I miss being an existentialist.
Not that I knew, or know, what that means. I gave it my own private definition, based on Wikipedia entries, a brief reading of The Stranger and the sound of the word.
As an existentialist I could be dismissive. I didn’t have to worry that while I wondered if I’d ever find anything that mattered, I was missing out on all the things that did.
It was really a mask though, a filter.
Then I read an essay on existentialism by Sartre. It said that existentialists don’t believe in design, in a prior purpose.
What is meant here by saying that existence precedes essence? It means that first of all man exists, turns up, appears on the scene, and only afterwards defines himself.
Man is nothing but he makes of himself. That is the first principal of existentialism.
To most people that’s akin to having the floor drop open beneath you. They take it to mean that nothing matters unless you impose meaning to it. Since the meaning is self-imposed it isn’t real. Sartre says otherwise. It means that everything matters. Every decision has massive significance. It makes yo who you are.
That’s a scary thought.
It’s also the first time I understood how it’s possible to not have a binary view of the world. If there is truly no objective truth then there are no shoulds; there is no right or wrong. Just choices and outcomes.
(I’m not sure why this suddenly made sense to me. It’s not like I’ve never heard it before.)
In the past when I had to make a decision, the process involved deciding which option was right, or more right. That meant trying to divine what G-d, or the Rebbe (spiritual leader) would deem right, the effect of the choice on my spiritual improvement, on others in my life, and on G-d’s master plan. (Hence my indecisiveness?)
When I dropped that way of thinking the deciding factor became my happiness. I felt guilty for thinking that way but consoled myself that when I was unhappy nobody benefited – physically or spiritually. That I was doing the right thing by looking out for myself.
Recently I had to make a decision about moving. What was more important – privacy and comfort, or friends and community? Was it okay to make a change just for the sake of change? I went to the beach to think about it, an empty beach, about one story below the road.
(A friend and mentor told me to choose the place that would be better for my connection to religion. She’s the only one who still talks to me that way.)
On the beach I ran through the pros and cons, which were all two sides of the same coin. I couldn’t see myself settling on one choice or the other. Either way I’d be sacrificing, and gaining. Then I remembered what I’d read and I realized there was no possible way to get it wrong. What a relief.