It’s been a little over a year (Jan 2021) since I last published what I have learned in my studies of philosophy and psychology upon starting my YouTube channel (see Finding Meaning in the Pursuit of Meaning). I had described myself as an amalgamation of Absurdism, Nietzchean, Stoic, Jungian and Nihilist Realist.
My views on life have since then evolved, some have changed, others remain, so I’d like to share what has changed. Hope you find it useful.
“The snake which cannot cast its skin has to die. As well the minds which are prevented from changing their opinions; they cease to be mind.”
Friedrich Nietzsche, Daybreak, §573
This quote perfectly expresses what I seek in studying philosophy, psychology, and religion. As such, my views are always changing – until I can find something that really resonates with my inner being, and stick to it.
“What I really lack is to be clear in my mind what I am to do, not what I am to know, except in so far as a certain understanding must precede every action. The thing is to understand myself, to see what God really wishes me to do; the thing is to find a truth which is true for me, to find the idea for which I can live and die.”
Søren Kierkegaard, Journals (1835)
At the same time, have an open mind towards other life views, not trying to impose my view on others, but rather learning from other people’s differing views.
For Albert Camus, philosophical suicide is adhering to some ready-made belief system just because people recommend it to you or because you want to blend in with them and not appear as an outsider, essentially shutting down your mental faculties because it is the most convenient thing to do, in detriment of your inner being. You only manage to lose yourself in the finite (becoming a cipher in the crowd) as Søren Kierkegaard put it.
I started philosophy and psychology with the purpose of inner transformation, rather than an intellectual hobby or a game that consists of complicated words without meaning that “absents” you from yourself and “brackets” all of your life’s fundamental questions: life, death, suffering, meaning, hopelessness, purpose, happiness, etc.
“The man of flesh and bone; the man who is born, suffers, and dies—above all, who dies; the man who eats and drinks and plays and sleeps and thinks and wills; the man who is seen and heard; the brother, the real brother.“
Miguel de Unamuno, The Tragic Sense of Life
That is why when I found out about Existentialism, I was fascinated. I had held the existentialist view that we can create our own meaning in life, that life is a blank canvas and that we are the artists, from the works of atheist existentialists such as Nietzsche, Sartre, and Camus.
Recently, however, I have been more convinced that meaning creates us. As Carl Jung’s work shows us: People don’t have ideas. Ideas have people. What I have found most pragmatic over the years is Jung’s individuation process, and his analysis of the influence of the unconscious in our daily lives, with concepts such as the persona, the shadow and the anima/animus. As such, he ranks among my favourite thinkers.
Moreover, I am more in line with the Christian existentialists, such as Kierkegaard, Dostoevsky, Unamuno, and Tillich. Nevertheless, I describe myself as neither an atheist nor a theist, but rather something in between (“aspiring Christian”). I am a work in progress (we are all works in progress…).
I have recently acquired the bible to read as well, and see enormous value in it. The suffering of Christ is unparalleled, and it is no wonder that Christianity has endured for millennia, especially the symbol of the Cross, and Christ as the centre of the Self, as Carl Jung puts it. I am not as interested in the historical validity of it, but rather in its profound analysis of the fundamental questions of existence.
I was, I have to admit, an admirer and follower of Christopher Hitchens. I used to watch his debates, prior to studying philosophy and psychology. But in retrospect, they seem to me now as merely as a game of words, that is only supposed to be entertaining (which they are, he had a great sense of humour!). But, they do not deal with your existential questions. Whether it is the atheist using reason to prove that God does not exist, or the theologian using reason to prove that God exists through empirical or logical arguments (cosmological, ontological, design, etc).
My view is that of Tillich’s correlation method, which I have only recently stumbled upon after researching for the script of my latest video (The Courage To Be: An Antidote to Meaninglessness). The human questions of anxiety, meaninglessness, estrangement, etc., are correlated with religious answers. There is a mutual interdependence between theology and existential, philosophical and psychological issues.
I also find the works of John Vervaeke extremely refreshing and profound, which a friend had recommended to me. I have watched a few of his videos on the meaning crisis, and they are excellent, combining philosophy, psychology and theology, among other things. You can find it the playlist here: Awakening from the Meaning Crisis.
To have a meaningful life is to be in a purposive relationship to a value: the Good, the True and the Beautiful. Religious value, on the other hand, is a life lived in purposive relationship to the summum bonum (the supreme value or highest good), the source of goodness, truth and beauty – which is God. A value nests in a higher value, and so on indefinitely. But there must be a summum bonum that is motivating us. That is religious meaning.
I have also been interested recently in more esoteric matters, particularly alchemy and hermeticism. There’s some profound insights that can be found. There are two lectures that I really like that serve as an introduction (which you can find here and here).
Philosophy is matter of life and death.
“There is but one truly serious philosophical problem and that is suicide. Judging whether life is or is not worth living amounts to answering the fundamental question of philosophy.”
Albert Camus, The Myth of Sisyphus
We all have or will come upon the question: is life worth living? Though there may be plenty of contradictions (those who commit suicide might be assured life has a meaning, and those who feel life is not worth living still continue to live), for Camus, suicide is a confession that life is too much, that it is incomprehensible, or that it is not worth the trouble. Dying voluntarily implies the absence of any profound reason for living and the uselessness of suffering.
We try to live out the best life possible, but despite that we still suffer, we cannot live up to our ideals and expectations. And on the other hand, man will never renounce to suffering, destruction and chaos – because both happiness and suffering are the opposite sides of the same coin: Life.
“The sad truth is that man’s real life consists of a complex of inexorable opposites – day and night, birth and death, happiness and misery, good and evil. We are not even sure that one will prevail against the other, that good will overcome evil, or joy defeat pain. Life is a battleground. It always has been, and always will be; and if it were not so, existence would come to an end.”
Carl Jung, Man and His Symbols
Perhaps no one has written better on why suffering will never disappear than Dostoevsky, in Notes from Underground. But the elimination of suffering is a utopia (the archetypal dream of a Golden Age). What everyone wants is to reduce their suffering (well, almost everyone).
Despair leads to an existential crisis, of the “why of existence”. Philosophy gives us answers to the contemplation of our existence. And those who are not concerned with it, do not ponder on their existence from time to time, or aspire to keep it unconscious, eventually encounter a dead end:
“Rising, streetcar, four hours in the office or factory, meal, streetcar, four hours of work, meal, sleep and Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday, according to the same rhythm – this path is easily followed most of the time. But one day the ‘why‘ arises and everything begins in that weariness tinged with amazement.”
Albert Camus, The Myth of Sisyphus
There is a reason why those who are very rich can still be miserable, there’s a spiritual emptiness. While a monk in a monastery who possesses nothing may feel a spiritual fulfillment that is incomparable to the individual who is solely materialistic and pleasure-seeking (it gets old). There’s an interesting chapter in Kierkegaard’s Either/Or (read here) that explains how the aesthete desperately seeks pleasure, only to end up in misery. The ethicist beats the aesthete in his own game, by focusing on his duty.
The West has a lot to learn from Eastern practices (Buddhism, Taoism, Hinduism, etc.):
“I imagine future thinkers in whom European-American indefatigability is combined with the hundredfold-inherited contemplativeness of the Asians: such a combination will bring the riddle of the world to a solution.”
Friedrich Nietzsche, 1876 – Quoted from “Graham Parkes: Nietzsche and Asian Thought”
Another thing I’d like to add is the influence of stoicism on me. There has been an enormous spike in its popularity recently. But also a lot of modern “motivational” versions of it, which I am not a fan of. I like to go back to the ancients, particularly Marcus Aurelius and his Meditations, which was not even meant to be read, let alone published and becoming one of the most influential books of stoicism. He did not, however, see what he wrote as “stoicism”, but rather as “philosophy”. There are many hidden gems that can be found in that book, and a profound sense of melancholy of the most powerful man in the world who perhaps also felt as the loneliest man.
I like to remind myself of what is known as the dichotomy of control: “focus on what you can control, and not on what you cannot.”
Which is similar to the Serenity Prayer:
“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.”
To summarise my life views, I’d describe myself as an agnostic, but with interests in Christian existentialism, as well as Jungian psychology, stoicism, and esotericism.
I encourage you to continue your journey and keep exploring to see what is right for you. You are on the right path.
I’d love to hear your own journey in the comments.
Some books I would recommend reading (in no particular order, choose what interests you).
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I have made 10 minute summaries of them if you’d like a summary: click here for the playlist.