Wiki defines an existential crisis as “a moment at which an individual questions the very foundations of their life: whether this life has any meaning, purpose, or value.” Here’s Buzzfeed’s 27’s signs you’re in one. I am not sure I’d write this same list, but it’s pretty amusing.
Socrates said that the unexamined life wasn’t worth living.
I say it’s true, but it doesn’t mean it won’t feel crappy sometimes.
Existential crises, also known as ‘dark nights of the soul’, are a sometimes extended period of bleakness where we are caught between two worlds.
There is the world prior to self-awareness; our collection of lower self-serving habits and tendencies developed from ego-driven pursuits. Then there is life after self-knowledge. Here, we have glimpses of what it could be like to be free of the personality’s limitations. Maybe, too, we have started to be in service of others somehow.
Getting from spending most of the time at A to mostly at B can feel a little dank and lonesome. After a certain point, there’s definitely no returning; but we are yet to have solid foundations, such as the communities needed, to support our new worldviews.
Whilst they aren’t the happiest, dark nights or existential crises are probably a necessary right of passage. They’re a sign we are making inroads to a higher state of internal wellness and a richer experience of this life.
For me, when I started being aggressively self-aware, along with the extreme levels of clarity I feel, I have experienced these cyclical breakdowns where I feel extremely alone in the world.
Being in a bad or low mood and other forms of unconscious behaviour aren’t an option. But internally, sometimes I am suffering badly.
How existential crises happen
My experience of how breakdowns happen is this:
I am doing just fine, living with awareness and maintaining my new standards of being authentic and aligned. I see the principles of a higher power at work in my life. I experience synchronicity and I am attracting a higher quality of friendship into my life.
But then I lose my sense of my own making a difference in the world. That might happen because I haven’t received a reminder of that for a while. That prompts me to question my decisions about the way I am spending my time, what it’s all about, etc. etc.
We all need to feel that we matter.
When we don’t immediately see this for what it is, we might start scratching around on the surface for reasons for our torpor and depression. For me, the self-talk goes along the following lines: I am alone in the world, I don’t have a partner, I don’t have enough friends close by that know me well, I am selling my soul for money, my family think I’m nuts, I actually feel crazy, I do way too much yoga, the idea of dating makes me tired, I am putting my heart and soul into something that might land completely flat with the world – yaddy yaddy yada.
When what has really happened is I have stopped focusing my intention.
So the last time I felt worthless and purposeless, I wrote some thoughts that I hope will be useful to others experiencing a dark night.
5 tips for dealing with your next Existential Crisis
It is always good to attempt to track your triggers.
I realized that prior to my latest bout of this, I had stopped meditating and I had been through a very busy period with my J.O.B., which is always a tricky mental health period for me. (My J.O.B. doesn’t make the best use of my particular gifts). I had also just (again) uprooted myself from everything and everyone familiar to me, to spend some time working on my side-projects from a different city.
When your sense of purpose comes from making a difference to other people (that’s everyone; whether we can acknowledge that or not), and it isn’t immediately apparent that you are doing that, it’s tough. After all, strangers and new friends are only going to be a certain amount of receptive to your freaky attempts to love them up.
The hardest step.
We won’t always have evidence in real time that our efforts to live with greater self-love and awareness is making a difference. In fact, the evidence might look like a slap in the face.
That means we need to generate the feeling some-other how. Or in other words, creating something from nothing.
For me to feel good again the last time meant literally leaving the house having my eyes and ears peeled for other people’s suffering, and making what small difference I could. Totally cheesy but I was like a ‘who-needs-my-love?’ detective. Immediately, when you take the focus off yourself, the fog lifts.Immediately, when you take the focus off yourself, the fog lifts Click To Tweet
And there are always other people around; no need to wait for people that you know (or even leave the house sometimes).
We can use our encounters with others to remind ourselves that everything we do matters, and that just by showing up and smiling and making eye contact with people, or offering them an ear or a kind word, is huge.
When I feel bleak and despairing and invisible, I know now to let myself feel my feelings rather than the old way numbing. That’s what self-compassion is, by the way. Practicing yoga has helped me a lot with self-compassion and sticking out uncomfortable feelings, rather than running from them into the comforting arms of Tinder and Netflix.
The last time I felt this, it really brought me to my knees, so to speak. I found myself sort of praying – not to a god, but to the higher force outside of me that I didn’t have access to right now. Call it mass consciousness, call it my own divinity, whatever you like: I asked that mother for a little help.
Once momentum has built a little and I was present to my importance again, I was able to take a small action on my project and towards my vision, signalling to the Universe that I’m back in the game!
Re-emerging from my last dark night experience, I was actually invigorated by it. I immediately noticed all kinds of cool happenings in my environment. A shop owner stepped outside and shouted ‘Good morning world!’. I received a text from a friend I hadn’t heard from in a while telling me I was special to them. I was flooded by inspiration during my yoga class.
When we are working on being more self-aware, there are going to be points where we feel caught between the stages of change.
And yeah, these might cause a little (or a lot) of internal upheaval.
And yeah it’s going to totally suck.
Call it a price of admission to a life of freedom and fulfillment.