As I get older I realise that I am almost there and approaching the grand farewell. They say that when you are young that you should use the “rocking chair” test when you make each major… More
The dimensions of human existence are a kind of way of structuring thinking that varies across cultures and time periods. They provide different perspectives on any problem situation by looking through the lenses of the physical, social, personal and spiritual realms.
These different realms have been discussed back to antiquity and provide a practical checklist for our thought processes. These realms have helped our ancestors construct stories, myths, legends and folktales that have trickled down through the ages.
Now these dimensions of existence have taken root in existential psychotherapy too as follows (quoting almost from Wikipedia)
- In the social dimension, individuals relate to others as they interact with the public world around them.
- In the physical dimension, individuals relate to their environment and to the givens of the natural world around them.
- In the personal dimension, individuals relate to themselves and in this way create a psychological world.
- In the spiritual dimension, individuals relate to the “unknown” and thus create a sense of an ideal world, an ideology, and a philosophical outlook.
These 4 dimensions of existence are also inter-related as therapist van Deurzen says,
“The four dimensions are obviously interwoven and provide a complex four-dimensional force field for our existence. “
But I feel that Literature has forever used similar models and those inter-weavings are worthy of a much more detailed exploration and explanation, and therapists could learn much from this rich history.
I recognise now, later in life, that as I have lived my life, my focus of the different dimensions of existence and my realms of primary experience have changed a lot.
As a child, I had little understanding of the spiritual dimension but now I focus a great deal in that sphere.
Likewise in there have been times when I have followed society’s edicts and done my duty but at other times I have rebelled and followed my own path.
So the dimensions of existence that are of most concern, depend to a large degree on the stage of life one is at.
Who Am I?
It’s useful to take a piece of paper and do an exercise answering the question “Who am I?”
I did this exercise for myself a few months back and I don’t think it’s a surprise that all my fears these days lie in the physical dimension and, in contrast, I have less concern with the social dimension.
However, I was shocked that my “Who am I?” results had nothing spiritual at all, yet I would say that it is a big focus of my intellectual interest. But strangely, nothing spiritual seems to have had a deep or major impact on me.
I guess I am rather secular in my views and treat all religions as fascinating stories with deep insights, but I don’t identify much with any specific viewpoint to the extent of a belief.
Every adventure comes with risks and what I offer is dangerous knowledge. For by the time you start on this personal quest you will already have a life of obligations and commitments such as a job, relationships, friends, habits, obsessions, etc.
On your personal quest, you will gain knowledge. It reminds me of the story of Pandora’s Box where, despite her desire to do good, her curiosity got the better of her and she unleashed forces that she neither fully understood about nor anticipated.
But the dangerous knowledge I will help you to discover is more subtle yet it may possibly turn your life upside down, as it did mine, and the consequences can be very difficult to live with.
So I repeat that this quest I am promoting is not for everyone.
A Practical Approach
When we are young, society imprints upon us all kinds of behaviours. But when we are older we have the opportunity to temporarily set aside those things and rebuild ourselves from the inside out before returning to society’s ways as a more mature, more responsible and more fulfilled individual.
However, with your new “dangerous knowledge” you will find that “returning to society’s ways” is a whole other chapter in your journey and not merely a simple step.
In my life, the real start of my personal quest was during my 40’s. I think the ideal time is perhaps a little earlier but it depends on your circumstances.
As I have already said on my About Page, it all began for me as a crisis that led to a revelation. I was presented with a choice and had to make a set of difficult decisions.
In summary, these decisions relate this to certain “existential givens” that included belonging and autonomy, freedom and responsibility, meaning and meaninglessness, embodiment, unknowing, and death and limitations.
The result has been a rejuvenated and authentic life. And the “existential givens” have become simply a list of some of the concerns I have come across on my journey so far.
The only way I can describe my response with any real meaning is to say that every day I chose to see a luminescent beauty that set me up for each day. I never worried about mistakes of the past nor worried too much about the future.
When I look back over my life I find that there were things I did right and things I did wrong, but at the time I always did my best, and it is only with hindsight that I can make any truly meaningful judgments.
So I have no regrets at all.
“There is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in”
– Leonard Cohen
Imperfections I recognise
The Existential Approach, that I remember from Sartre so many years ago, is that “Existence Precedes Essence”.
I take this to mean that we are born into this world without meaning or purpose. And we develop our own views from then on. It’s also my observation that existential thoughts often tend to be “dark” and about suffering, meaninglessness, etc
Positive Psychology, on the other hand, attempts to balance the situation through identifying the strengths of the individual and to leverage those strengths to enable that person to thrive and blossom. It’s noticeable that this is about “light” and good thoughts.
Imperfection is a Healer
The lines quoted above from a Leonard Cohen song say, “There is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in”. I guess this means that nothing is perfect ever, for everything has some kind of flaw or crack in it.
And it is that very imperfection that allows the light that Leonard Cohen sees as the enabler for nature to break in and start the next chapter of one’s life journey.
So the quote is about a balance of dark and light, or metaphorically, bad and good times, etc. Mixing existential philosophy and positive psychology is also a balance too.
On a slightly different but related tack, I say that the beauty I see in every individual is precisely because of their imperfections. Just as any picture we see is only possible because light has shadow mixed in with it.
It’s all about balance, and nobody is perfect unless maybe they are an angel or possibly a saint.
“The only whole heart is a broken one.”
– Menachem Mendel, religious scholar
Everyone has a personal philosophy. It’s just your understanding of the world you live in. It’s the model you use to determine what to do next. It’s your perspective on a situation. And so on.
And again as Jim Rohn said, which personal philosophy you choose to use can make all the difference, ie he said,
“Your personal philosophy is the greatest determining factor in how your life works out.”
So how do you choose which personal philosophy to believe?
Well, my first point would be that the moment you believe a personal philosophy you are simply stuck. You will find it very difficult to move forward in unknown territory once you adopt a belief precisely because you believe it. You become dogmatic and you start to be intolerant of other people’s beliefs because you now believe yours is true.
My second point is that you may be choosing between two philosophies that practically guide you the same way in life, but they are described in very different ways.
For example, a physicist might tell you that Einstein’s theory of gravity is better than Newton’s theory of gravity. But for most practical purposes, both theories lead to the same result (except for very tiny differences that are almost unnoticeable in our community unless you closely study the orbit of the planet Mercury, say)
However, these theories are totally different in the way they describe what gravity is and how it comes about and what it’s consequences may be. And thinking in terms of Einstein’s theory will lead to totally different ways of expanding or extending further research into gravity.
So which theory or philosophy is best? Which one should I use?
The answer to this conundrum is that we need to hold both theories in our heads at the same time. Because when we meet a problem with one theory we can view that same problem through the other theory and perhaps one of these theories will give us enormous insights into how to solve that problem.
- The same is true (even more so, I feel) with personal philosophies, as follows:
- Never believe or buy-in to any personal philosophy
- Try to have in your head many different personal philosophies at the same time.
- Different personal philosophies will always yield very different insights
- Choose the personal philosophy that is most appropriate at the time you are dealing with a particular problem and do be open to other ways of thinking about the problem and use different perspectives to come to conclusions regarding the likely outcomes of your problem.
- No personal philosophy is either right or wrong, but one is simply more appropriate than another in that situation you are in.
So read widely on different personal philosophies and discuss how to use them with your professional coach to enable you to see the best way forward and take actions that are appropriate right then.
Gratitude and Wellbeing
It’s said that gratitude is a key attitude to wellbeing in life.
But the concept of gratitude has bothered me for many years. I could see the purpose of it but often felt it was inappropriate in some way and I know I am not the only person to feel it is demeaning to be too grateful.
For example, Joseph Stalin (probably not totally normal in his views!) said, “Gratitude is a sickness suffered by dogs.”
How Does it Arise?
I guess I must have learned my view on gratitude from my upbringing because I don’t remember formulating it for myself at any time.
And that’s another thing I might mention in that for most of my life I felt I was a victim of my emotions rather than the controller of them. But that’s another story and it came as a fantastic revelation when it happened, and it turned my life on its head.
A Child’s Perspective
But I do look at my son and wonder what on earth he has to be grateful for. He was brought here without his consent into a life that is “nasty, brutish and short” and frankly a cruel place according to the News I see on TV.
He could be grateful that he doesn’t have to kill his food before he eats it, or that he has medication for his illnesses, or that he lives in a currently secure environment with a roof over his head, etc.
But to feel grateful is a decision that he may decide to have or not. It is not something I expect from him even if it is touted as a healing attitude and makes one feel better.
Back to Gratitude
Anyway, getting back to my own predicament, gratitude is indeed fully appropriate in every way. And I feel it many times each day for very real reasons.
I am grateful for the life I have been privileged to have had. It has been a mixed experience but a worthwhile one all the same.
I think gratitude is something only to be experienced by someone later in life as they look back to a life well lived or at least a life without torment. I am guessing that there is always something good that happens in everyone’s life.
Calling All Seekers…
We are all Seekers, and life is nothing if it is not an adventure.
But there are no satisfactory formulas on how to live your life to the full.
Mastering your Inner Life is the doorway to your total fulfilment, joy and purpose. So venture with me into that unknown territory in search of the treasures you seek.
That’s what I call The Personal Quest…
“It is by going down into the abyss that we recover the treasures of life.”
– Joseph Campbell
My Invitation to You to Collaborate on Research
I have been spent over 10 years researching into solutions to “the human condition” and now I am set to explore with a selected few to demonstrate how my personally proven methods can work for you too.
So please come with me on a “journey of the soul”, through my coaching model, to engage in further research and to find those treasures of life hidden inside yourself.
There are many ways of exploring our inner worlds but one question always arises and that is to relate to or to identify with aspects of our findings.
Let me elaborate a little.
Our inner explorations may involve such things as the following:
- Meditations (mindfulness, concentration, transcendental, etc)
- Contemplations (religious or secular)
- Psychoanalysis (Freudian, Jungian, existential, etc)
- Psychological (psychological tests, etc)
- Chemical (drugs such as LSD, mescaline, etc)
- Physical (physical highs, sex, etc)
- And so on
All of the above methods have some value and enable us to gain insights into facets of our personalities or inner selves.
However, the way we respond to the experiences and information gained is critical for our well-being.
For example, we may be influenced by a religious cult or be indoctrinated by a group of regular believers or simply take a trip to a religious shrine such as abound in Jerusalem (see the Jerusalem Syndrome)
This is an example of someone who identifies with a result from their inner (and outer) exploration. I would say this is a rather extremist viewpoint.
However, for those of us who want to retain some control over our lives, we would do better to relate to those aspects of our inner experiences rather than identify with them too closely.