Existentialism is overrated

We’ve all come to a point in our lives where we have to confront the question, “What is the meaning of life?”, or maybe something simpler, “Why am I alive?”, or “Why should I keep living?”

When you’ve witnessed great suffering, or experience the numbness of pleasure, there seems to be nothing further ahead. Does it get any better, does it get any worse? And at that moment, you probably begin thinking about what you’ve been spending so much time on in the past weeks or years.

Sometimes, we get stuck with the question, and it isn’t easy to answer. For some existentialist philosophers, perhaps the meaning of existence goes only so far as your needs exist. But what if you wanted or needed nothing? What if, at some point of great suffering or great pleasure, death finally lost its sting, and the unknown presented itself as a better reality than what you currently have?

Are you willing to philosophize, to the extent that you’re willing to risk your life?

It sounded cool back in college to think about these things, to spout out names and words about existence and how reality is manufactured and how we’re all part of some system. But when I actually went through the reality of death, the possibility of it, while lying on a hospital bed for the first time because of some stupid sickness, I suddenly felt very small and insignificant. I wondered how fortunate I was to receive medical care, and if other people in the world even had other people tending to them when they really needed help. At this point, pursuing the why of existence came to a halt because mine could possibly come to a halt and that would simply be that– an obituary.

I obviously survived that sickness, making a promise to redeem my pointless angsty life by making a difference in wherever I was placed. It was from that sickness that I also learned that life is not about dwelling on the meaning of it, but making relationships that create greater meaning out of it.

Years later, because I had lost track of my vision and instead made pleasing people my goal, I had found myself at the same dark pit. Only this time, I had myself to contend with. The reality was that I had friends and family, but this was a reality that my distorted mind had presented differently: I did not matter, I never did. Somehow, I believed this, thinking that I only had myself, and that I can only take care of my choices and my life.

It was at this point that I wondered, if atheistic existentialist philosophy was really what I believed in… I really wouldn’t have anything to live for. If it made me happy to just die, then why prolong life? If it made me happy to be alone, then why bother trying to be with others? It was an endless cycle of trying to find some meaning where there was none to be found. A pit of self-pity that I needed to get out of, because I had lost my purpose. I had been betrayed by someone I had trusted, and realized that I did truly know who they were all along. And for some strange reason, the world just did not matter anymore, the only thing keeping me alive was the fact that I had accepted God years ago and it did not make sense for me to take my own life when He said it wasn’t time. I was begging Him to– why else should I be around?

But He stayed silent, and showed me, at my pace, why I needed to live. I wanted revenge, I wanted to hurt, I wanted to throw away everything. But He reminded me each day, through unexpected interactions, through messages from loved ones, about what I was missing out on. He reminded me that, on my own, He had already given me worth.

(If you’re reading this and can relate. Know that you are enough.)

I did not save myself that day, because left to myself I don’t think I’d be here. Thankfully, it wasn’t up to me. Since that day, life has been better– day by day, little by little. Pieces started falling into place, realities were unraveled to me, and I realized that I had almost wasted my life for such a useless thing.

Of course, to say that life is so much better does not mean that it is devoid of difficulties or of rainy days and broke days. But it has been better because I have come to accept all these realities as part and parcel of the journey to becoming an authentic human being. All the darkness and the light, and how I can decide on which one takes over me. I have come to acknowledge my darkness, and if I acknowledge my limitations and ask for help, I can keep it in check.

 

So there you are, a little survivor story. You’ll know it’s a survivor story because it doesn’t use the suffering as a focal point.

Your suffering is not the best part of your story, it’s your determination to improve and recover. And you can’t do that without acknowledging that pain or need for improvement.

 

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Minimalism

This year was a process of discarding things. Not because I wanted replacements, or new purchases, but because I needed to inventory things. Things that I had forgotten I even had, or things which I hung on to for no particular reason.

When I found posts on the Konmari technique, and other minimalism-focused cleaning techniques, I told myself that this was exactly what I needed. It wasn’t a matter of throwing things out, but of finding meaning and deliberate selection in what to keep and what to give away or discard.

The easiest to discard were the clothes ; years of clothes that I wore simply because they fit me. The challenge was not to buy anything that looked like them, or that had the same bluish hue. After discarding the clothes which stayed unused for a year, or half a year, I realized that I only wore about 20% of what was in my closet. It also meant that I slowly needed to find new clothes to wear.

This was tougher than I had expected, but a welcome change. You see, I’m not the shopping type. And in order to keep my budget intact, which mostly went to rent and to food, I had subconsciously developed the habit of not wanting anything else. Clothes were the first thing that I figured I didn’t need immediately. Until this year, I hadn’t realized that my wardrobe was three years behind.

Now that I had more resources, and had lost a bit of weight, buying new clothes seemed a breeze… until I realized that the weight I thought I had lost hardly made a difference in department store sizes. In my mind, I must have at least become an M, or size 08. But as it turned out, I was still an L, and a size 10. It reminded me of how I disliked shopping.

Minimalism is supposed to teach you to detach. I had hoped that buying new clothes would teach me to reconstruct my look and create more confidence in myself. I slowly realized that what I had been avoiding was accepting how I really am, and learning how to work with this while learning to love myself more. It sounds so selfish: to love myself more. But in the past years, this might have been the biggest breakthrough that I had to make in order to enjoy life.

It sounds strange, doesn’t it? Isn’t survival a built-in instinct forĀ all humans? I am slowly learning that there are people who have an acute sense of survival, and there are those who are willing to sacrifice a bit of themselves for the benefit of the other. I also learned recently that these two types tend to gravitate to each other; the self-sacrificial one finding some sense or purpose in being given attention by another. The other, taking all that can be given– until the sacrificial one has been bled dry.

But I digress.

Minimalism also means mindfulness. Learning to let go of things that create some dead weight on our consciousness. So, after the clothes, the next thing I had to sort out were all the sentimental junk that I hung on to, only because I was told that it was difficult to acquire. Somehow, the gift had become a symbol of sacrifice, and required sense of gratitude on my end.

It made sense then– the gratitude hostage.

So out went the journals, the expensive planners, and the smaller junk that no longer meant anything but a ball and chain. I also sold all things that were related to those meanings, sold them for much cheaper online for people who would like them more than I did.

Minimalism also means learning to figure out what items still create happiness, or serve a purpose in your life (or at least where you are in life at the moment)

This meant sorting out my books, cleaning out my shelves. I had found books piled up which I had intended to read long ago, if only because I wanted to become something (what the book espoused). But I realized that I had spent less and less time reading books, and more and more time with people whose idea of friendship was all talk and no substance. I often wondered why I even bothered spending time with them; the answer is: because I was given attitude if I didn’t.

So, next went the books. Gift books, bookmarks, andĀ other reminders of what I had hoped to be– but realized later on were not what I am. Why the hell did all this garbage accumulate on my shelf? All these self-help books. All these “you can be better” books, which reminded me of my constant depressive states that never really had a reason, until I figured out the reason was that I desperately wanted freedom.

And for all the success and independence that I thought I had acquired then, it turns out that I’m a lot happier now with a whole lot less. It escapes me how I spent my twenties climbing an imaginary ladder, and I am hardest on myself for this. But what good is it regretting the past that can no longer be changed, right?

So you see, minimalism is a process. It’s a soul-healing process. It must have taken me about 6 months to completely dispose of things. I think I still have spaces which need to be cleaned up. My goal is to make sure that I get to let go of things every three months; to make an inventory of the things I need on a daily basis and not to accumulate junk.

In the course of disposing things, it was funny how many things happening at work and at home slowly revealed to me how other people saw me.

Just like when I went shopping for new clothes– I thought I had been a certain size, but others really thought smaller of me.

I realized that I had unwittingly branded myself as the person who does anything and everything that everyone else doesn’t want to do, oftentimes for free!

The kind and patient one. The one who has so much time to share emotional space with others. I’m also the pushover, since students can easily talk to me and ask for a consideration and pass with substandard output. I feel disgusted thinking about how pathetic I must have looked.

At this point, my challenge with minimalism is getting out of the branding. I always wanted to be a teacher who inspires excellence. I also wanted to be a novelist. I wanted to also have a business, and then maybe become a manga artist.

But, along the way, I also lost sight of my own goals and began filling my life with so much (meaningless?) work because I had thought that’s how one creates a name for oneself– I had slowly made myself a “yes man” if only because I worries about how people thought of me.

I had accumulated all these tasks and to-do lists, without doing an inventory of my life.

On my thirtieth year on earth, I begin this inventory. With a new decade, I hope to find more meaning, and purpose, and to make the most of what me wasteful twenties taught me.