More often than not, it is not a challenge, a worry or a fear that is problematic in our lives, but our perception of it and the way we might internalize it in the shape of negative feelings and toxic self-criticism. Art, philosophy and psychotherapy teach and remind us that we are not alone, and that recognizing life’s absurdity, its painful truths and our common suffering is not only freeing, but can (through introspection and the acquisition of wisdom) be very empowering and liberating. I find that thought healing.
— Irvin D. Yalom, "Love’s Executioner"
— Rollo May, existential psychologist
Must we immediately spring into action and suffer the consequences, only to continue the process of trial and error? Would it not be preferable to consider thought a necessary first step of action, outlining its potential and helping us envision it? Perhaps to accept that would mean that every moment is a choice, a burden which a free mind could possibly consider too heavy to bear.
we’re the children of the after-hours
and the hours before dawn.
Sidestepping time since it didn’t exist
with our lips in a smirk
and our eyes piercing through
just about everything.
…or will he?
So many metaphors have been offered to describe life. I find many of those amusing or even thought-provoking, but one that I conceived while walking (because, as we know, all great thoughts are born that way) stuck with me and rang truer than most.
Unlike these guys (whom I found after googling to see if anyone had said anything on the subject), I believe that life really is just a waiting room.
This is a nihilistic view, most certainly. It is also an agnostic view by extension, since the only certainty I advocate in my life is that of doubt and wide horizons. If you’re religious or follow some kind of strict existential dogma you will not find this interesting.
For the rest of you, imagine this: a waiting room. Fairly small. Nondescript. Let’s say it’s a perfectly square room. On the left side is the door you’re waiting to go through. On the right side is the entrance.
Let us assume (in order for this metaphor to function) that it is everyone’s first visit so they have no idea what to expect. Nobody has booked an appointment. Some people get called to see the doctor. Others sometimes can’t stand waiting anymore and barge in themselves, unannounced and uninvited. Most of the rest just wait. Some of them have come here thinking they have a definite purpose; others might even have just found themselves there by accident or through some kind of misunderstanding. They are forced to be in the same place for an unknown amount of time, and here is where they make their decisions as to how to spend it.
One option is to just sit there quietly, doing absolutely nothing. Waiting until that left door opens up. That waiting time can be spent in fear and agony of what’s to come, in some kind of sedated state, or calmly and stoically.
Another is to do something to pass the time. Watch some of the crappy television, read through a few stupid magazines, eat a Snickers bar, play some games on a cellphone. An effort to accelerate the waiting time, keep oneself from being bored as long as possible.
An option that might not seem as sane or clear-headed would be to try to do as many things as possible before being through the door, just for the sake of doing so. Rushing to speak to everyone in the room, get to know everything about their lives, read all the magazines, watch every program you can on the television, just generally go through, consume and try to absorb everything, panting and seething with anxiety.
A more sensible option might be the combination of all of the above, with a bit more deliberate planning thrown in. Having one’s own books and reading a bit of them, spending some time socializing and perhaps maybe even making people laugh to ease their fear and stress, some time on inward reflection, some time examining one’s environment and making conclusions about it; if possible, some time creating: whether it’s a poem, a small melody in one’s head or a sketch on a piece of paper.
Whatever one chooses, two things are undeniably certain: nobody, and I mean nobody, knows what’s behind the left door, and everyone will walk through it at some point. They might claim they’ve been there before (they haven’t) or that they caught a glimpse of what the door conceals when the nurse opened it up for another patient. Beliefs are a dime a dozen and everyone is entitled to their own. That being said, no one can be sure if there is a doctor behind that door, what kind of a doctor they are, if the doctor has a diploma or if they’re just another quack, if they will get treated or if they will die during surgery, if they will be made to breathe some chloroform and then be kidnapped to be tortured for the rest of their lives, or if they will simply dematerialize the moment they walk through that door.
The human mind cannot easily deal with the unknown; that most often results in fear and anxiety. Therefore, it tends to explain things through the narrow scope of logic and/or its imagination, which is really a synthesis of its past experiences and set of rules and beliefs. The few brave minds that accept their insignificance and agnosticism are the ones that are the most free - which simultaneously makes them more powerful and more vulnerable.
We’ve all been shoved into this waiting room we call life. Our time is finite.
What will you do with yours?