Today’s blog is more of an extended article. This theme has been buzzing me for the last few years, and then a couple of days ago, the whole piece that follows came to me. I thought I would take some time out from writing my next book and share it with you.
How to Find The Light Again
It seems no one is immune to times in life when things don’t go well. But for some, there seems to be periods when things go bad. Really bad. And not just in a few areas of their life, but EVERYTHING! Their whole world is turned upside down and inside out. We are going to explore some of the elements that play out when people go through a personal crisis. Not just any crisis, but what is termed an existential crisis. This is when an individual questions if their life has any real meaning, purpose, or value.
Some reading this may be just entering this state, some may be in the middle of it, others coming out of it, while others may be looking back on it. Whether you or someone you know are going through some kind of crisis, this article may give you an understanding of the many different factors and components that feed the state.
Some deal with a crisis better than others, but the worst of times leave even the sturdiest of souls trembling in their wake. Many forms of entertainment glorify a hero’s ability to remain composed and display fortitude in extreme situations. But most of us are not highly trained service personnel or superheroes. We are average people who could one day wake up in a nightmare. The reality is that the next phone call could make or break us. So what happens when we find ourselves facing our worst nightmare?
Many live in fear of a worst case scenario unfolding in their life. This fear is often based on an underlying feeling of being unworthy or undeserving, instilled by cultural conditioning and programming. The fear is often justified with many people being one pay cheque away from being homeless. However, there is a massive hole in our individual and collective psyche when it comes to truly understanding how to deal with trauma and crises. The shocking statistics of returned veterans in all countries is a testimony of the fact that we don’t really have a grip on this element of our reality.
You may have been through many periods of chaos and confusion, and bounced back. You might know people who have been to hell and back, and come out stronger and wiser. Many cities are full of homeless people, who simply exist from one day to the next. Most of them never thought it could happen to them. The downtrodden are often abandoned, and the broken usually live alone with debilitating mental illnesses. Then there are the millions all around the world who live in extreme poverty. The question is: What keeps people going in these rough times?
I have lived the extremes of what life can deal. I have seen the best and the worst of it with my own eyes. I have smelt the stench of open sewers, rotting flesh, and suffocating pollution. I have heard the screams of abandoned children and deadly gunfire. I have felt the shock of suicide bombs and lethal earthquakes. However, I was recently forced to look back on everything, and reframe it. I realised that I had totally missed the point, and the ongoing consolidation of that experience is the inspiration for this article.
Does surviving the extremes help us deal with life when crisis strikes? The fact is, regardless of how much you love your partner, despite all the promises you made, and the vows you took, regardless of all the dreams and aspirations you shared, irrespective of what you planned, or how hard you have worked, or how much money you have saved, life can turn in a heartbeat - and obliterate your dreams. How many people are really able to deal with such a situation? and how can we support ourselves and others during a crisis in a way that is effective?
It is important to realise that there are degrees of existential crises. Many experience a crisis in one or more Facts of Life, and on one or more Levels of Being. But what happens when everything collapses at the same time? - Our career turns to ashes? Our life’s work fails? The potential fruits of our labour vanish before your eyes? Years of struggle and effort go completely unnoticed? Our gifts rejected? Our contributions denied? Life can literally throw everything you have, internally and externally, out the window - at the same time. If everything you have is erased in one foul swoop, and all your beliefs are slammed against an unforgiving wall.
The pressures of the world may be bearing down on you, and you have no way out, no lifeline - and usually, by this stage - you have nothing left to give. You reach a point where you have absolutely nothing left inside. No reserves. No options. Nothing. Not even the basis for thinking about alternatives. You may have literally cried your heart out and have no more tears left - but still, the crisis persists, and persists.
Everything you thought was real is no longer relevant. Everything you have ever wanted no longer seems appealing. Everyone you enjoyed spending time with is no longer a source of good company. The gaping wound from your sacrifices may even be seen as a weakness. You may be overwhelmed by an inconsolable grief, but not know what you are grieving. Your entire life is a disaster zone. You have done your absolute best - and it still wasn't good enough. You may feel like a complete failure and worry about becoming a total loser for the rest of your life.
Who Can Help?
This state can sneak up on you over years or happen in an instant. It can seemingly come on anywhere, anytime, for anyone. Likewise, the state can go slowly or quickly. Either way, you question EVERYTHING! What is the meaning of life? Is there really any purpose? Is Love real? Is it possible to share it on Earth? You may be left asking, Who cares? Who REALLY cares? Is anyone even capable of truly caring?
From the outside, this all may look and sound pathetic. Your family may think you have lost the plot. Your friends may think you have turned psycho. You may even begin to think the same about yourself. The medical system will say you have a chemical imbalance in the brain, label you as being depressed, and just want to medicate you. Many imply that you have a choice in what happens, how you feel, and what you think. They may even imply it is attention seeking behaviour, or that you are stuck in a poor me state and throwing a tantrum. But the opposite to all this is true.
Existential crises are very much an individual experience. Some people have no religious or spiritual basis to begin to understand the feelings when they begin to creep in. If they are hit with a sudden shock, they may immediately fail to adapt and suicide. There is often an overwhelming feeling of alienation and isolation. This is especially true when the crisis is due to growth and not a loss. If you have outgrown everything and everyone around you, it may be impossible to find anyone who can understand your feelings.
Everyone likes to think they can ‘help’ their friends and loved ones get through a hard time. Some consider themselves a kind of guru or pundit. However, you may have to be prepared for some really dumb remarks and very inappropriate opinions by those who try to help. Your closest friends might make dumb smart arse comments in an effort to trigger a change in you. Even health professionals will say some really, really stupid things in an effort to ‘help’.
Some will attempt to dissolve your concerns with religious quotes, scientific theories and mystical philosophies. It becomes easy to tell when the well-meaning advice is coming from an educated mind, or philosophical perspective, or psychological standpoint. Some renowned thinkers have offered suggestions. Nietzsche proposed - “Suppose you lived your life 1000 times over without changing anything. Do you have any problems with this life? Regrets?”
Another question in this scrutiny is, "If I discovered the Truth and meaning of life, then what would I do, think, and feel?" because what you imagine you would do, think, and feel are what you truly want anyway - the search for meaning and truth is just a means to those ends.
A thought experiment is: You know you only have 1 week to live. What do you do? Nothing you do matters so why bother? But you have your entire life to live, not just a week. Now you have to figure out that rocking chair question. You are in your advanced years, rocking in a chair and thinking about your life. Was it a good life?
All these well-meaning suggestions will often fall well short of what someone in a true existential crisis needs. Despite everyone’s best efforts, they often only make matters worse, adding to the vacant feeling and sense of everything being hollow. Many cannot face the inner confusion and conflict, especially when it starts affecting their external reality. This is when people turn to cigarettes, alcohol and other substances to numb the pain and distract the mind. The deeper the pain, the worse the dependency or addiction.
So what happens when things are so bad, that none of the usual hype works? What happens when you feel so down that there seems to be no light at the end of the tunnel? When pressed for a suggestion, most will shake their heads and come back with a cliché that reinforces the need for perseverance and determination, like, "If it doesn't kill you, it makes you stronger". Hearing such empty platitudes only makes you want to isolate yourself even more.
When you are no longer able to play the games of society, many people will take a step back and judge you. They may even attack you directly, or slander you behind your back in an effort to ruin your reputation just because you are no longer capable of honouring your previous commitments. Some will scold you with comments like, “Get over yourself, and get on with it!” These heartless people really are not worthy of a comment, so don't waste any time getting upset by them.
Alternatively, some people may humbly admit, “I have no idea what to say to you” and shrug you off. Those with a little more compassion may give you a warm hug. But perhaps the worst case is you find yourself being bombarded by all the New Age philosophical bullshit - “You must have chosen this on a higher level”, or “It’s your karma”, or “You are creating it for yourself”. Other well-meaning people will offer advice, like, “Just let it go.” But they fail to understand that the problem is there is actually no ‘self’ left inside of you to let anything go - or receive anything new for that matter.
You are not looking for sympathy or attention. You are desperately looking for something true and solid within yourself upon which to base these foreign thoughts and strange feelings. Your life is like a piñata. You are blind and keep searching for something that doesn’t appear to exist in your realm of consciousness. Whatever you do hit, turns out to be empty, or just full of artificially sweetened dogma. All you want is a sense of normality, but it is everything about normality that makes you go crazy.
Many friends and family will naturally fall away altogether. They may have been with you for a few steps along the way, or supported you on a leg of your journey. They were perhaps even your beloved partner. This shedding seems to be a natural part of the transformation. It is not because you are a sociopath or a narcissist and are cutting people off. It is because you have outgrown them, or the person you were when you kept their company. They may no longer be able to support you in a way that is true on the next stage of your evolution. But again, none of this means anything when you are stuck in the middle of the transition, void of any sense of what is real.
When we endeavour to share our thoughts and feeling with those close to us, it often challenges them in a way that they don’t understand. You are most likely to bring up the same deep repressed and unresolved issues from their childhood, which makes it impossible for them to offer any real comfort or counsel. Most people have settled into their mundane lives, their compromised relationships and their comfort zones. They have an immense aversion to anyone or anything that makes them question the nature of reality.
Depending on where they are at within themselves and life, they may never have needed to revisit the shadows lurking within themselves. Most peoples' minds just draw a blank at the thought of such a crisis ever happening to them. Many spend a great deal of time, money and energy insulating themselves from anyone who is not as stable or secure as themselves. The basis for the aversion, isolation and distraction is they innately know they aren't equiped to 'go there' within themselves. But, the nature of an existential crisis is that you have no choice but to go there - and it is often impossible to begin to comprehend anything about your situation.
It is actually unfair to expect anyone to be willing to consider what you are going through, because they are no more equipped to deal with the situation than you. It is essential to realise that most people only have extremely limited associations of change in their lives. This is through no fault of their own. It is because their world built on ignorance. Perpetuated by arrogance. Directed by biased science. Driven by fake money. Manipulated by the super elite. Corrupted by greed. Limited by education. And most importantly, brainwashed by religion. Therefore, true growth and transformation are not something the world can begin to understand. So anyone who has not experienced this level of transformation will never begin to comprehend the reality of this state.
What Causes An Existential Crisis?
Every dis-ease is due to an excess and/or deficiency in some aspect of your life. However, all dis-ease starts with an initial deficiency. The original lack causes the excess to manifest, and then things can continue to spiral downwards from there. The excess and deficiency can literally be anything - the excess of social drugs, pharmaceuticals, environmental toxins, religious abuse, or dietary deficiencies or the lack of sunlight. Whatever the source of the pain and confusion in your life, it will ALWAYS stem from a deviation away from Nature.
Despite appearances, very few people really 'have their shit together’. My research has shown that nearly everyone is only one ‘n’th of a degree away from having a breakdown. The basis of this is due to a lack of neurological development. I have developed a series of neurological tests and performed them on thousands of people. The shocking truth is, I am yet to find a single individual who has developed beyond infant level.
Unlike crows, our natural pathways and intelligence simply don’t develop, because we are conceived and born in a survival state. This translates to nearly everyone living with a neurological deficit and operating only on their compensations. This adds a new dimension to the understanding that everyone is just doing the best they can with what they have. Our collective reality is best summed up in the saying. "We never really grow up, we just learn how to behave in public."
Our inherited and acquired strengths and weaknesses determine how much we can compensate and how long we can keep it up. Many like myself will find these compensations give way when young. The quarter-life crisis is why there is a high suicide rate between the age of 18 and 25. This can be when the world’s realities hit, and many find they simply can’t cope - which actually means continue compensating. If there is not enough Light in an individual’s life, they may not make it through. However, people of all ages can be faced with the same realities, as there are older age brackets where the suicide rates are much higher.
The Sociological Basis
You would be hard-pressed to find anyone over the age of 28 who hasn’t gone through a period of not wanting to go on living. But very few ever really know the full depth and extent to which an existential crisis can hit a person. The question that needs to be asked is WHY?
Ironically, it literally goes back to ‘WHY’. In my travels, I saw children in every culture go through that period of constantly asking, “Why?” Every answer was met with another “Why?” So when you think about it, isn’t it odd how the question is ‘Why?’ everywhere around the world?
Not “When?” in India, or “How?” in Peru, “Where?” in Barbados etc.
Children EVERYWHERE ask “WHY?”!
So again, WHY?
It is because we aren't living in harmony with Nature, which has caused us to lose connection to the true Essence of Life. Ultimately, the Truth should be self-evident, indisputable and undeniable. Yet I haven't seen a single culture where everything just goes without saying. Therefore, the energy signature of our parents and ancestors were void of the innate ancestral knowledge that gives us a true sense of meaning and purpose in life.
We are born ignorant, and if we are not given satisfactory answers to the questions we ask, we eventually have to adopt a belief and do our best to fit in - even when nothing around us makes any sense at all. If we are in a happy, safe, clean and abundant environment, we may get through our whole lives unchallenged. But there are those who, despite seemingly having everything in their favour, get confronted by a different reality. A reality that is so completely foreign, they literally have no Reference Points of Truth in order to begin to grasp what is happening to them, or why.
We may be able to get by on our compensations for a while, and try to fake it until we make it…. whatever ‘making it’ actually is. But at the same time, the media is also full of reports of those who have ‘made it’ living lives of chaos - with addiction and divorce being the main themes. So even trying to make it in the world loses its appeal. There is little to no incentive to set goals and work hard to achieve them, when at the end of the day, you will most likely just end up like your parents. There is nothing attractive about a lifetime of contending with all the injustice, corruption and inequality in society. So we are left feeling like everything is pointless.
As a practitioner, I deal with people in varying degrees of crisis all day every day. Whether it is health conditions, financial difficulties, relationship problems, career issues, nearly everyone is dealing with some kind of drama. There is a saying, “If everyone sat in a circle and put all their problems in the middle, nearly everyone would take back theirs.” However, this is not the case for someone going through an existential crisis! They wouldn’t wish what they are going through on their worst enemy. It is excruciatingly painful, mentally debilitating, emotionally overwhelming, and financially draining.
When I researched the psychology and philosophy of war veterans, prisoners of war and concentration camp survivors, I inquired into what gave them the will to live and endure things like extreme torture. The replies were varied - everything from the need for revenge, to the need to see their mother again. But I also asked why they felt others around them often failed to survive. The answer to this was nearly always the same. They hadn’t grown up in a harsh enough environment to adapt to the stress.
This may suggest our ability to develop survival pathways while growing up in an environment that gave us enough nourishment and nurturing, determines our ability to cope with extreme challenges in life. But, we would be wrong. It all depends on whether or not we have the pathways to deal with the issues we are facing. If we have a weak link in the required area, it may cause a complete collapse. I have found this to be true.
Taking a Step Back
It can be maddening not having reference points beyond all that you have known. Until the inspirations and insights come to you, it may feel like there is nothing at all you can think, do or say to improve your situation. But as Winston Churchill famously said, “If you are going through hell, keep going!” Despite how you feel, you are never really alone. If you are alone, it won’t be for long. As they say, “It is just a passing cloud”.
The weirdest thing is, you know you are not depressed as such. There is actually a part of you that feels more alive than ever. The majority of you is completely numb and dumb, perhaps in shock. But at the same time, deep within, there is a knowing that things are happening for a reason. As platitudinous as this may sound, and as empty as you are, you know this is True. When you take a big enough step back from your situation, you will realise that you are being melted down and molded like an instrument. You are being beaten into shape. Each blow from life bends you closer to the required state.
An existential crisis usually has a blanket effect on every aspect and facet of the individual’s reality. It doesn’t allow you to settle for anything. It tears at the very heart of the life within you. It eats away at the absolute core of your being, and rips away the very fabric of your known existence. It seems almost impossible to find any crack in the walls of darkness to enable any light to enter your mind. The reason for this is because the Light essentially must come from within. So the pain and confusion don’t stop until you reconnect with the true essence of life within.
Essentially, what is happening is something in your life, or within you, has to go - in order for something new to come in. What will come in is essential to who you truly are and why you are here. The reason this whole experience is so excruciatingly painful is because you are being forced to accept the fact that this part of you is missing. And you need it to be able to continue living true to your Path.
It stands to reason that if you were already in your Natural state, feeling whole and complete, you wouldn’t be going through this experience. You would have the strength to consciously live what you are here to do. So you just need to be at Peace with not knowing what this is ahead of time. There is no way for you to foresee any of what comes or goes.
If those around you do have a true spiritual, religious or philosophical perspective of reality, they may have something to offer you. They may have even established their perspective as a result of a crisis, and be able to offer some guidance. But don’t bet on it - because one of the main elements of yourself that is being transformed requires total solitude. And there is seemingly no substitute or means of avoiding this particular factor of the journey. It is like the caterpillar has to undergo the experience of becoming a butterfly all by itself.
No one is going to be able to give you the answers you need. Even if they could tell you, you wouldn’t get it - because the answers must come from within you. Once you get your head and heart around this key point, you will stop looking outside yourself for answers or help - and truly begin the journey inwards. You may have reached this point and be still dealing with the reality of a full-blown crisis.
What Can You Do?
The truth is, the further we go away from a pure, simple, natural, wholistic life, the worse things get. This is True for everyone, everywhere! The meaning of life is to have fun. The purpose of life is to share that fun with as many people as possible. The most fun thing to do is to tap into the fullness of your creative genius. The most fulfilling thing is to master your unique gifts, talents and skills, and use them to serve others on their journey to self-actualisation. Realising and accepting these things makes the answer to any crisis quite simple.
First, purify everything. Get EVERYTHING that is not natural out of your life. Think indigenous! Only eat pure, fresh, raw, organic, whole, vegan foods. Then, simplify EVERYTHING! If you don’t feel anything or anyone can comfort or console you, I suggest you immerse yourself in solitude! - and spend as much time in Nature as you can!
One of the most important influences in peoples' lives is the company they keep - so move on from everyone who does not genuinely support you in living and sharing the highest Truth you know. If they are not free of doubt, judgment and question, or beyond guilt, shame and blame, then they are not good company. Once free of them, then the right people will come into your life to fill the void. In the meantime, embrace the solitude - and get creative!
Also, watch and read everything that makes you laugh. This will help you to learn how not to take yourself or life personally or seriously. Keep a journal and only write what you know are facts of Truth. This will reinforce all the growth you can identify within yourself.
Life is essentially an all or nothing experience. So truly speaking, you can only share your life with people genuinely understand existential crises, having possibly gone through one or come out the other side. They will be free of all the doubt, judgment and question, guilt, shame and blame. The Buddha is quoted as saying, “Travel with thy equals or thy betters. If none available, travel alone.” It is better to travel alone than to spend time with someone who is not authentic in their thoughts, words and deeds, They must be able to genuinely live in the present, and never compromise, contradict or deny you or others in living the Truth.
While living in India, I went through my share of challenges. A master once comforted me by saying, “The dead will fall away.” This means anything and anyone that cannot support you in finding and fulfilling your true potential and purpose will fall away. This is guaranteed!! Make no mistake of the fact that everything that no longer serves your highest Path will be ripped from you, eroded away, smashed to pieces, or burned to a crisp.
Once you are able to stay awake, you will realise that nearly everyone else is only sleepwalking. They habitually pursue certain experiences WITHIN consciousness, but you are being forced to find the true experience OF consciousness.
You may never fully understand why things have happened, are happening or will happen the way they do. Even once it all eventually clears, you may be left with an uneasy feeling inside. You may not be totally at Peace with what you have been through. If that part of you were to look back, you would be bewildered as to WTF it was all about.
Eventually, in time, you may look back and find the ‘scars’ have faded, or even disappeared. You may even think, “OMG! That fricking experience damn near killed me, and now I can’t even hardly see where it was.” This is because you will be transformed. In the same way a butterfly doesn’t resemble a caterpillar, your new self will in no way resemble your old self. Remember, the past is past. There doesn’t need to any residue of it in the present, so you are free to embrace a totally new future.
A colleague and I have a saying we share whenever the occasion suits, “Well, that was interesting. Perhaps a little more interesting than is necessary!” Everything you are going through, or have been through, may seem unnecessary. You are still on Earth. Maybe sharing in all the same old things, in the same places, with perhaps a few familiar faces. But essentially, nothing really changes. Sometimes it is just your perspective shifts, your perceptions widen, or your approach differs.
It can be a case of, “Before Enlightenment, chop wood and carry water. After Enlightenment, chop wood and carry water.” But you may feel far from Enlightened. You may be left feeling completely left in the dark. Living in limbo. Hanging by a thread. Holding on by your fingertips. Bouncing from pillar to post. Rolling with the punches. Whatever your reality is, sooner or later, you will be forced to just go with the flow!
I have a saying, “If you think you know what you are doing in Life, you are doing something wrong. Because if you are not on the leading edge of consciousness, expanding into the unknown, then you are not living the Truth!” As the Tibetans say, “Develop the wisdom of insecurity.” Ultimately, no one really knows what is just around the corner. Having the inner strength to deal with whatever comes is the basis of the Peace that we all seek. This experience is forcing you to find that place and stay there. Keep ascending to the inner summit, and trust that it is all unfolding as it should.
The fact is, very few people are truly at Peace, despite seemingly having everything. Therefore, we can now assume the only reason why the Universe makes things like this happen, is to get you on your true Path in Life, so you consciously know how to remain at Peace - no matter what happens to you. That place of authenticity within yourself is what you are actually seeking. So embrace the ride, regardless of how wild and tumultuous it may be. The ultimate outcome is inevitable! - you just have to keep going!
Lastly, I am not sharing this because I have any answers, but because I know I don’t have any answers. I remain on the leading edge of consciousness, expanding into the unknowable! I still have no idea why I have had to go through everything I have experienced. But I am at Peace knowing I may never know, and ultimately don’t need to know. So if you in any way relate to what I have written, then I encourage you to be at Peace - regardless your situation.
The life you had may feel like it is over. But it isn’t - because what happens at the end of something? The beginning of something else. This means a whole new life is coming to you, ready or not! And yes, Love is real! Yes, you can truly Love and be Loved! Yes, it is possible to share it on Earth! And it doesn't matter who really cares. It matters that you do. And you truly do, because you have gone to this much trouble to find the depth of the Truth within you. So honour your honesty, the honour those who stick by you.
If you or anyone you know are going through or have been through an existential crisis, please share thoughts below.
Love and Light
Brian Gerard Schaefer :)
If you want the whole picture, I suggest reading my book THE NATURE OF LIFE: How to remain at Peace while living in the modern world. I wrote this book for people like yourself.
Brian Gerard Schaefer is an author and a self-educated wholistic natural therapist, specialising in kinesiology, myopractic, spiritual counselling, diet and nutrition. He presents seminars and workshops on healing, kinesiology, meditation and personal development.