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How the experience of “nothingness” can prompt us to become philosophers of our lives

You have likely encountered a moment in your life where you’ve noticed the environment in an unfamiliar sense. The experience I have in mind is one where we connect with a deeper perspective and a curiosity within ourselves.

I met this experience as a young boy. I was laying in a field of thick green grass while gazing up into a blue sky. I remember encountering the sky and considering it as this strange sort of thing.

Of course, I had seen a blue sky, but on this occasion my relationship to it was different. In this moment some interesting questions popped into my head. I remember thinking how strange it was to be alive and stare up into a blue sky, and how strange it was that this moment is only temporary, it will be over soon, and I will go on living my life. Along with these thoughts came a familiar but rare emotion; the sort of emotion that only accompanies these unexpected experiences.

Reflecting on this moment reminds me of the philosopher Martin Heidegger. Like many of us, he also noticed the moments where he encountered a strangeness that sits beneath ordinary living.

Such experiences occur randomly but are more common in the presence of nature, or oddly enough, when one is faced with illness or tragedy. They occur in moments where one is pulled out of the consistency of life.

These moments are significant to Heidegger’s view of what it means to be a human being. He held that underneath our being, is the opposite function of ‘not being.’ This concept Heidegger referred to as ‘the nothing.’ Furthermore, ‘the nothing’ is something we generally try to avoid.

We flee from the understanding that our time is limited, that we have one life, and that the choices we make have sincere importance. It is with the experience that I described above, of seeing the world as a strange place, that we encounter ‘the nothing,’ and with it, the fragility of life.

If you’re like me, you go about your day behaving like everything is just supposed to be. I don’t question why I set my alarm for 7 a.m., get out of bed, make breakfast, and go about the rest of my daily routine. The truth is we are caught up in various activities for personal reasons.

Engaging in these activities make us healthy, make us money, and get us closer to the vision we set out for ourselves. This engagement is important and without it we would likely become depressed. The danger, however, is when the monotony of everyday life keeps us from having experiences where we access a deeper perspective; moments where the world appears as a strange and curious place.

But why? Why would encountering a deeper perspective be valuable or dangerous not to have? Someone might even consider such an experience as pointless or a form of negative thinking.

What good could possibly come from encountering non-being and the fragility of life? Today we are more influenced by the social landscape than ever before. The typical human being is bombarded with information about how they should behave, what they should purchase, and how they should act.

Social media and modern technology infuse our culture and drastically

influence the way we live our lives. It becomes difficult to see where we have choice in a time like today. With such powerful social and technological influences, one could easily conclude that our unique personality and true selves are repressed.

When we consider the various branching points where a person ‘chooses’ what direction they are going to take their lives, what is it that determines the direction they decide to take?

I believe that it is in these moments of encountering a deeper perspective that we become curious and self-reflective. By encountering the fragility of existence, we come to recognize the significance of life and the importance to choose for ourselves.

These unordinary experiences pull us out of consistency and offer a glimpse into who we are and the strangeness of living as a

human being. With this, we are left with a desire to seek out further understanding; to become philosophers of our own.

Without a deep understanding of ourselves, our autonomy can be overwhelmed by the social and technological world. To live without consideration of who we are is to live in-authentically. To live with curiosity and involve self-understanding in the choices we make is to live authentically.

It’s difficult to say when I will have an experience of this sort again. They are unpredictable yet life altering moments. What I know is that when they occur, I will let them speak to the way I am living.

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By Taylor Olson
Mar 03, 2020