Monday, July 27, 2009
The great problem is facing death
The great problem is facing death. We are conscious of it. We know we will die. And while we know death in a way that rats and rabbits don’t, we still cope in similar ways: we narrow down the world to something we can handle.
We don’t think about the vast indifferent universe and our tiny part in it all. We instead focus on getting the groceries and mowing the lawn. In other words, we develop a certain obliviousness to the great unfathomable terrors of our existence. If we didn’t cope in some way, it might be hard to get out of bed in the morning.
And so, most of us put all kinds of meaning in things and people in our lives. We infuse our consciousness with a sense of self. We layer on this grand illusion all kinds of ambitions and hopes and dreams. We keep our eye on small problems, like what we will have for lunch or whether or not we will get a raise.
In this way, we build some self-protection for ourselves against the reality of our existence. Ensconced warmly in this protective illusion, we are free to go about our business and not worry about the meaningless nature of our existence and the absolute futility of the struggle.
In short, we bite off what we can chew and no more. We forget about the rest. Society would judge this normal behavior. A man so embalmed in the fluid of his fantasies, society would dub “well-adjusted.”
A neurotic, by contrast, is someone who refuses to live the illusion and suffers from it. As the Otto Rank, the Austrian psychoanalyst put it:
“If man is the more normal, healthy and happy, the more he can successfully repress, displace, deny, rationalize, dramaticize himself and deceive others, then it follows that the suffering of the neurotic comes from painful truth… He is much nearer to the actual truth psychologically than the others and it is just that from which he suffers.”
In other words, a neurotic is robbed of that ability or instinct which gives him the power to believe his own illusions.
And here, we come to the absurd man…
The absurd man is somewhere between the two. He, too, does not believe the illusions, but he chooses not to, whereas the psychotic does not exercise such control.
Unlike the neurotic, the absurd man does not suffer from an inability to believe his illusions. Instead, the absurd man is grateful he has seen past them. He faces death and a meaningless existence cheerfully. It does not terrify him. In fact, he celebrates this reality and finds it liberating.
A man who truly drinks in the idea that he will die, and his life has no meaning or purpose, is a man who is free from the petty concerns of this life. He is free to just be. And he is happy.