Experiencing existence is a strange thing. It’s not that easy either. Typically, we are too wrapped up in life to ‘experience’ it.
To experience existence a person must remove themselves from the affairs of life, the conflicts, emotions, happenings, etc. It requires an absence of thought, emotion, etc. There must also be a loss of a sense of self.
This means that existence, as I use it, does not mean the active elements of life, the ‘doing’. Existence, to me, is the base of which everything rests. It is life ‘at its simplist’. As a result, it is dealing with ‘the situation of life as is’ or the ‘fact of being’. It has nothing to do with what we think, feel, do, or any other activity we do.
I have found that the experience of existence is not very dramatic. In some ways, it’s an anti-climax. It does not offer all these little ‘joys’ and happiness necessarily. Existence, I think, requires a deep mindedness, of looking beyond ‘joys’ and ‘happiness’. This deep mindedness is a whole other realilty itself. The ‘joy of existence’ is something altogether different and is something that seems to be ‘earned’.
It has this fascination as it is the ‘source’, the ‘beginning’, the ‘base’, the ‘foundation’ of everything. In that sense, the ‘heart of life’ is found here.
Normally, we view life from a ‘doing perspective’, from the fact that we do things. In this perspective life is a result of us, our behavour, and our actions. We become the ‘center’ of life. But from the ‘existence perspective’ things appear different. From this perspective existence is the ‘center’, the fact that we exist, the reality of our being. Any ‘doing’ is secondary and ‘built upon’ existence.
Experiencing existence is done through the different types of contemplation. In our normal life we have ‘moments of contemplation’ from time to time. But what I am speaking of here is a deliberate active act of contemplation, where a person must do something to achieve it.
In general, contemplation consists of the quieting of the self to the point that it ceases to exist. A person typically sits for long periods without thinking, feeling, or doing anything. In this condition a person looses a sense of their self. It becomes replaced by the awareness of existence itself. Because of the loss of self it entails something like an inner death, which can make it painful and difficult. Not only that, it takes long periods of practice and perseverence.
Involved contemplation isn’t for everyone. In fact, I think people who actively contemplate are extremely rare. It appears to come naturally in some people, as it did in me. People have been doing variations of it for thousands of years all over the world.
To me, there is a sense of dread with the experience of existence. This ‘dread’ seems to be a result of a sense of the massiveness of existence. In a way, it’s a burden, a great weight, that hangs over us. I often speak of this as the ‘great fact’. In reality, it is a dread of confronting this fact. Existence is ‘beyond us’, a tremendous greatness that squashes us. Most certainly, it has a humbling quality.
Not only that, there is a sense in me that existence demands things of us. Existence seems to say: “now that you know me you are bound by my fact and must follow my lead”. In effect, existence often has this quality of restriction or, perhaps, an entrapment oftentimes. Being aware of existence is to be aware of our boundaries and our failings. We are not the great people we like to think we are.
Another aspect of this dread is that to confront existence is to be ‘unhuman’. Existence, after all, goes way beyond our humanity. It is beyond human, beyond us, beyond reality, beyond knowing. To know it we must lose our self and, in a way, our humanity. As a result, in confronting existence there is dread in loss of self and ones humanity.
It seems that to truly confront existence has with it a terror, a horror, something that makes one recoil back. And so, to confront existence a person must first face this dread, this recoiling back.
Its transcending quality
Existence has this quality that it transcends everything. That is to say, that it is beyond everything. Because of this, there is a great sense of ‘beyondness’ into the unknown. Hence it is associated with the ‘unknown’. A person knowing existence must be aware of this ‘unknowingness’ and be able to live with it (many people find it hard to deal with the ‘unknowingness’ of life, I’ve found, and have to ‘know’ things). Knowing the ‘unknowingness of existence’ is not easy but only by ‘unknowing’ is the transcendental quality known. This transcendental quality seems to awaken a new self which I call the ‘self of existence’.
The ‘self of existence’
Existence, by itself, is nothing. It is like a vacuum, inhuman and silent. Experiencing existence alone is like being on the surface of mars, I think, a great wasteland. But one is not alone, nor can one totally lose their self. In the desert of existence a self appears which I call the ‘self of existence’.
In many ways, the experiencing of existence becomes a discovery and battle with this self. Basically, the experiencing of existence begins by losing oneself, then going into existence, and seeing the inhuman, then back again to the self again and the cycle repeats. It’s like a great circle from existence to self to existence to self, etc. What ends up happening is a constant interplay between self and existence, almost like an association.
As a result, the experiencing of existence becomes a discovery and development of the self in actuality. Because of this it puts great burden on the self. Existence demands much from the self. To continually confront existence the self must be continually developed and grown. This is part of the benefits of confronting existence.
One aspect of this new self is that it creates a sense of what I call the ‘essence’. This is hard to describe. My first reaction is to say it is a sense that there is a ‘something’ about things, that there is something like a mysterious mist that surrounds existence, life, and things. It is unknowable but knowing its existence is all the knowing you need.
But it requires more than knowing. It seems to me that the things are an ‘essence’ because they are sensed as a part of you. It’s as if existence and the ‘self of existence’ merge together to create the sense of ‘essence’. In some sense, its a sense of ‘kinship’ with existence. A person feels that are not ‘in existence’ but an extension of existence, a part of it. It would be true to say that existence is our parent, our mother and father. In this sense, the ‘essence’ is really a sense of ‘god’ and a merging with ‘god’. In ‘essence’ this is not an intellectual thought but felt and it is felt not through the normal self but the ‘self of existence’. Most peoples sense of ‘god’ is through their normal self. The ‘self of existence’ feels it in a totally different way.
All this effort to develop this sense of ‘kinship with existence’ may sound trivial or minor but what has humanity sought since the beginning of time: kinship. A sense of kinship gives us identity, belonging, purpose, place, meaning. It makes us feel we are a part of something. It also gives us a sense of safety and security. It makes us feel calm and relaxed. Everything we do is to establish a kinship with something: a family, a country, another person, a god, a belief, a religion, a philosophy, knowledge, a point of view, a sport, an activity, etc., etc. Really, without some form of kinship we are ’empty’. It’s really no surprise that this sense is felt strongly with existence. In a way, it is the ‘base’ sense of all that we feel.
The ‘essence’ creates a particular joy. This ‘joy of essence’ or ‘joy of existence’ is always hard to describe. The answer is simple: it requires an ‘unknowingness’ to get there. As a result, in this ‘unknowingness’ how can a person describe it? Description requires a ‘knowing’. How do you describe the ‘unknowing’? You really can’t but you can refer to it. Words that come to my mind: calm, at ease, safe, belonging, I feel I extend beyond myself, a sense of ‘another’, feeling I’m being watched over, goodness, love, a sense of eternity, a sense that things ‘make sense’, and so on.