Sunday, October 18, 2009

Existential Amnesia...

I've blogged many times here about my sense of existential angst, that squidgy feeling in my gut that reminds me that I don't know why I'm here. That feeling stems from what I feel is a sort of existential amnesia.

I wake up every day feeling like my brain has been wiped clean in a really fundamental way. I remember how to do all the basic life-maintaining stuff, but I don't know why I'm doing it. Even if I've gone to bed feeling relatively okay with my place in the world, I awaken with this sense that I'm starting from scratch, that today is new, but not in the "Wahoo! It's another day!" kinda new. No, it's more like, "Who am I? And what do I do now?" kinda new.

It's like going to sleep erases any sense of self I had. It's as though I forget why it is that I get up every day and live my life. Perhaps this is not that uncommon. I don't know unless you tell me that you've felt the same way. Perhaps you notice it and can quickly put it to the side, grab your coffee and move into your daily routine. I wish I could do that. I really do. But I can't. And I don't know why. Sure, the docs have their explanations--brain chemistry issues, sleep disorders, a lifetime of stress and various traumas...blah, blah, blah. But it's more than that. It's like some brains are wired for living life and mine is wired for endless contemplation and wondering.

I've spoken before about my mind's tendency to obsessively (yet, not compulsively) count, perform math operations and do shorthand. This has been a default setting in my brain for at least the past 15 years. I think it was my way of giving my brain something to do so it would stop badgering me with existential meanderings, like giving a dog a bone so it doesn't chew up your couch. But it doesn't work. It helps, but it doesn't solve anything. There doesn't seem to be any easy solution to these existential perturbations. I've done the meditation thang, the meds thang, the psychotherapy thang and still, this daily sense of futility and deep feeling of nothingness remains.

I think too much. It's tiring. Bleh.

tall penguin


mememe said...

I am very confused in the mornings....i cant think of anything!
Only coz i m too busy trying to brush my teeth while i am more than half asleep...

Eric said...

You're definitely not alone in these feelings. Last year, after being launched into a reasonably serious existential crisis, I read a bunch of Sartre and one thing that stuck with me was that he felt he had been "cursed" with a larger consciousness than normal people. He was more sensitive, more neurotic, transfixed with the big questions. He couldn't just be a drone. I totally get that.

I've learned to accept it as best I can because I realize that the things I value most about myself (my creativity, my compassion, my sense of justice) also stem from that extra consciousness, though it's not always fun.

Also, wine helps. :)

On a not very related note, I think you should go see Where the Wild Things Are. It's sort of an antidote to Synecdoche, NY (a movie that I love but that basically encapsulates my existential terror). I went with my girlfriend and two of our friends and we were all wiping tears out of our eyes at different parts. It's beautiful.

Go to a late showing though or the kids will drive you nuts.

(also, if you're interested in some more ex-witness artist philosopher friends, add me on Facebook: Eric Elvendahl)

tall penguin said...

:) mememe. I hope I can make it to your part of the world one day and we can laugh together about life. That would be fun.

(((Eric))) Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Your words brought a few tears to my eyes. Well, more like a torrent. As you well know, having spent enough time being judged as a JW, it's hard to quell that voice in my head that beats me down for my differences. When I share stuff like this on the blog, I'm always waiting for someone to blast me for who I am, telling me to just conform already and get on with things. Thank you for seeing me. It means a lot.

I will definitely check out Where the Wild Things Are. I suspect it's one of those films that I will have to go see on my own, the emotional impact will be so deep.

And yes, Synecdoche, NY was quite the ride. It was like having a mirror held up to my own psyche which was delightful and terrifying all at the same time. Perhaps I'll have to check out some Sartre as well. There's nothing quite like finding yourself in the art of another. We're a rare breed on this planet, but for better or worse, it's who we are. And it's comforting to know I'm not alone. Goddess knows we've spent enough time in our lives feeling alone.

Wine? Check. I've grown fond of Black Tower of late. I also have a penchant for clove cigarettes. Since I can no longer smoke pot (stupid meds) it's my guilty pleasure, although I limit myself to one every few days.

And you've been added on FB. One can never have too many "ex-witness artist philosopher friends". :)

Big hugs to you Eric. Thank you for being you.

CyberLizard said...

I actually take comfort in the thought that there is no "why". Human consciousness is the result of billions of years of evolutionary processes; an incredibly intricate dance of life and death and selection carried out over the millennea, culminating (for us) in just the right biochemical structures that allow us to be aware that we exist. What we do with that awareness is soley up to each and every one of us. We have the unique ability to create, to consciously love, to experience our existence. And each of us has an exquisitely *unique* experience; I can't experience what's in your head. Even our "soulmates" are cut off from that deepest knowledge of who we are and what we "see".

And I think all of that makes for an incredible opportunity to forge our own path in life; to love, and be loved, and experience all the richness of this planet that our evolved consciousness allows us to.


Ged said...

The shortening days give me a sinking feeling. It gets down to under 8 hours of daylight here. I have to remind myself that it's a passing phase and, come March, it will start to be light again.

I guess I could always emigrate...

tall penguin said...

CyberLizard, you said:

"And each of us has an exquisitely *unique* experience; I can't experience what's in your head. Even our "soulmates" are cut off from that deepest knowledge of who we are and what we "see"."

Yes, this uniqueness is what makes me feel so separate sometimes. I find communication so very frustrating because it never quite conveys what I want it to. Verbal communication being the most challenging for me. Written somewhat less so. But there's always this realization that no other person will ever know what it's like to experience the world as I do, no matter how much communicating I do and in what form. It's terribly isolating.

And yet, I very much see the beauty of "evolved consciousness" that you speak of. I really do. One thing this acute level of awareness has given me is the ability, when I'm in my right mind, to sink deeply and quite viscerally into a moment. I swear sometimes it's like I'm making love to everything around me. So, yes, this crazy does have its good points. It's keeping it all together that proves challenging.

tall penguin said...

Ged, I feel your lack of light pain. It's been cold, wet and overcast here and all I can do is pray for Spring. Emigrate? Sounds like a plan. I'm thinkin' Costa Rica. :)

wraithinwings said...

Therapy only works when you don't have to use it.Its all bullshit, nothing gives you the existential memory back in place, ya take what you can get. I'm luckily able to force my way past the contemplation barrier and live my life. And then I have those miserable days where all you can do is lay around and think. Much love, sweet pea. You should try the caffeine solution! ;)))

tall penguin said...

Caffeine, eh? Meh. I'm thinking I should just start a harem. That will keep me occupied. ;)

Joe McCarthy said...

I can relate to much of what you, and the others who have posted comments, are describing ... although I don't want to presume that I really know what you - or the others - are feeling.

As with Eric, I'm a big fan of Sartre; my favorite Sartre quote is "Freedom is what you do with what's been done to you".

Another quote comes to mind in reading what's been written here:

when you try to identify the use of your entire life, you are asking to be used

It's from the book "Living Without a Goal" by James Ogilvy. I found the book rather jarring, but ultimately it was useful in helping me recognize - and challenge - some assumptions about my life ... and my life's purpose [FWIW, I've written more on my blog about my reactions to living without a goal: mattering without being useful ... which includes another Sartre quote: ""Man is a useless passion"]

I'm also reminded of another quote, by Oriah Mountain Dreamer, in her Prelude to The Dance:

What if the task is simply to unfold, to become who you already are in your essential nature - gentle, compassionate and capable of living fully and passionately present?

A gentler approach to Goallessness, perhaps.

I don't know if any of this is of any interest / use to you ... I increasingly find that anything I write or say is something that I need to read or hear ... and am delighted (and sometimes surprised) when it turns out that it really is something that is useful for someone else to read or hear.

Thanks for sharing your challenges, and your thoughts and feelings as you rise [each day] to meet them!