Wednesday, May 5, 2010

...getting it...

P.S.    Perhaps I should have added what the four most commonly cited givens of existence are, when I first published this post.  Loving the work of psychiatrist Irvin D. Yalom, I will use his breakdown and terminology to briefly describe them here.  Eventually, in one way or another, we must each come to terms with the following conditions of life:
1.  Mortality  -  whether you believe in an afterlife or not you must still come to terms with the given that your body will die.   Recognizing this, makes life all the more precious and usually increases our determination to make the most of every moment we have.  In other words, accepting that our bodies are mortal and that our time on earth is finite will increase, surprisingly, life satisfaction.
2.  Freedom  -  we must all come to terms with the fact that we are free to make our own choices AND that we will have to assume responsibility for the outcome of our choices.  Our freedom to choose includes our beliefs, attitudes and stance toward life.  Freedom engenders anxiety because when we freely decide for one thing, we are often cutting off other options.  Appreciating this given of life can help us take our decision-making and responsibilities more seriously.
3.  Isolation  -  whether in relationship or not, we are ultimately alone.  Only WE can face our pain, feel our losses, confront our issues.  Accepting this condition of life helps us to appreciate the value of family and social networks for the support, love and care they can offer.  It will also make us nourish, educate and love ourselves more since in our aloneness, sometimes we are all we have.
4.  Meaning  -  we must come to terms with the given that we have to imbue our life with meaning.  There is a crisis of meaninglessness in our society, as emphasis has been placed on superficial values (status, wealth, celebrity, appearance, fun) that cannot sustain meaningful satisfaction for a complex human being.  We are meaning-seeking creatures and we alone must decide what is truly meaningful for us and how we will bring it into our life.  Much of the depression we see in our culture is due to a pervasive lack of meaning.  What are you doing to make your life meaningful?
Those are the main givens of existence in the broadest sense.  Of course, the four givens can be broken down into many sub-categories - but consider these for now.  All of these givens of life are primary sources of anxiety - whether we actively deal with them or not.  While it can seem daunting to confront them, doing so will ultimately bring much life satisfaction and will lessen your existential angst (anxiety).  Most of our suffering comes from OUR RESISTANCE to what is, rather than directly from what is.  That is why Richo says accepting the givens of life brings liberation -  liberation or freedom from suffering.

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  1. and when you think you have finally got it, you have probably already lost keeps moving and so should you. smiles.

  2. I think "getting it" is a temporary fix at best, as Brian implies here. It is a constant process of having it, losing it, and seeking it again. Those around us who think they have "kept it" or , worse yet, "own it", are the dangerous ones. EFH

  3. Does 'getting it' come with age and 'maturity'? Or is it just a series of stages a person goes through, like the loss of innocence....?

    I find some things coming into sharper focus now. This is a wonderful poem.

    Also very cool to see a moving gallery of your paintings on the sidebar.

  4. Hey Brian: I wonder if you, I and Richo are talking about the same 'it'? Richo is not referring to some cosmic, eternal understanding of life. He is referring to realizing that we are not special and will not be exempt from the vicissitudes of life. We will have to make many of our decisions alone. We will have to bear our losses. Our body will die. We have to find and make our own life meaningful. We have to decide how to use our freedoms and how to be responsible then for the choices we make.

    He is talking about 'getting' the givens of being a human - not about 'getting' some permanent, over-reaching understanding of life. And as you indicate, our understanding of those conditions of life will evolve as we develop and mature.

    Too many of us take refuge (imprison themselves?) in feeling special and exempt from the givens of life because they have found some 'truth' that will exempt them from all earthly givens.

  5. Hi Expat: What an interesting reaction to Richo's words from both you and Brian. I totally agree with what you say in general terms, but not precisely in the specific context of Richo's quote.

    Just like we have to be clear about the 'conditions' of our marital contract, or of our employement agreement - wouldn't it also make sense to be clear on the 'conditions' of life on this planet? To be in denial, to think we will be spared pain and loss, to think someone else should make us happy, to imagine that someone else will step in and manage my pain or grief ... makes us suffer all the more.

    While the conditions of existence are hard - accepting them gives us so much more elbow roon with which to manoeuvre along life's path.

    I appreciate your comment and will think about what you both have said ... and figure out if I am missing something here.

  6. My "AHA!" moments are few and far in between.

  7. So many people never do and they wallow in their misery expecting, demanding, relief from without. Amy at Amy Uncensored posted today about this same thing. Life simply is and it happens to all of us.

  8. I don't know if I get it or not. If I think I do, then I probably don't. But I sure do like that photo!

  9. Its intriguing to me that some people, myself included at times, feel blind sided or short changed, or as though it isn't fair... when indeed, life happens. I have a friend who in her 40's is struggling through this right now... I am trying to tread softly but in some ways I want to say why NOT you? I think I get it, even though I don't always want to :)

    Thanks for the context for it in your comments or I may have thought of it in ways other than you intended! I am intrigued with your photo... what are the white/light parts?

  10. Pat: But I'm sure they are wonderful and impactful (is there such a word?) when they come.

  11. PaulC: I'm not sure if your questions were rhetorical - but they are good ones so I will address them anyway.

    Accepting life's givens does become easier, I would think, with a little experience under one's belt and a little perspective. It has also been my observation that not being too 'under the thumb' of some religious system also allows one to accept the conditions of life rather than looking for some ultimate rescuer that promises eternal life for obedience.

    Perhaps it might feel like a loss of innocence - but it is more like the loss of illusion or delusion. We all are more ego-centric when young and more inclined to feel special, entitled to be exempt from the harsh realities of life. As we age and our ego strengthens and can take a back seat on occasion - we may be able to let go of our need to declare that we are 'saved' (exempt), 'special' (going to live forever), etc.

    Once we accept the conditions of life we then embrace life with less resistance, less armour, fewer defenses and less magical thinking - all of which equals freedom as Richo says.

  12. Vicky: It is true that we have been conditionned to think that if we are good, do the right thing, etc. that we will somehow be exempt from loss, illness, accident, death. But we are ignoring much evidence to the contrary. Bad things happen to all - including the good, exemplary ...

    Your comment makes me think of an experience I had while waiting for the results of a biopsy for a small breast lump. I could feel the dread and fear welling up inside, I was surprised to be so young and have to deal with this, I kept asking "why me?" .... While walking the dog under the most incredible orange, sunset sky I suddenly felt calm all over and thought "why not me?" Once I accepted that this 'condition of life' could touch me as well as anyone else (really once I stopped resisting) I came back to the present moment, felt free and approached the whole situation differently after that. Why not me? is such a good question.

    I forget precisely how I composed the layering of the photo. I think I put a texture and one of my own pictures of clouds over my photo of the Buddha. The white areas are clouds and the filmy effect over the Buddha is the same. And in the pic of clouds there were trees that drape over Buddha's body.

  13. Vicky: P.S. The biopsy was negative. And the learnings were huge!

  14. My husband recently had a small stroke. The life I thought I had changed in a matter of moments. The Four Givens you have posted are topics the two of us have discussed recently, and we've found we are not only calmer, but that our lives have taken on a truer meaning.

    Richie continues to heal as we continue to be present in our lives. It's as if the burdens we placed on ourselves have dissolved and we have welcomed the freedom to live the meaningful life we've always had but chose to ignore.

    What a wonderful post! So glad I stopped by to read it.

    peace. love & heART,

  15. Good themes to live by! Art, writing, blogging and time with friends and family make my life more meaningful. Some gorgeous sunny days like today, it’s best just to enjoy the moment.

    I agree that most of my personal misery comes from resistance to things I can’t control (or worrying about others) but that is because I live a healthy, secure life. Poverty, hunger, cruelty and illness create worse suffering.

  16. Sandra: It's usually those who don't think they get it, that actually do!

  17. Gwynnie: Good to hear your husband is recovering. It is so true that our life can change just like that! Then if we have not dealt with the givens of life ... life invites us to, in a very serious way.

    And when we confront these issues in concert with a loved one it does build such intimacy and appreciation. We are not pretending our lives will always proceed in the same way forever. We extend our hand and talk about what it is like to be so alone. E.g. As much as you might like to remove your husbands condition - you do not have the power to do it. Even though you accompany him - it is he who must face it and do it.

    I love how you say confronting the givens of life has removed so many burdens you had put upon yourselves. It is freeing and comforting to accept life as it is, to accept our limitations, and to embrace every moment as if it were our last.

    Thank you so much for sharing your experience!

  18. Sarah: So true that those of us who lead privileged lives with health and security find it easy to accept what is. The calamities you name can happen to anyone of us. It is worth getting our values straight, our priorities aligned, our particular view of life's meaning understood - so that if we are confronted unexpectedly with one of life's givens (given meaning we can be assured it will touch us) we are not totally unmoored by the event.

    Thank you for making those points.

  19. I hope I get it! It just seems common sense to be accepting, forgiving, appreciative, charitable, empathetic and loving of oneself as well as others...while here on earth this short time!

  20. Yes! our resistence to what is! ....!

  21. If 'getting it' is a bit like trying to hold onto a bar of wet soap as a few commenters suggest, it might be because the lesson is so immense, despite being so basic. It's one thing to agree with the words, and another to really absorb the meaning behind them. And to make the necessary changes to really live this vision.

    Yet another post that I will come back to again and again, Bonnie. And a fascinating photo, as well.

  22. Something to consider: every atom of your being, every erg of your energy- has been in this universe since the beginning of time - and will remain until whatever the very end might be. The iron in your red blood cells was formed in the extreme violece of a super nova - without that event we could not exist. And thats only a small part of it. We are now and always will be part of the whole 'ball of wax'.

  23. After what you and Richo have said, there is really not much else to add. Your analysis sums up cogently the challenges of being human. One thing that always puzzles me is the rigidity with which people resist the realities of life and death. Everything becomes so much easier, at least to me, when resistance turns into acceptance; acceptance can then lead to gratitude

  24. Wanda: I think accepting the givens of life is more about our stance toward life than how we conduct ourselves in our life.

  25. Kathryn: It really is true isn't it? We all have pain, but we will turn it into suffering by resisting it. Accepting it as a given of life makes it easier to bear.

  26. Deborah: Good point. Better, however, to wrestle with these facts/givens/conditions now than when we are in the crisis mode of an illness, financial turnaround, death in the family, loss of a physical ability, etc.

    It is good to hear that what I offer here is appreciated. Thanks Deborah.

  27. Rusty: So true ... AND we still have to confront and attenuate the anxiety that illness, loss of meaning, responsibility and isolation bring, no matter how long the atoms of our cells have existed and will continue to exist.

  28. George: That is a delightful benefit of acceptance! It moves into gratitude for what is, for the now ... Gratitude is one the feeling that most resembles enlightenment, to my mind/understanding. It is really a higher level feeling that transcends ego's need to cling and grasp for more.

  29. Very enlightening~ Did I spell that correctly? LOL

  30. As you say, each one of these givens (and that is what they truly are, I agree wholeheartedly) can be analysed, dissected, hedged about with condition and clauses till the cows come home; yet we would do well to take them as they are here laid out before us and follow them.

    Like so many wise words, they sound easy to achieve and completely self-evident, but they are so very hard to achieve.

  31. I think I've spent a lifetime thinking I've got it, then realising I haven't!

  32. The opening quote is so strong that I feel as if everything's been said and done. For many years now my standard birthday address reads: Thank you for existing'. That to me says more about the privilege we have for inhabiting this earth than anything else.

    Many thanks for such a beautiful post. I walk away inspired.

    Greetings from London.

  33. I approached this post with the recent blog-explorations of the grieving process in mind and finally realized that for me, one large component is missing from this four-fold list.

    Perhaps this original quote was not made in this context (of grieving), but it makes sense that these four things are necessary to deal with in one's life - these "givens;" and that in recognizing the reactions these givens produce (sadness, anger, fear, anxiety), they must be dealt with in a similar way (as your new post points out).

    Yet in these times there is another - something so out of our individual control and so shocking to the natural order - and that is the recognition of how human action is responsible for so much destruction of the foundations of the natural world, of what gives us life to begin with. My own mortality is one issue, but that of most other life forms, and at our hand? I find this far harder to deal with than the other four items on the list - perhaps because we're not "wired" to be able to handle this modern experience... and yet now it's pervasive and affects psyche, spirit, and body. Perhaps this is just another manifestation of mortality - change is the only constant, yes? - and yet there is something fundamentally tragic that we must contemplate the kinds of changes we have ourselves wreaked on the world, those that threaten all beings.

    I find my current leg of this journey requires that I reconsider all aspects of my life in light of healing - not that I've had such a traumatic life or anything, but because it seems that the only changes I can effect are personal ones. So I'm compelled to work with what I have, my little life, in hopes that I can offer it in service of the greater good.

    In the end, I fear it's not enough, the machinations are vast and cause an immense amount of suffering.

  34. Hi neigbor: Enjoyed reading your thoughts. It is true that the horrors humans inflict on the planet and on life upon it are a 'given' that we have to confront - and mourn. In terms of the four existential givens, as described by Yalom, I think the actions of humans that affect other creatures and the planet would fall under the given of "Freedom and Responsibility".

    It is not just our own freedom we have to come to terms with - but we must also contend with the freedom of our fellow humans to act in and upon the world - and often the lack of responsibility taken for those actions. Encompassed in that would be the frustration and futility we feel knowing we have a certain freedom to act, to change things - but we see (as you describe) that our actions have little impact. We assume the responsibility to get our 'personal ducks in a row' and then have to mourn the fact that it may not produce the results we desire.

    So, to my mind, Yalom has covered all the bases about the existential givens. You might enjoy his book "Existential Psychotherapy" - while written for therapists, it is an easy read and he deals with all four givens and the defenses we develop to avoid dealing with them.

    To 'see' him work from an existential perspective with clients facing different crises, a smaller book - but quite interesting is "Love's Executioner". Both by Irvin D. Yalom.

    Based on your post this week, you may have to grieve the fact that others, who are not 'highly sensitive people' may not absorb and feel the weight of what humans are doing to our world as acutely as you. It may make you feel quite alone - another given.

    This is all sobering - but ultimately less painful if addressed consciously rather than played out in anxiety, depression or many other disorders if left unattended - rattling around in our unconscious. Although, I'm sure that could not happen with you.

    Then once you feel you have confronted, for now, the givens ... it might feel good to consider a Taoist appoach to accepting what is a la Byron Katie. Perhaps you know her work?

  35. Hi Bonnie,

    sorry, slow to respond, we were out of town... but yes, I tend to be relatively taoist in most regards, but I think lately, with the possibly dire consequences of the gulf oil spill in my mind I feel more overwhelmed with the possibility of disaster than usual. I've read a bit of Katie's writing - some appealed to me, indeed, so I explored it a few months back. I think her approach incorporates a lot of what I learned through my eclectic buddhist accumulations and taoist tendencies, so I appreciated her message.

    in regards to being sensitive - oh. yeah, I forget that part of what I perceive as the problem is the general populace's seeming insensitiveness to earth changes. We have relatively short lives - and haven't managed to notice (with some exceptions) the changes that are being played out over the span of time beyond that of a human lifetime (or which will have results that won't be apparent until beyond the current era).

    Anyway, I still contend that though this may fit into the "responsibiity" section, there's something beyond that in some ways, in how physical and emotional/psychological illness reflects (or is reflected by) our wrong relationship with the natural world.

    This is something that I'll continue to explore :-)


  36. Very wise words that everyone should study, understand and work on. But those who need it the most are those usually who will not read them.


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