by Lakshmi Sadhu
“…But look at how soon we’re all forgotten. The abyss of endless time that swallows it all. The emptiness of those applauding hands. The people who praise us; how capricious they are, how arbitrary. And the tiny region in which it all takes place. The whole earth a point in space – and most of it uninhabited.” ~Marcus Aurelius
An existential crisis, much like a horribly humungous zit, will sneak up on when you least expect it, and sucker-punch you right in the face. Except, much unlike a horribly humungous zit, an existential crisis cannot be soothed in three days with some organic fair trade tea tree oil and benzoyl peroxide.
For those of you already afflicted with the task of finding answers to the unanswerable pressing questions of the meaning of existence, you have my sympathy (in fact you almost have my company). However, for the blissfully ignorant reading this, I must apologetically inform you that this post will probably kick-start what will be a very miserable next couple of years, assuming you actually manage to solve it at all in the next couple of years (I highly doubt a solution even exists). Otherwise, say hello to your new life-long partner, Mr. Existential “I’m here to try and obliterate every ounce of joy in your life” Crisis.
When I first got emotionally hit by the 50-ton truck that is an existential crisis, and proceeded to tell close friends and family about it, I was rewarded with a variety of statements like:
“But you got accepted to an amazing university, you should consider yourself lucky!”
“An existential crisis? You have such a bright future ahead of you! And a loving, supporting family too! You’re doing just fine!”
“Dude, I’d kill to have your resume, and job! Stop complaining, and be grateful.”
And other infinite variations of the aforementioned reactions.
Don’t get me wrong; I am incredibly grateful, on most days, for my lot in life. I’m doing well in my academic and professional life, and I have a supportive and loving circle of friends and family. However, what they were referring to was not an existential crisis. It was a quarter-life crisis. A quarter-life crisis is when you’re lost and confused about your career path, and your future goals. You compare and contrast your own achievements, or lack thereof, with peers your age, or you begin to feel dissatisfied with the quality (or quantity) of your relationships, both platonic and otherwise. A quarter-life crisis is the angst and confusion that is the natural result of transitioning from a childish immature teenager into a mature adult capable of handling responsibilities. Simply put, a quarter-life crisis is a question of what your purpose IN life is, and whether you’ll be able to handle it.
An existential crisis on the other hand is the exact opposite. It is a question of what the purpose OF life is. You being to question the very foundation of reality, and become plagued with the inherent purposelessness and randomness of the universe, and your existence in it. Your own mortality, and the inevitable annihilation of everything and everyone you love, the overwhelming realisation of the crushing loneliness of human existence, that we come alone and die alone, weighs down on you like a huge boulder. An existential crisis, unlike a quarter-life crisis, is a black hole that you can really never come out of. What makes an existential crisis so profoundly debilitating is that when you are encumbered by it, it really is nearly impossible to carry on with the absurdly mundane tasks of your life when you’re all the while burdened with the inherent transiency and utter meaninglessness of it all. It’s hard to be motivated to want to accomplish anything worth something in your life when you know that not only will time swallow you, but also anything you accomplish, maybe not now, maybe not in a hundred years, but eventually time swallows everything.
“But, if you accomplish something so monumental, so revolutionary, that it’ll outlive you, then your life won’t be meaningless. Your legacy will live on!” one might earnestly say. Well, fat load of good it does to me, if I’m not even actually around to see my “legacy” when I’m six feet under.
If you’ve been reading this so far, patiently waiting for the moment I tell you how to solve this wretched existential affliction, I’m sorry to say that I have nothing for you. Since the time I first was hit with an existential crisis, I’ve just learnt to live with it. It’s always there in everything I undertake, every endeavour is always stained with profound awareness of its insignificance. Reading spiritual and religious texts, soaking in the wisdom of enlightened sages and Zen masters of yonder years, personally helps me a lot. I’ve had an existential crisis for a long time now, and while I don’t claim to have any revelatory insight or answers, I hope this post makes you realise that you’re not alone in this; that an existential crisis is the inevitable occupational hazard of being human, and as blunt as it sounds, we just have to live with it.