achievement itself. Greater achievement is to be successful, rich, popular, etc, I understand, but you know what is the greatest achievement? It is to stay alive happily and independently. All the success, money, popularity, this and that only falls in between the achievement and the greatest achievement.

Dad, I am alive, I am happy, and I am independent. Maybe, per your definition and perception, I am not achieving anything. But to me, this version of me is the highest form of achievement. Don’t worry.

Hey KMAG Readers,

Glad to see you here. Since you are here, don’t forget to drop your email address. We want to surprise you.

Much love and regards,
KMAG

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Arts & Literature

A BREAK-UP LETTER

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Dear Love,

Let me tell you this again and again. I love you, loud and proud; deeply, madly, truly. Never thought, I would be loving anyone this much. You know, I used to find it funny when people say “I would die for you” but now I know such feeling is real, because I can relate. Damn! you got me.

Spending rest of my life with you was my biggest dream and I would want nothing more. Serving you, caring for you, growing old with you, they are the desires I long for every day, every second. Despite, I am calling off this relationship because it hurts to be an option. This may look harsh and hasty decision but trust me, I am saying this to you for the first time, but it has been in my head for many months now. So please take this as my final decision.

I know you have always tried your best to make me feel loved and cared, but even in those moments of love and care, I could sense you were only trying to be nice and babe, that hurts like hell. Every time when we were together in cafe, in street, in house party at friends place, I could see your mind and eyes were constantly searching for better one that you wish were with you instead of me. I pretended to never felt that way but deep inside, I always could feel “I am just an option” and it feels like shi*t to be “just an option.”

I tried fooling myself zillions times “hey stop overthinking” but how can I convince myself with those arrhythmic steps, wandering eyes, lost and zoned out you even in my presence? You can pretend but not your nerves, not your lips, not your touch. I appreciate your attempt of trying out so hard to synchronise your verbal and non-verbal gesture but your biology just can’t lie. Sorry babe, I have mastered over you. I wish I could never read those non-verbal gestures.

I know I am the one you would be happily settling with if you could not find someone better than me, and I know you would love me and care for me but again only if you couldn’t find someone better. Yes, Yes! That I have been saying. That “being option” is killing me, my love. I don’t want to be an option and live insecure forever fearing when you will find your ideal partner and me being dumped. I want to be The One, like the way you are to me, but you are not. And hey! it’s okay, you don’t have to be. When you find your ideal one, you will definitely be The One.

So love of my life, I am calling this off with heavy heart, drowning in the pool of tears but I know, it is still a better option than to be in somebody’s life as an option, especially when that somebody is world to you.

Please don’t try to find me to console me. I will find the solace in the agony because I know whatever the hell I will be going through for now will still be a temporary which is still better than the temporary feeling of being loved and cared just to fall in the same loop of “just an option,” after some days.

I am giving up on you. Sorry!

Goodbye,

Hey KMAG Readers,

Glad to see you here. Since you are here, don’t forget to drop your email address. We want to surprise you.

Much love and regards,
KMAG

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