Can We Avoid Our Existential Questions?

…Now there has come unto you from God a light, and a clear divine writ, through which God shows unto all that seek His goodly acceptance the was of peace; and, by His grace, brings them out of the depths of darkness into the light and guides them onto a straight way.(Koran, 5:16-17)

I recall a conversation I had with my best friend in high school. I was deeply troubled with my nineteen year old sister’s death and was inquiring about my friend’s thoughts on the meaning of life given that we will die eventually. Her answer astonished me so much that I could not find any words to explain the deep pain I had in my soul. She simply said “I am too young to think about it!” This illustrates how skillful we are in self-deception to shun the reality of our death

Yet, regardless of our age, gender, culture, religion, or socioeconomic status, we all have existential questions that beg answers. Where did I come from? Who am I? Where am I going? On the one hand, we cannot help but ask these questions because it is impossible to shut them off. The urge and need to find answers runs so deep in us that we cannot accept any dogmas. On the other hand, our need to avoid these important questions illustrates our reluctance to dig deeper and face Truth. Ultimately, this search for existential meaning is a search for true happiness or inner peace. Otherwise life simply does not make sense, and we cannot truly enjoy anything.

Because of the way we are created, we seek meaning

We seek meaning in our relationships. We seek meaning in life. We seek meaning in material things. And it is impossible to have inner peace and be in harmony with life and the universe without satisfying this need for meaning. We can describe this as being in congruence with our creation (the way we are created). We are given various faculties, such as heart, spirit, mind, and reason. Without heart (shutting off our conscience for instance), we become like beasts and commit atrocities. Without reason, we fall into the darkness of ignorance and become zealots. Those who shut off one or more of their faculties cannot fulfill their purpose of creation. Hence, being in congruence with our nature requires us to satisfy all our faculties. Answering our existential questions and finding meaning in our lives satisfies both our heart and our mind.

Our egos develop numerous strategies to ignore our existential questions. Some of the means for trying to silence our inner voice are alcohol consumption, excessive work, and dedicating one’s life to family or social causes to the extent that one becomes consumed in them. Others try to deceive themselves by thinking that we can never find the answers to these questions, hence it is pointless to even try. “We are who we are and that is the end of the story”, they reason. Yet all these strategies are doomed to fail and torment more and more people into depression and disillusion.

All of us want to find unceasing inner peace

In a way, most of what we do in life is to attempt to attain that inner peace through perhaps attending yoga classes, establishing friendships, participating in religious activities, or fulfilling our ambition in our career, etc. And indeed we do find temporary moments of bliss here and there. But seldom does this happiness last. We strive to buy a brand new car, but the excitement ceases soon after we have it. Then, we turn to something else to make us happy and life goes on like this. Meanwhile, we get tired and depressed of this endless quest for happiness and ending up with disappointments. We waste our lives in search of something that we never quite find.

But what is happiness really? Have we ever thought about it thoroughly? What are we looking for? Do we seek the fulfillment of our dreams, passions or needs? Is this the aim of our life, and can this pursuit in itself bring us happiness? Happiness is rather transient. We have randomly dispersed moments of joy, followed by moments of sorrow. This is why it is said that life is all about ups and downs. For instance, think of your many shopping sprees and the subsequent plummeting of your emotions!

Even though we have never experienced this feeling of utmost and continuous happiness, we want to be very happy all the time. This desire in itself is a sign attesting to the existence of such everlasting happiness. Is it therefore possible to attain a state of inner peace? To be able to answer this crucial question, we need to face our existential questions and find out who we are and what can make us really happy. What makes us happy can only be something that is in harmony with our creation. Therefore, the solution lies in being frank with ourselves, our feelings and thoughts and acknowledging that we cannot be satisfied with temporary sources of happiness. Inner peace is found in accepting our reality as created beings and acting accordingly.

So, who are we and why are we here?

Many of us spend our entire life reading hundreds of books, studying for years to obtain advanced degrees, or working day and night to get ahead in our careers. Yet without posing to ponder upon the existential questions it is all pointless, for death awaits us in the end. We find ourselves in this mysterious world. We feel strongly connected to endless things. We enjoy a sunny day; we smile and feel happy when we see a beautiful rose. It seems that nature is somehow related to us, and we have a close relation with all creation. But surprisingly, all these things that we like fade away, die, and do not last. The rose dies, the sun sets, friends depart, and at the end, we know that we will die too. In every instance, something to which we attach ourselves dies or fades away, yet we still refrain from thinking about the deeper meaning. Since death is so real, we cannot help but ask “where am I going and what is really going on?”

The truth of the matter is that these questions are vital for understanding who we really are. Interestingly enough, for all of us, these existential questions are rather innate. Whether we like it or not, they come to us naturally. But many times, we choose to suppress them, thinking they are too serious and are ruining our happy moments! We mistakenly worry that thinking too much about these existential questions would shatter our dream world that is in fact unable to fulfill our desire for happiness. Only sometimes, when our beloved ones die, or when we have tragic accidents or events, we are reminded of our questions again and may pursue the answers.

We are like guests in a mysterious house, which is full of things that we admire, yet we cannot quite hold onto. We are brought here for an indefinite amount of time, and we are taken away suddenly. It is therefore only naturally reasonable to wonder and to want to know what is going on here. What does this all mean? Why I am here, who brought me here, and where am I being taken to? Unless we pursue these questions for ourselves, instead of shutting them off or relying on cliché answers inherited from our parents or culture, we can never be truly satisfied and happy.

When you wake up in the morning, do you say “Life is beautiful” without a second thought? If not, we have a problem of a dichotomy in our life. What is this life all about? Why do we have to work and go though many hardships? These very thoughts are the keys to open the chains that have taken away our freedom. Thanks to the sophisticated toys of this age, we try to silence these questions, hence our humanity! Is it not, as Kant says, our reason that differentiates us from animal beings? And is not Socrates shouting from the Stone Age that an unquestioned life is not worth living?

Every minute that passes dies, and we cannot retrieve it. We try to cling to good memories. Memories fade away, and we feel sorrow for not being able to live these moments again. Are these memories not giving us pain? Then, we think about our future. It looks like a dark and unpredictable tunnel. We do not know what will happen to us the next minute, and this affects the very moment we are in. How can I get pleasure at this moment if I know I will die sooner or later? What is money, fame, or passion worth if I am dead? Neither past nor present can help us. Does life have to be so? If we want to solve this dilemma, we have to keep questioning, and seeking true meaning in life. Only when we question, we can find that true happiness can only be found in God.

Post written by Dr. Eren Tatari