Existential Anxiety – Links with Buddhist Teaching

I came across a very interesting post about existential anxiety – the anxiety we all face in reconciling what it is to be alive and how to make sense of our existence.  The author Caitriona Reed of Manzanita Village in California said the following, providing food for thought:

“People deal with the basic anxiety of living, and with the awareness of time and mortality in three basic ways:

  1. Through religion, magic, notions of fate, ritual etc
  2. Through embracing the material world – through the acquisition of wealth, or through doctrines of social justice and social change etc  or
  3. Through aestheticism, through valuing beauty – physical or moral.

Of course, all three play some part in our lives and in cultural expressions throughout history. This is only a scheme, a lens to look through for a moment.

The question is:

  • Do you lean in any one direction more than the others?
  • How do you deal with the basic anxiety of living?
  • Are you even aware of underlying patterns of ‘anxiety’?

You might define them to yourself in another way. Would more or less focus in any one of these areas lead to greater happiness or fulfillment for you?
Is there something you can do today to change your focus? If this is too abstract, ask yourself, “What brings me most happiness? What do I truly love most?”

And – there is a specific balance between these elements that’s just right for you. And when you get it, a lot of perceived problems will disappear.”

In my experience of working with clients and students, they often consider 1 and 2 to be choices in making sense of their life.  Few it would seem see 3 ‘Embracing aestheticism through valuing beauty – physical or moral’ to be a means of dealing with the existential anxiety inherent in choosing our own being.  Focus on physical or moral beauty might be seen as conforming to social and and cultural myths.  Moral beauty – by which I believe she means focus on beauty vs ugliness in the physical, social and spiritual worlds.  However, both of these are subtle and yet profound ways of reconciling our existential angst, especially when we desire  a ‘better world’ or beauty or order in our personal lives or homes.  For more profoundly insightful work by Caitriona Reed and Michelle Benzamin-Miki, go to www.fivechanges.org

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