What makes you different from the animals displayed on Nat Geo Wild? Is it the claws and fangs of wolves, the dexterity of the monkey on trees, or the viciousness of the lions? Of course, it’s not any of that.
Instead, it is your intelligence and consciousness that makes the difference. Your ability to think about your thoughts, emotions, and behavior around your environment.
However, intelligence brings about questions. And, some of those questions become overwhelming and controvertible, like;
- Are our lives fated or do we have free will?
- Why is a life filled with suffering?
- Is suffering necessary for growth?
- What makes an action good or bad?
- Is happiness a right or a privilege?
- What is more important: the ends or the means?
I wonder if we would be better off without an answer. This is because each answer often leads to other inquiries, and those inquiries to other inquiries, ad infinitum.
Also Read: What Is The Truth?
What’s an Existential Dilemma?
Existential dilemmas may arise when you question your purpose or place in the world. More specifically, it stems from fears or questions about your life’s meaning or the nature of the universe.
Life can be hard and cruel so our fears and questions are understandable. Sometimes we encounter pain in form of;
- Failure in a series of business.
- Life-threatening health challenge.
- Academic setbacks.
- Dysfunctional relationships with parents (or their sudden death).
- The transition from one of the four stages of life or an unwanted change.
- Wrong decisions that were stimulated by pressure from your family, friends, or society.
- And so on
“Perhaps the worst will happen, perhaps not, but until then, look forward to better things.”Seneca
Sometimes these misshapen make us question everything
Finding answers/solutions to life challenges is not always easy. This is because life/nature is very complex and unfair to negotiate with (I’ll explain in a bit). As a result, you may revert to asking questions that are more personified, such as;
- Who am I?
- What am I to do in life?
- What happens after I die?
- Is there an afterlife?
- Is God real?
- Is there any meaning to my life at all, or is it a one-way ticket from cradle to grave?
These are some of life’s big questions – existential questions (with no obvious answers, yet).
And, when no answers are provided, it triggers an overwhelming internal conflict called an “existential dilemma” or “existential dread”.
Luckily, when we face our existential dilemmas, it helps us become resourceful and empathetic individuals who then go on to create order in our society (perhaps, as a way to create answers and meanings where there are none).
“What a piece of work is man? How noble in reason! How infinite in faculties! in form and moving, how express and admirable! In action how like an angel! In apprehension, how like a god! the beauty of the world! The paragon of animals! And yet, to me, what is this quintessence of dust?”William Shakespeare (in the play Hamlet)
Is It Possible For You To Circumvent An Existential Dilemma?
To escape existential dilemmas is a seducing idea but unreal (unless you never sit down to think).
The world is filled with unlimited randomized possibilities, with very little of it within anyone’s control. Yes, we are intelligent, but even our intelligence has its limits.
Even the best flicks are most of the time controversial and unsettling – it’s the conflicts in the stories that give deep meaning to the movie (to life). So, strangely, the dilemma also gives meaning to life.
These questions (the dilemma) concern your life. So, it would be unwise to avoid them. Why should you?
The dilemma helps you converse with yourself, others, and even the inanimate. The questions open the door to an impassioned discussion and they help you move forward in life.
Besides, not facing the dilemma is similar to refusing medical treatment in the hopes that you will recover. In the end, hope won’t be enough to resolve all your big questions, and the longer it takes the more painful it will be. Hence, isn’t it better to ask for help (answer)?
To have a relatively satisfying life experience; you must learn and embrace certain age-old truths that have been taught by sages, noted in great books, and practiced by tribes or groups because it is proven to be effective across various schools of thought and religion.
Below are some key “truths”
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3 Steps To Resolving Your Existential Dilemmas Or Dread:
Make Peace with the unknown:
This would be a tricky undertaking to ask you, knowing fully the tremendous capacity of your intelligence – to be curious.
It’s this curiosity in human intelligence that drove scientists to uncover the nature of our planet. It made engineers build flying machines, and doctors found a cure for Covid. It’s the same curiosity that pushes you to make valid predictions about your life. like… How can anyone ask you not to look for answers? You are reading this because you need some answers to improve your life.
Still, despite your intelligence and attempts, you might not get immediate answers. Or you only scratch the surface of reality before your time runs up here.
The extreme effort to know everything drives people nuts, and paranoid. It causes them to make costly mistakes. This is partly the case of Psychopathy and Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
Our world doesn’t have many concrete answers to give you. Given its ever-changing nature, how can you trust everything you might discover? Most of you won’t like this, since we like to control everything. It’s okay to seek answers. When you search energetically, you are likely to stumble onto an idea that can crystallize your view or improve it. Yet, don’t be unsettled about the unknown reality. You can find peace in understanding it’s not your fault. It’s a part of a flawed design so to say – the limitation of your intelligence. And this leads us to the next step.
“Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its trouble.”Mathew 6:34
Gratitude isn’t about pretending, faking smiles, or making poker faces. It isn’t about showing you are pleased with the unfavorable patterns of your life (that’s denial). This is why Marcus Aurelius said `In the expression of true gratitude, sadness is noticeable only when you’re denying its existence’.
Jordan Peterson took it further by saying, “It’s the pain and anxiety you experience that would push you forward if you are self-aware.”
In essence, gratitude starts with accepting your pain and limitations. Knowing this, you can then go on to appreciate the opportunity of experiencing life. To create, to think, and to build relationships.
So be grateful.
“If you admit to having derived great pleasures, your duty is not to complain about what has been taken away but to be thankful for what you have been given…”Seneca
Reexamine your values:
One way to overcome the dilemma is to identify what matters most to you. It could be;
- Spiritual enlightenment.
- Community service.
This is because, most times, it’s the ordinary things we do daily that compound into something big and meaningful. For example, you learn more about yourself and ways to improve your behaviors when you lead a life of study and meditation.
“… If you have that attitude where obstacles are actually the path forward, nothing’s going to stop you. But it’s all how you look at things. It’s kind of a mental process that you switch to seeing the positive side.”Robert Greene
My final thought: “Existential gratitude”
Indeed, your intelligence may not always provide an answer to most of your existential dilemmas. And maybe the journey will be rough which doesn’t make it any easier. But you can (and should) enjoy life through the window of gratitude.
This may not sound like much, but Existential gratitude – thankfulness; appreciation for your life and everything that exists as a whole – is key to overcoming your existential crisis.
So, let the vibrant colors of happiness bathe your skin. Be humble and show compassion. And make life worth a while for yourself and your neighbors.
Recommended Content: Finding Harmony Within Chaos: 3 Steps to Resolve Your Internal Conflict.
A mindful self-help writer and photographer