This is my first descriptive essay for my Existentialism course at Portland State University. It serves as an elaboration of my life purpose, using reflections of the past and content from our assigned readings to weave my current meaning of life.
To put the matter succinctly yet concise, my life purpose is to overcome the barriers in my life in order to achieve the best personal experience in any of the interests of my own attention. At least, that is what it seems to be. I have been struggling to find my own stance on how I should choose to live throughout my entire life. Growing up in a home filled with conflicting spiritual and personal ideologies, much of which was catered to a traditionalist taste of cultured consistency, I found myself in dispute with the many of the conditions surrounding me. I grew up with baggage containing unanswered questions and behavioral quirks that have shaped me throughout my time. The primary sources of my comfort were playing music and hanging out with my best friends. That was the only time I could truly feel free in life.
Coming from an extremely musical family tree, my Dad was the first to introduce me to music and the power it had to encourage positivity and solidarity it could have on human beings. Music is in my blood, I have been playing it since before I could read. But it wasn’t until my high school years, 3 years after I had picked up the guitar, that I had truly found purpose in creating music and performing it to a crowd. Since then, I have been pairing my existential crises with my music as a way of therapy for myself. I was able to find flow in musical expression, and because of my opportunity to experience these tools that engage emotional acuteness, I have cultivated both my abstract and musical thinking immensely. Because of the personal impact music had on me and my upbringing, it is without a doubt that I will continue to create music in my life, for myself and those who wish to listen with me. Music has provided me the emotional purpose to keep exploring and to speak from the heart, and the many comforting qualities I’ve attained from music throughout my life have shown to be worth a lifetime of attention.
Though much of my life I have always been an inquisitive and thinking musician, it was not until my sophomore year in high school I had become interested in the study of the human mind: psychology. The class had provided me with a way to expand these concepts of cognitive biases, personality, drugs, serial killers, and the overall behaviors of our social world, all of which I had contemplated to much degree prior my course. Psychology and music since have been the two topics of interest that have fascinated my interest the most. The opportunity to understand myself and the society of humans surrounding gave me more hope of the future. Psychology has impact on my writings in my music and the music I would make provided the comfort I needed in the present despite persevering through my hardships.
In the beginning of my academic career, I had traversed here, in the Pacific Northwest. Then, I had no idea what I was doing with my life. Before moving, I ran underground house shows in my friend’s basement back in Illinois. When faced with a blank setting for my next chapter in life, I chose Portland instinctively, as I had figured it would have a thriving music scene. But I couldn’t gain my parent’s approval to travel anywhere unless I attended to college, which was not much a problem as it was the plan from the beginning to go. The point of this is that I am in college, not because I necessarily want to be, but because I know that it is a road taken for many reasons. On one side, you get to cultivate your growth and experience as knowledge loving academic. On the other, you get to spend a lot of money you could be using to invest on other projects. One one side, you are provided a path where you can enrich your abilities to cater to your deepest and most desirable career choices. On the other side, it’s kind of hard to enrich your abilities when you’re not too sure which degree will provide the most benefit, both fiscally and emotionally. So many conflicts of choice. They all concern one important theme for my future: my method of surviving in this increasingly expensive and fiscally demanding world. Starting as a psychology major and jazz studies minor, I would soon dabble into majoring in film, then back to psychology, and now I’ve dropped the minor all together. I chose to drop my music minor, as I would rather go online and learn myself, and to meet fellow musicians to gain more experience, than to spend money on courses that demand extraneous effort on my end in order to gain a piece of paper that has very little to no promise in helping the chance of opportunity in my musical endeavors.
You could say my life purpose is an amalgam of strategies that aim to serve my adventure towards ideal survival in this crazy existence. This means I need to find ways to survive in the physical realm, as in afford the conditions of my shelter as well as food and water, also including being able to have means to afford anything unnecessary to survival (such as books, musical equipment, whiskey), but crucial to my development as a learning and satisfied entity. It also means I need to come up with tactics to accommodate and balance my emotionality, and to help myself enjoy the time here in the present, as opposed to worrying about the past or fearing the future. My spirituality must be maintained through meditation and abstract thinking, all geared towards empowering myself as my own individual, existing in this realm filled with other like-minded individuals here to meet. My personal goals are to discover more about the human psyche and ways to increase motivation in a person. My personal goals are to help people find happiness in their own lives, through music and counseling and also with those I am fortunate enough to have in my life. My personal goals are to make music that contains growth and honesty from the source in which the muses provide me, with the intent that others listening will be able to find some gain something from the experience. My main purpose in life is to take all I can from the world in order to fine tune my satisfaction in my own existence, so I will be better able to give back to the world as it has given to me. This is what I was born here to do and it is also what I want to do.
This is why I am in this existentialism course, so I can explore the minds of the ones with similar and new thoughts than my own, and to find the lesson in each one has. It is also interesting learning of existentialists like it is with any other person, they have unique origin stories and hardships to deal with, yet they all touch on similar qualities of thought when concerning our own existence. In Dostoevsky’s “Notes from the Underground”, the reader is offered a memoir of an incredibly conscious and anxious man, and presented a perspective which explores conflicts of thought and action. He makes claims of guilt and denies himself pleasure, he spends time with those in which he feels spite. He is a mess, and reading it showed me that there was a whole world of people who overindulge themselves with their thoughts. Chapter one in Kevin Aho’s “Existentialism: An Introduction” is founded by the description of the evolving framework of thought which was existentialism. Reading that helped emphasize the truth of history and the rise of existentialist thought in the world, and that itself had truly resonated with me. Now I had a source where I could extend even further my insight in life, and it was through the works of other people.
The readings from this existentialism course resonated with me to a high degree in my own introspective life. In Chapter two of Kevin Aho’s book “Existentialism: An Introduction”, Aho alludes to a quote from Plato’s Republic, “It leads the soul forcibly upward”. This claim portrays Plato’s insight of what happens when a person begins to apply abstract and mathematical thinking, such as geometry, in their framework of perception. For example, Aho mentioned detaching oneself of ‘…[the] physical body and my historical situation and employ the faculty of reason alone, I am able to encounter the essence of this particular object in terms of numbers that are timeless and universal.” (Aho, 2015, p. 39). He extends this thought by distinguishing the simple observation of ‘small circular thing’ to an enriched perspective with attention to the unchanging geometric principles which exist in said small circular thing.
Personally, I was able to connect strongly with the sentiment of detaching oneself and their historical situation. Recently, my quest to find freedom from mental anguish has found light in the form of deep breathing and meditation. Though the teachings I’ve learned are not fully developed or absorbed in my conscience, I’ve realized much of my distress is a result of my nature to talk to myself uncompassionately. With the context provided by Aho, most particularly the phrase “my historical situation”, it shed hope to the idea that the concept of wrongfully attributing oneself to their environment in a negative light was not as foreign to the human condition as I had previously questioned, and that acknowledgement provided hope to finding an adequate framework of perception to encourage more peace and mindfulness to my daily lifestyle. It was not until this reading and class that I considered developing my math skills to have a direct effect on my abstract thinking process, so that is a lesson that I hope to indulge myself into more throughout my lifetime.
Another concept from Aho’s chapter 2 distinguishes the human being to any other being on this planet due to our emotional nature, which segways into the thought that we are more than just a reasoning rational animal, which is also a feature distinct to the human race. The more we ‘fear and suffer in confronting our own situation’ and become “[…more intensely aware of our situation… the more intensely we feel it, the more we suffer” (Aho, 2014, p. 41). In the beginning of this year, I realized I was more of an emotional creature than I had perceived myself to be. To be honest, I have been feeling very overwhelmed the past couple weeks by the perpetual state of existential crisis – many surrounding purpose and existence- which have served me since the dawn of my memory. Upon the reflection of my reflections, I realize not many of the concepts I touched could be applied with certainty. I enjoy the sentiment of an eternal, atemporal realm coexisting with our physical world. I enjoy the idea that much of our analog is commended by our muses. I enjoy the idea that our consciousness could prelude our brain and bodies, making the perception of a potential second life within reach. But more than anything, I am discomforted by the level of certainty any of us can truly have of much in our speculations.
Growing up, I was a very angsty individual for varied reasons, and it was my self-identity at the time. The classic sassy mama who listened to melancholy music and found emotional solidarity on his free time. Last year, I had found comfort in focusing on my actions more, and insight from removing myself more from my overindulgent nature of solving personal dilemma. One overarching quality I realized was that I did not have to attribute equal attention to every thought, and the core of the thoughts I found value in were tangible sentiments and concepts that catered to my interest on transforming my lifestyle to positive productivity. My concern and attention to the chance of god had diminished, I had placed more emphasis on myself than I did the worry of past social interactions with fellow human beings, I had started my phase into finding more light and liberty in my life and mind. This is why Kierkegaard’s proposal of an ancient Greek aphorism: “One must know oneself before knowing anything else” (Aho, 2014, p. 43), strikes my emotionality the most in Aho’s Chapter 2. In my own life, I would find dismay when focusing on the external world which I had been placed to exist and observe. My greatest times in existence were when I was expressing myself through music and writing and when I was with those who I could trust and was comforted by. Most if not everything else would give me anxiety to some extent; the indefinite sense of certainty of the best and most socially appropriate action I should make in a given environment is scary and harbors a lot of self doubt.
This is why much of my life’s purpose has been to question and have a certain consensus of my belief on everything, as I am on a journey away from self-loathing in order to find refuge in my own freedom of uncertainty. But as many people before I have discovered, not much is worth questioning until the questioner has truly found the answer for the underlying inquiry in each of our lives: “Who am I?”. Which leads into the next point of resonance I acquired from this class, Da-Sein, or in other words “being there”, or being in the present.
Da-Sein has a lot implications in it, but Martin Heidegger makes the point to not fear death and to live an authentic life in his work Being and Time. Heidegger argues not to flee from death and the concept of it, but to keep moving towards it and acknowledge that death is inevitable (Marino, 2004, p. 319). I think that moving with my plan and acknowledging that death can come at any moment should empower me more than intimidate me. But this alone was not enough to resonate with me. Heidegger also claims that an authentic life is one who approaches the equipment in their lives with care and concern (Marino). This is a re-affirmative concept that encourages me to find my tools and to utilize them gently, so as to make the best of my options, and so I do not approach such equipment blindly or arrogantly.
My life purpose has been stated: to overcome the barriers in my life in order to achieve the best personal experience in any of the interests of my own attention. Throughout my life, I know I will have many goals and ideas. I hope that I will take this trail for knowledge my whole life, so that I am better to achieve said goals and ideas most adequately. Because of certain texts that have resonated me in our class readings, I am closer than I’ve ever been to optimizing my mindset. Though, even when I’m old and brittle, I’m not sure if I’ll ever find true enlightenment.
Aho, K. (2014). Existentialism: an introduction. Cambridge, UK: Polity Press.
Marino, G. D. (2004). Basic writings of existentialism. New York: Modern Library.