There is an emptiness to life. We don’t know why we’re here. We also don’t know how to deal with this. In this essay, I will try to give a logical analysis of the process behind dealing with existential problems.
Given the unavoidably subjective nature of human existence, each person’s process in dealing with the problems of life will of course vary significantly. It could not be said by the writer exactly in which ways such variance occurs, only that it must do. It could not be possible, for instance, to say that some people do step 15 but type X of person never does. To avoid confusion with such manners of speaking, the sections given in this essay have not been numbered — the analysis here does not wish to represent a checklist per se, but only wishes to resemble one loosely. As can be seen, the heading for each section has been given a subheading of sorts; this was done to provide an easy way to access the content of this essay without the need to delve into specifics broached here. It is hoped that the format given here provides as much of a useful insight into dealing with nihilistic issues as possible to as many people as possible.
A correspondence with this analysis and the ways in which we go about trying to solve our more specific personal mental health issues might be found by some readers. Such issues might include depression and anxiety. To be clear: I do not wish to claim to have any expertise on matters that medical doctors actually do. The link between this analysis and the processes by which we go about trying to better our mental health is made here just so those experiencing issues might find any sort of help or inspiration they can from it. Such issues are raised specifically primarily because these are those I have the most intimate experience with, but also because these are fundamental symptoms of the human condition and ones that we should always be trying to understand further.
To avoid specificity, and as visible from the title of this essay, the phrase ‘the Something’ has been used. The phrase should be taken to mean by a reader whatever individual personal problem it seems is represented by the process given here. In other words, ‘the Something’ is whatever a reader wants it to mean; whatever resonates. With this in mind, I wish to stress that this essay was written entirely with good intentions. No attempt at preaching, patronising or criticising is made here. This essay represents the sincere attempt to synthesise what it might mean to come to thrive alongside dealing with one’s problems, and nothing more.
Each section represents each palpably different stage within the process of acknowledging, remedying, struggling, learning, coming to terms with and living with the Something. For some, there might be no overt feeling of experiencing a particular section — either because it does not occur, they do not notice it or that it co-occurs with another. For some, the overt feeling of one particular section might last seconds to months or even years. For what reason this is, it cannot be said here — perhaps due to a lack of an understanding of the process itself, if nothing else. Indeed, perhaps the very process is not even understandable — given its necessary length and complexity, it remains even to me an opaque beast.
Nevertheless, I would like you to connect with what I say. Feel and engage with the process. I think that’s important — try to let yourself let me in. We all have Somethings, we all know what it’s like to suffer. There’s nobody who’s never suffered. And that’s where the process starts: suffering.
Suffer — something affects you
This is the very start of the process — actually having a problem in the first place. Everybody will experience this stage.
Acknowledge — there is a Something
It can be quite difficult for some even to get to this point. Not acknowledging the problem at hand is the most basic, short-term coping mechanism. It’s even quite easy to be in the midst of existential chaos and still not want or be able to acknowledge the Something — people’s desire for a comfortable life overrides a desire for positive change. A noticeable link here is with prejudicial beliefs: bigotry tends to arise from not acknowledging prejudice.
Address — there is the Something
Notice here the difference in the use of the definite and indefinite articles ‘a’ and ‘the’ — addressing the problem means squaring up to your problem; the problem. Addressing the Something will most likely signal the start of the most tumultuous time in an individual’s life.
This might be quite difficult to accomplish and may require some introspection. Not that any section given here would be “easy”, however.
Uproot — this is the Something
Just as the thorough gardener scours her flowerbeds for weeds, yanks by the stem and sees the roots that lay underneath her previously undisturbed soil, so too does the Something deserve this treatment. Your life-soil will be disturbed, but you will finally begin to see your Something for what it really is once you pull it out and witness it in all its wormy, muddy misery. You’ll be able to see what exactly the Something is, and, as a consequence, where it resides in your life — where it came from, what it affects, how it affects you.
Analyse — the Something holds you back
From this uprooting, one conclusion should be clearest among all others to which you might come: “this Something is bad for me”. It seems quite obvious and rudimental to say this, but it is vital not to miss it. Without such recognition, the most crucial analysis of the Something is not possible: “my life would be better without the Something”. Once you start to see how detrimental the Something is, and once you start to picture greener grass, progress can follow.
Dissect — these are the parts of the Something
Existence ascribed, the Something now lies before you on the operating table — do you have the guts to cut? I say yes. You must. Take the scalpel and bring out the innards of your Something to the fore: one must come to know exactly one’s problem to know what resolution fits.
It should be said: dissecting requires more emotional and moral fibre than uprooting. It may well be an ordeal, and it may be terrifying to confront the truth of your Something (especially when a dissection may reveal more unfortunate truths about the self than what was most apparently clear in the uprooting). To this, I say: treat yourself in this as a project ongoing, not a project completed. Confrontation of such truths should then be desired, for the project’s success depends upon it.
Discuss — release everything about the Something
For some strange reason I am yet to come to understand, entering into honest discourse about your Something with somebody who genuinely cares for your wellbeing helps. There is something about the symbolic release of information, which must be true for discussing to really help, that alleviates the pressure and load of dealing with the Something. It is almost as if we are all Atlas, our Somethings the skies, and once we tell others of our skies they somehow become lighter.
As a side note, the reason I do not quite understand this phenomenon is because there does not seem to be anything to me inherent within the act of communication that would explain the alleviation of the manageability of our Somethings. The only explanation I can give is that the act of communication represents to the individual an act of sharing the load — it feels easier for you to deal with your something when somebody else knows and cares. It seems unequivocal and universally accepted that it does help. Food for thought, at least.
Understand — this is how the Something is and why
Build a portfolio of knowledge about the Something. Draw upon what you have done up to this point, then write it down so it becomes palpable and easy to refer to.
Accept — having the Something is OK
For many who have Somethings, it can be an extremely estranging experience. You can feel a plethora of things — worthlessness (as if your Something lowers your personal worth in some way), isolation (as if your experience of the Something means you are irreversibly different from others in a bad way), frustration (as if the Something is a foe), desperation (as if the Something poses an existential threat to you), or even just misery (as if there is nothing worse and no hope for remedying the Something).
Whatever you may feel about the Something, or about yourself, it’s OK. Regardless of whether your feelings are ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ (if feelings even can be), it is OK to feel worthless or isolated or desperate. You are not ‘made wrong’ for having your Something, because having Somethings is an unavoidable part of the human condition. Having Somethings, among other things, is a part of what defines human existence. Having your Something is not only OK, it is normal and natural. I think the prospect of a human being without Somethings is actually a bit eerie — perhaps that’s why we sometimes hesitate to say sophisticated computers can be ‘alive’.
In this process, it is quite easy to get to the Accept stage and then go no further. For some, doing any more than accepting the Something would be too burdensome for whatever reason. Individuals’ circumstances are what they may be, but for the purposes of this essay, I believe that it is very good to see this process through. The benefits one gains from having faced their Something head on, and won (as is discussed further below), are unparalleled in providing a strong sense of self and an even stronger sense of structure in one’s life.
Wonder — the Something might improve
After coming to terms with the Something, it is quite natural to wonder on what life would be like without having to suffer so intensely with it. This might come in different forms for different people — from wishing away a Something to wishing one were better equipped to cope with one. To this, I would say: wishing away one’s Something is unproductive (and possibly unhealthy) as it will never truly go; desiring to be better equipped to deal with one’s Something is a better starting point. Indeed, it is from this latter starting point that I encourage a reader to begin.
Look — other people also have the Something
A good way to come to terms with the Something further is to see that others have what appears to be a similar Something. You are not alone in your struggle. However individual you feel your circumstances may be, there will be enough shared characteristics with them and others such that help will be readily available.
Associate — others with the Something also seem OK
Ignoring that people’s exteriors tend to portray a person to be happier than they are, it is nevertheless useful to see that others who have similar Somethings to you seem to be doing well. It is a fantastic hope-giving exercise to realise that your Something should not be terminal, as it has not been for many other people.
Realise — having the Something can improve
Eventually, we all come to the same realisation about our Somethings: it might be possible for having them to get easier. Although, in content, the Something may never change, our ability to cope and manage it could, and, perhaps, will.
In this realisation, it should also be apparent that, in order for any improvement to occur, change must also.
Consider — think that having the Something can improve
To want to make any sort of change, one has to have the simple thought that being able to deal with the Something might get better.
Want — a want for having the Something to improve
It would be impossible to make any change at all without at least the basic want for change to occur. In order to set out on a path aiming at dealing with the Something, there must be a want for the process to begin.
Of note too is that many want their Somethings to go away. Those who make actual progress must want to manage better their Somethings instead — they have already accepted the Something, so they know it could not disappear.
Motive — have a reason to improve having the Something
It’s very difficult to instigate personal change without having some external motive — for many, ‘self-improvement’ isn’t enough of a motivation to progress. For some, it comes down to existential dread — staying alive or maintaining a certain lifestyle may be motivations in this case. For others, motivation might come from wanting to be better for family, friends, and other loved ones. For others still, pursuing a certain career path or even a wish to see the rest of the world could constitute motivation.
As much as I would like to say that you should want to improve your ability to deal with your Something for your own sake, which is probably true, having motivation itself is more important than its source. In this way, I argue any source (or even a combination of sources) that provides enough motivation should be acceptable.
Search — what could help the Something improve
Now that the groundwork for progress has been lain, it is common to go and look for help on how to achieve it. At this stage, one only searches in one’s immediate vicinity — perhaps one does not think any wider searching necessary, or perhaps one hasn’t considered it at all. Either way, one’s friends and family are consulted, perhaps bombarded, for help. For some, this immediate vicinity might also include the counsel of a therapist, although that is slightly broader.
One should be wary at this point — to ask the wrong person for help is not to act in one’s best interests. Those whose help should be sought are those who will try to listen, to understand, and to provide unbiased advice with unconditional support.
This ‘Search’ section also contrasts the later ‘Study’ section — the one below concerns a much broader approach to finding help.
Experiment — try to remedy the Something
Just as the scientist takes a hypothesis, changes an independent variable to see what happens to a dependent variable, and notes the results, so do we in this process. We take the suggestions for beneficial practices given to us in the previous section, we implement them, and then we see what happens. Are the suggestions good? Do they help us deal with the Something? Or are they bad, do they feel tiresome or boring or just unhelpful?
Unlike the scientist, however, in this ‘Experiment’ stage we do not wear a white laboratory coat. We don’t fire our Bunsen burners and put on our plastic goggles. Unlike the strategic, safe and planned approach of science, our experimentation is much different. Ours is a wholesome approach; one that’s subtle, and naïve, and pure, and tentative, and hopeful. Our persons are invested in the outcome of the experiment, and we depend upon positive results. In science, no result means no findings but (maybe still) a publication nevertheless. In life, no results can stagnate and infuriate.
Promote — do more of what remedies the Something
From this quasi-scientific approach, we can draw conclusions. Once we observe that, say, going outside for a walk once in a while makes us feel better, we realise that doing so is beneficial overall. We might conclude that we should go outside walking more. We might even actually go outside walking more. To recognise this, however, we must really want the Something to improve (as in the ‘Want’ section above).
Discard — do less of what worsens the Something
Similarly, we might notice that excess substance abuse tends to make us feel worse, despite how it might initially seem like a good idea. Sure, we can numb the pain for a night, but we feel bad in the morning and the pain persists — so maybe we shouldn’t. If we stay away, we might end up feeling better about ourselves.
Stagnate — having the Something does not improve
This is a particularly difficult stage to deal with emotionally. Having started on what feels like the path to recovery, it might be found that something is just not quite right. For some, the help they get from those around them just will not be enough for real progress, and so, in spite of the promoted coping mechanisms they may have developed, their Something won’t actually get easier to handle.
Sure, going for a walk through the park may make you feel better, but feeling better temporarily will not get to the root of the issues at hand; consistently not actually addressing these will cause a desensitisation toward your developed coping mechanisms — just as the addict increases dosage to feel a comparable high, so too will your coping mechanisms eventually affect you less and less until you make further progress in this process.
Endure — having the Something not improving feels excruciating
The pain from this stagnation and the endurance required to progress through it are immense. It is at this stage, where all the wisdom one has collected and attempted to enact has failed, that hopelessness might really set in. Of course, this is totally understandable — if I have forever lived my life in a black room with no ability to see, I would be excused for feeling hopeless when I have not found the crowbar taped to the ceiling to jimmy the door I cannot open.
So, we must endure this pain. We may feel lost, alone, miserable and afraid. We may still cling to life, but we might feel the life we lead is not worth living — there doesn’t seem to be any way of making our pain go away. There is.
Empathise — know with others what having the Something feels like
It is often held by some that there is something about having endured hardship that makes you a better, stronger person. As an offhand reference for added context, this was an underlying premise in Andrea Leadsom’s suggestion that being a mother made her a better candidate for Prime Minister than Theresa May in 2016. In any case, here we arrive at a somewhat beneficial stage of the process, if being unintentionally so. For, in the increase in the ability to empathise with others, one begins to know better the nature of the human condition — that, at least in part, we suffer. We get wiser in suffering, and in doing so learn more about ourselves.
Routine — make doing more of what remedies the Something regular; make doing less of what worsens the Something consistent
In spite of the apparent stagnation, and the enduring of it, it is important to carry on with pursuing the beneficial and discarding the detrimental practices as worked out in experimentation. One might choose to carry on in this way out of nothing more than hopelessness: what other option do I have? Another might in the hopes that repetition may allow some further benefit to come forward: if I keep doing this, maybe things will just get better? Well, I think they’re probably right.
An established method for helping to deal with our Somethings is the creation of and adherence to a routine. Having a routine (especially one filled with doing beneficial activities) seems to help us cope very well, which makes sense — regularly completing tasks that we have proved to ourselves make us feel better will obviously compound and produce even better results. And that’s quite magical.
Sure, we might have slightly wacky ideas about what makes a routine good — from what exactly we do to when and how — but still, it’s undeniable that doing more of benefit will produce more benefit for us.
However, we should be wary in our constructions of routines: overcomplicated routines will be hard to follow, overdemanding routines will cause more stress than benefit, and poorly-filled routines won’t have the desired effect at all. Although a routine in and of itself is often good, the way we fill or follow one may not be.
Breathe — enjoy the feeling of having the Something improving
At this stage, the silver lining of life becomes visible. The light at the end of the tunnel approaches and our shoulders finally feel the skies ease. And so, I say, one should breathe. The road has been difficult up until here, at points probably overwhelmingly intense, so why not just take a minute to enjoy feeling somewhat stable?
Relapse — become complacent, do some of what worsens having the Something
Unfortunately, taking this time will most likely lead to some complacency. ‘I’m finally starting to win!’, one might say; ‘I know what I’m doing now.’, one might believe. It is in human nature to make mistakes, and so one might start to think one is ‘over the hump’ — as Mark Corrigan put it about the wedding ceremony with Sophie Chapman to his now-bride in Season 4, Episode 6 of Peep Show (if you’ll pardon another slightly offhand reference!.
Although David Mitchell’s character in the show is no role model for how one should live one’s life, he is a good representation of the mistakes one can make when faced with difficult circumstances. He is also a good representation of what consistently making bad choices looks like, and how complacency or rashness will tend to worsen, not better, one’s circumstances.
And so, having established a routine and enjoyed a sense of relief at coping with the Something becoming easier, one might give in to being tempted to perform detrimental actions. Perhaps one has not yet fully dismissed the action itself as bad — ‘after all, I did used to have a great time taking drugs.’, or perhaps one has a change of attitude, a moment of greed or a desire to rebel. In whatever case, as a result, one might find that dealing with the Something becomes harder.
Learn — how naturally (beneficially or detrimentally) you interact with the Something
Unlike Mark Corrigan (hopefully!), people in the real world tend to go about learning from their mistakes. A person switched on to their Something will come to understand after a time, and as a result of experimentation and relapse from routine, how one behaves as a consequence of having it. That is, that one may begin to observe that the Something tends to cause some behaviour in particular to arise, and that one’s volitional behaviour might tend to have an effect on how easy it is to cope with the Something.
Accommodate — you and the Something have a relationship
In this process of learning, a metaphorical relationship can be seen between an individual who has a Something and the Something itself — a causal relationship. One causes an effect on the other.
This is an important stage to reach, as, without it, it is difficult to recognise the Something truly as a phenomenon in and of itself. In the discovery of a relationship, one credits one’s something with not just existence (thus going further than the ‘Acknowledge’ section above) but capacity to affect change. In this, it becomes a more formidable entity.
Repeat — the cycle of breathing and relapsing in having the Something continues
The routine gets comfortable, life (as well as the Something) becomes more manageable, and relapsing doesn’t seem particularly extreme anymore — in spite of its detrimental effects.
For many, this will be a position at which this process ends. With coping mechanisms in place, it might just be less of an upheaval to go any further. Some people might be satisfied with their ability to deal with their Something. Others might not actually want to take any further action — when considering a Something as a part of who we are, it might feel for some unhealthy or unhelpful to attack it. Others still might not foresee any problems in stopping at this stage of the process; for some, none will arise.
Stumble — the Something will very significantly impede you somehow
This is it. Possibly the most challenging moment in your life. You relapsed, or the Something affected you however else, and you hit rock bottom. Perhaps you put your life at risk. Perhaps you overdosed. Perhaps you seemingly irreparably damaged a relationship with a family member, or a lover. Perhaps you lost out on your last chance at your dream job. Perhaps you toyed with the idea of suicide one night while driving — ‘if I just pushed the accelerator and hit that wall, it’d all be over…’ — perhaps you tried, but it wasn’t fatal. Perhaps you just stopped caring and allowed your Something to take you over.
Whatever happened, you’ll remember this moment forever. It will an immensely psychologically challenging period — perhaps the most challenging you’ll face. It’s often said that “actions speak louder than words”. As much as I think what should speak loudest is what one believes, it is certainly true here that how you proceed will speak volumes on your character. You’ll remember this moment as shaping who you were; it defined you. In a way, I think this is quite a hopeful idea — the fact that you can say that one day you will look back on this moment and remember how bad things were means that, eventually, things will get better.
Brink — the Something will either instigate a reaction or fatally affect you
Your life hangs in the balance. Everything you know and love hangs in the balance. Who you are, how much strength you can muster and how much you care will decide what happens next.
Either the Something wins, or you do. I shall not devote any time to talking about the former of these scenarios; it is too ghastly to consider. Let us instead focus on what I believe we are all capable of here: winning.
Snarl — passionately react to the Something
When we are in this, possibly our lowest, moment, there is something more that we have to summon within ourselves to progress. It’s raw; it’s guttural; it’s instinctive. It comes from a place within us that we didn’t know existed. It’s the fight of fight or flight.
Desire — find the instinctive want for the Something to improve
If this hasn’t already come in the process, it should here. Fundamentally, one must desire things to get better. This sounds simple, but for a lot of people with Somethings, hints of self-loathing encroach and prevent any real desire for self-betterment to manifest.
Require — find the instinctive need for the Something to improve
This will most likely come in the form of something much deeper and is a development of the previous ‘Desire’ section. It also contrasts the ‘Motive’ section above in a crucial way: it concerns a later section (whose nature is more developed than what occurs here), ‘Purpose’. To find this instinctive need for the Something to improve, one must find for oneself a purpose.
In this way, to ‘Require’ some improvement perhaps poses the biggest challenge to the individual going through this process. To find one’s purpose is the problem of life as we know it. To find one’s purpose has been the longest-occupying tenant in the apartment of the history of the human psyche. In some ways, how purpose is aimed at is reflected in Aristotle’s Poetics with the concept of mimesis (that there is an intrinsic desire in art to imitate human nature) — art embodies life as life embodies purpose.
The question of purpose has been especially relevant to modern thinkers since Nietzsche’s famous proclamation: “Gott ist tot” (God is dead). Interpreted, this statement suggests that one should point to the fall of the popular following of organised religion(s) (as a result of the Enlightenment, among other things) for the increase in existential despair seen over the last hundred years. Indeed, such an increase can be considered responsible for the rise of thinkers such as Sartre from the last century or Peterson more recently.
This notion of purpose is often synonymised by the idea of life having ‘meaning’. Of course, life is no linguistic feature, and thus cannot be said to have a meaning in the normal way we say words do — the meaning of life presents a very different concept to the meaning of the word ‘chair’. However, looking specifically at the linguistic concept of ‘meaning’, we might in fact approach a better understanding of it existentially. This is what I wish to propose, at least.
Schools of thought in linguistics differ with regards to how words get meaning. Wittgenstein (from the Philosophical Investigations, and Kripke’s famous interpretation of him) argues for the most popular view that, essentially, it is through social use that words get meaning — it is because we all agree that ‘chair’ means x (i.e. whatever ‘chair’ means to us) that it does mean x.
Regardless, what’s important for us is the idea that there are ways that give words meaning. Or, that words themselves should be considered meaningless without the process that gives them that meaning. In this exact same way can we treat “life” — for all intents and purposes, life is meaningless. Purpose gives meaning. Just as the word ‘chair’ means nothing without society telling us what it means (according to Wittgenstein), so too does the individual experience of life mean nothing without our individual search for and finding of a purpose. Purpose, in other words, is definitely discoverable; and the meaning of life must arise from our own ascription to our own lives of individual purposes.
Although I’ve been able to say something about how purpose gives life meaning, what form purpose should take is something different. This will be discussed further below.
In the interest of making this essay useful to the most amount of people, an important note should be made. There are some people for whom focused introspection that is required for the discovery of a purpose will not result in a net benefit. Either for the intense endeavour one has to go through to find it, that life already seems to have sufficient meaning or that the stress of having to focus on following the purpose wouldn’t be beneficial having found it, on occasion, finding a purpose is not in one’s immediate and/or long-term interest.
Believe — truly believe the Something will improve
This stage seems a little obvious, but it’s important if the barrier of belief is still there. You must have no doubt within yourself that would prohibit you from progressing. Of course, we are all filled with self-doubt and worry, but there must be a sense of unrelenting hope. It will waver, but it will not relent. You must recall this hope whenever you do waver — when moments of weakness or exhaustion in your journey arise, you must come back to this feeling and let it fuel you.
It will fuel you because hope is about the possibility for future good. The future can be good, and will be if you manifest this belief inside you.
Snap — passionately attack the Something
Go then, and fight. This is the Battle of Your Existence, taking place inside you. Do all that you can to overcome this evil that drags you down. Bring its end about. It will take more effort than you knew you could give; lochs of tears and straining sleepless nights will lie beneath yapping fire and ruthless fight.
Excavate — examine where the Something is in your life
Treat it as a cancer, if that is not too distressing. If it is, treat it as a mole that needs surgery. Either way, dig it out like you thought you had done before (in ‘Uproot’). Think not only about ‘where it came from, what it affects, how it affects you’, but why it is bad, why it might be good, what it will prevent you from again, whose lives around you it affects, in who else can it be seen around you, why it arises in people in general, how it makes you you, what you would be like without it, and why you want it gone.
Overzeal — become engrossed in bettering having the Something
At this stage of the process, one’s relationship and progression with their Something will totally dominate their life. It will be their life’s mission to win against their Something. This will probably be to the detriment of other parts of their life; familial, personal and/or romantic relationships will likely suffer. It is very hard to maintain an external relationship when there is a fractured internal relationship that requires attention. As our internal worlds are the ones with which we will always be most acquainted, it is those that will often be our sole focus.
If you are here, or will be soon, my advice is not to worry about the external detrimental effects. You must be your own priority; those who are not on board with this, and who make a fuss accordingly, do not act in your best interests. It should be said, of course, one shouldn’t act purposefully belligerently; one just must have one’s self-betterment in the crosshairs.
Cut — mercilessly remove all of what worsens the Something
It is here that a lot of good will be done for the self; by removing all of the bad. Maybe it’s bad friends, maybe it’s taking drugs, maybe it’s an unhealthy voice inside your head that tells you you’re worthless and weak whenever something doesn’t go your way, maybe it’s an ideology you cling to in order to give your life structure, maybe it’s a place or a job or a house or a way of treating others. It’s quite possibly all of these. It’s almost certainly others and more.
Act without mercy. Treat what is bad with what deserves malevolence and treat what is good with what deserves benevolence. That’s a good way to live, I think — as long as your moral compass points true. Avoid hate, however — what is bad often does not wish bad upon you (unless it does), so treat the bad impersonally. It is very difficult in practice to implement this, especially given the intimately personal nature of matters at hand and the likely-engrossed state of mind of the individual at this stage, but, nevertheless, remember that hate begets hate, which will create further bad.
Isolate — spend unprecedented periods within oneself to truly know the Something
Picture a hermit. With a long, scraggly, white beard and telling wrinkles, he subsists on the side of a Himalayan mountain with all but himself for entertainment. But his purpose in life, really, requires no source of entertainment at all. The people in the village he left call him crazy. Sitting round their comfortable fires, wrapped in sheepskin and eating stew, they swap stories about their experiences with this eccentric man. He used to be dirty blonde, and farm corn. He never married. Now, he spends all his time in a cave he has fashioned for himself, surviving off the milk and cheese from a goat whose company he permits.
He got sick of ‘normal’ life. Too menial, too repetitive, too narrow. And then his brother died; his only companion left him. So, he left. Now, he himself is his only companion. He has lived alone for 20 years up on this mountain. This hermit has come to know more than he has forgotten. He has sat on a now-smooth rock for days at a time, thinking. Many matters about his reality has he grappled with — from his fraternal grief to his existential boredom. He has approached and challenged deeper, more disturbing thoughts: metaphysical nihilism, natural cyclicality, moral truth and human desires. That sitting-stone won’t ever go cold, but his mind will move on, for he is able to find answers for himself. It is his isolation that affords the sufficient time to explore the problems of the human condition. It is this isolation that permits him to progress.
Although in the hustle and bustle of our day-to-day lives, we do not have time for hermit-like isolation, we can allow one thing to dominate our thoughts. We may have to spend a lot of time alone whenever we can. In this one instance, where we are at this very specific part of the process, isolation should be desired. Often, isolation can be negative or unhealthy; managed correctly, isolation will be beneficial. In this way, one must make sure to still take care of oneself, mentally and physically, during this period. It will be likely be intense, and performance requires self-maintenance. To avoid entering a depressive state, remember the routine you established before; eat well, go outside a lot, drink plenty, sleep well and lots.
We must permit the sort of dark introspection that our hermit entertains; we must follow rabbit holes that we know will lead to difficult truths; we must want to know about our evils and flaws. To finish the process, we must not be weak in our self-reflection; we must act with conviction in our self-exploration and welcome discovery. In this endeavour, however, we will likely need wider help.
Study — consult and believe the world’s thinkers for what remedies the Something
Don’t forget that a lot of people have experienced your symptoms before. You are not alone, not only amongst your peers, nor indeed geographically, but also historically. It is very likely that what ails you will have been experienced by a very smart person at some point, and that they will have written something about it. Go and find what they have said. But what’s more, find what they have said and be receptive to the possibility that they might have been right. Because they just might have been.
Practise — do as taught for remedying the Something
You have now gotten to a point where you have a deeper understanding of your Something. You have read Peterson, or Aurelius, or Buddha, or even the Bible; you have taken what they have said, applied it to your own life, and grown. Now, you might start practising ‘standing up straight with your shoulders back’, or ‘loving thy neighbour’. You reflect on your routine before, and you might think it equates to that famous ‘definition’ of insanity: doing the same thing over expecting different results.
Your life might, at this point, begin to improve fundamentally. Viewing the world in different ways, taking new concepts into consideration and viewing the world with them, what was once is now different, and better. Even the inner becomes different. The Something changes — not literally, only upon observation. You may view your Something in a different light — with a silver lining… maybe?
See — feel awakened to a new, better way of viewing the Something and the world
Now, things are better for you. Or, at least, less problematic. You have new knowledge and you apply it in the world, with beneficial effects. The concepts you have acquired might just apply to a narrow, subset of existence, or it might have an incredibly broad scope covering everything in one way or another. The world feels more palpable, more categorisable, more explorable. You feel more equipped to go out there and take things head-on, bravely, still with your Something in-tow.
It’s quite easy to be lured into the romanticism of an individual way of looking at the world. I often think to myself that it is around this stage that those who advocate for Marxism might be said to lie. For them, their Something might be along the lines of ‘trying to remedy human nature/society/etc.’. This might sound like an attempt to reduce Marxist theories to being representative of ‘a phase’ in some people’s lives — the analogy is only brought as a way some might understand ‘See’ as a section. From the effects of the implementation of Marxist theory through history (i.e. communism), I hope the reader will take my point that some critical thinking on the validity of some schools of thought is required.
Progress — believe that the Something is beaten or beatable
What you have learned seems to apply to everything around you. The answers have arisen, and they appear to be true and sound and worth believing. It’s like you found extra jigsaw pieces that somehow attach to the straight edges of the puzzle, and more makes sense than what you thought would before.
You now, perhaps for the first time, have genuine confidence in your ability to manage your Something. You begin to reach the less tumultuous time you were promised, and it feels so good. Or, at least, it feels like a significant absence of sadness. Your life regains some sense of ‘normality’, which is what you always wanted, in a way. Having the Something might even be pushed to the back of your mind, in favour of more immediate, external concerns.
Notice — this new view on the Something has flaws
But as managing your Something becomes less prioritised, and you begin to live with much greater comfort in your life, and as you begin unexpectedly to confront even newer, alternate views on the issue of having your Something, your views from what you previously studied shift. You realise that, perhaps, things weren’t as they seemed before. It’s almost as if, most of the time, things aren’t as simple as they seem.
Once this conflict of ideology occurs to you enough times (where enough might just equal once), you might start to see a recurring pattern on issues about what it means to be human. Every view has strengths, but no view is without weaknesses.
Sober — the philosophical magnitude of the Something is insurmountable
In these conflicts, one thing should stand out. Conceptually salient among the wisest, but never really appreciated or known by anyone, is this one fact. No matter how hard you bang your head against this figurative wall, no matter how much you think or how extensively you categorise the world, you’ll never find the right answer. I like what Wittgenstein has to say on this matter: basically, that it’s because of the capacity of language to frame scientific problems (that have hyper-precise answers) such as “the atomic weight of gold is 197” that we think our highly abstract problems will have as equally-easily discoverable answers.
I think, in a lot of ways, a rite of passage for ‘adulthood’ should be to have this realisation. That, in some way, what should be a part of what an ‘adult’ knows ought to be that, no matter how hard you push, things are just sometimes out of your control. That’s not to say that we shouldn’t try, of course — this ‘pushing’ is what permits progress, which is clearly a good thing.
At this stage, hopefully, this thought should be more sobering than distressing. In and of itself, accepting this impossibility is actually quite terrifying. It might bring about images of an infinite darkness. It does to me, at least. When one is ready (truly), this impossibility will bring about a certain spiritual peace. The realisation acts to relieve from the shoulders of those with Somethings the responsibility of having to come up with a solution.
Mature — the Something is unbeatable
I’ve often heard it said that ‘you’re a socialist until you pay tax’. Cynicism aside, this quote is useful in its picking out of a precise moment in which one is said to mature (where, here, ‘maturing’ means shifting politically rightwards). It represents a symbolic rebirth, perhaps. In this way should this stage of the process be conceptualised — it is the realisation that one’s Something is unbeatable that represents a symbolic rebirth.
This is key in a different way, too. Up to now, and later as well, this process is often conceptualised militarily; using ‘Battle’ and ‘win’ as metaphors. Does this realisation, which I do hold is accurate, mean one must lose their battle? That ‘the Something’ must win, and we all must eventually lose? That, perhaps, there was never any hope? Simply, no. What one wins is not the banishment of one’s Something — the victor in this process is the one who completes it, not the one who somehow vanquishes a part of their character. The hope I encourage you to feel must come from a belief that my life will get better, not that my Something will disappear. The winner is the one who is able to come out the other side, having fought for their existence.
It is here where the pain of this process ends. If you reach this far (and many don’t), you should be enormously proud of yourself. It is a great feat not only to face your demons, but to be able to say that you have faced them and that you won. Because if you get to here, you win. You’ll know if you have. From here on out, this process continues more as a path to wisdom and less as a path through a Something.
Harmony — there is something natural about the relationship between Somethings and existence
In the combination of consciousness, emotions, social relationships, organised society, social hierarchy, economics, the universe, and unanswerable questions, it is inevitable that there will be Somethings with which people suffer. Really, the fact that there is life at all must give rise to the existence of Somethings; a prerequisite for existence overall must be the existence Somethings. Chucked all into one blender of existence, the resultant smoothie will be one of pain and misery. But drink it, and digest, and you might that it was actually quite sweet in the end.
Balance — form a healthy relationship with the Something
Where there is existence, there is suffering. Where there is order, there is chaos. Where there is yin, there is yang. Where there is me, there are my nihilistic tendencies (or drug addiction, or crippling anxiety, or self-hatred etc.). That is just the way that existence is for me; and that’s OK.
Change — assure you never want to do what worsens having the Something
Having reached an advanced level of maturity and wisdom, what is good for you will not just be a priority, it will be the focus of all of your actions. It will repulse you to act in a way that worsens having the Something; so, this will never happen. Only here can real change be observed by others.
Consolidate — know what betters having the Something
Here, you should know not only what exactly benefits you, and when, but more broadly what tends to benefit your Something when others suffer with it. You should be a great source of advice, primarily because you have come through this process and lived to tell the tale.
Reflect — comprehend the history you have with the Something
With having completed this process now, effectively, a part of who you are, it makes sense that reflecting on it is good. The more you reflect, the more you will learn, and the wiser you will become. Think about how the Something, and the process, affected you: where you went wrong, where it changed you, where it changed others, and what it all means. You might never find the answers, but you’ll probably come close.
Sympathise — become compassionate with others with a Something
Although not necessarily occurring at this particular position in the process (it could probably occur anywhere between ‘Uproot’ up to now), it is here that one’s capacity for sympathy is probably the strongest. Having experienced such intense existential trouble and psychological despair, you will have the tools to relate to basically every single human being. That’s a very useful ability to have — but, having reached this stage, you will already know this. You will know much more than most (definitely including me) will ever know about what it means to be a person.
Love — the Something makes you stronger
Being able to appreciate, at long last, how worthwhile the process was for you and your personal development (especially in light of the great wisdom that one will no doubt develop as a consequence), the Something will move in your estimations from military enemy to military ally. It is with what you have learned from having your Something, and having dealt with it, that you will go into the world and take on whatever external threat faces you.
One day, I hope, we will all be grateful for all the ills that befoul us; we learn and grow from our problems to such an extent that they become solutions, in some twisted way.
Peace — become mentally at ease with the world, the Something and yourself
This might come very late in life. Often (I think) never. For the lucky few, it does come. I doubt it ever will for me. I’m still not sure if it’s even an essential constituent for this process. Probably akin to the Buddhist sense of ‘Enlightenment’, finding peace is the ultimate goal. Peace is the X on the spiritual’s treasure map. Although, most likely, the spiritual do not ‘desire’ in the same way as pirates would, so perhaps this analogy fails.
It would be quite arrogant of me, I think, to try and condense what it means to find peace in a few lines. The life’s work of many thousands of people for many millennia is not for me to trivialise, so I shall not. I will just say: I greatly admire those who somehow transcend human issues in the way it seems to me that the ‘enlightened’ do. It must be very nice.
Purpose — find a meaningful reason to carry on living with the Something
As mentioned above in the ‘Require’ section, I think we can say life has meaning insofar as individuals can give to their lives a purpose. With a linguistic view, at least, I think this is a sufficient response to the problem of ‘meaning in life’. What form purpose should take, however, is a different matter.
Purpose is an existential fuel for the machine of continuing to exist and suffer. But it is also more than that — purpose is where the fuel comes from too; it is the source of or the reason for continuing existence. With an understanding of humans as creatures with beliefs and desires, it is necessarily the case that there are things that matter to us more than others. In this way, I think a simple way to get at what one’s purpose should be is to isolate what matters most to a person. Once discovered, what matters most to a person should be pursued in whatever way possible — doing what is most meaningful involves making the most effort to do what is most important to you.
I should say: people have been trying to find the answer to this problem for a very long time. I only offer a suggestion, not the solution. I’m sure my contributions here will not be useful to many. I do not wish to appear hubristic.
Perform — do what is meaningful well
Once a purpose has been found, I believe it is important to stress that pursuing what is meaningful should involve making sure that one does so as well as one can. I am not sure I can think of any better feeling than having performed to the highest of one’s ability in what matters most that individual. Give your all to your purpose, and you will reap bigger rewards. But give all intelligently — work well, not just hard.
Thrive — succeed in life, with the Something alongside
This is where I hope everyone who reads this, and who has a Something, ends up. It will require more than you know, but it will be more worth more than you can possibly imagine. If you are in a low point right now, or even if not, just picture what it would be like to say that you won in this process. Think about how proud of yourself you would be; how proud everyone who loves and cares about you would be. Dream about how brilliant it would be to say that you are succeeding in life — really think about what that means. Be encapsulated by the prospect of having your Something along for the ride in your beautiful journey. Let greener grasses entice you; I promise they exist. A good life, a one you will envision, forge and invent for yourself, awaits. I want you to thrive, and I know you can. You just have to believe, and the rest will follow.
Whenever you see reports in the news of people living to ridiculously old ages, there’s always one same question that they asked. Faced with only an impression of the magnitude of experience and wisdom in front of them, comparatively-bright-eyed reporters just can’t help themselves. Whether they are momentarily possessed by a strand of envy, a slither of greed or just an overwhelming curiosity, the elder’s “secret” is requested every time. They are petitioned as if each of these, our contemporary centurions, was a part of a top-secret government anti-ageing experiment; as if Churchill or Attlee had gone about developing superhumans.
‘What’s your secret?’, they get asked. With warm, twinkling smiles (I imagine), the 110-year-olds do not point to some magical medicine. They don’t mention a guzzled mound of mushrooms they happened upon in the ’20s. They don’t say it was a genie or a fairy or Rumpelstiltskin who caused the Queen to write them a card. They don’t even think of saying it was some fad diet, or special exercise, or habit-quitting, or career path, or dream holiday that led them to where they are now. No, nothing as meaningless as all that.
They chuckle, perhaps heartily, perhaps with a telling cough, and selflessly reveal the biggest secret there is. A secret so secret, so covert, that it disguises itself as the most important aspect of everyday life — so everyday that we should have to look to find it. ‘Happiness.’, they respond. ‘Aw, isn’t that nice?’, the interviewer replies, not aware that the game’s been given up. The cat’s out of the old bag, but it’s just the old bag that remains the focus of our gaze. And they know, you know. These wise elders, weathered by their and others’ Somethings, know that we won’t know how right they are. We’re too caught-up in our fad diets, our habit-quitting, and our dream holidays to see. Maybe one day, they think, one day we’ll all see the right way to live; the tried-and-tested, precedented, Ozymandias way.
So, here’s how I conclude: go forth into the world, confront your Somethings, and win. Be bold, and investigative, and passionate, and sympathetic, and brave. Oh, you must be so brave. Love hard, love well, and love all. Find for yourself a reason to be alive — something that just really fundamentally matters to you, because of who you are and what you care about. Leave a hallmark on the world. But, in all things, do so as to maximise your happiness (that old utilitarian theme); do so as to minimise stress and anxiety, so as to prioritise the meaningful, so as to discard the maligned and stagnating, and so as to maximise your happiness. Because, in the end, when you’re about to swim with the fishes, you’ll smile and dive.
This essay deals with some very challenging issues of a personal, intimate nature. I hope I have not caused any intolerable distress to readers. If I have, and where suitable, please do seek help. Here are some useful links for those who might need them:
Mental Health Foundation: https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/
NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness, USA-based): https://www.nami.org/