The Illusion of the Existential Crisis


It’s difficult sometimes, coming to terms with the fact that you aren’t where you want to be in life because of some pivotal event which changed everything. We are a product of our circumstances after all, some of which are beyond our control.

When we’ve lost all sense of purpose, and when life is as drab as those black and white monochrome cartoons, it’s easy to think your life will change if you seek out change, whether that means moving from one city to another, or constantly searching for change in the form of a new job or new friendships.

But ultimately, even though we’re powerless to change the course of some events, sometimes we’re our own worst enemy. The faith and self-belief we lose in ourselves is what ultimately traps us in a state of hopelessness. I think the biggest disservice we do in times of hardship, is to ourselves.

The late Gai Eaton’s reflections on people who are suffering from an existential crisis provides some clarity on the subject:

“We have to understand – and perhaps what they need to understand – is that their “grey” world is an illusion. The fault is not in their surroundings but in themselves. “It is not the eyes that grow blind,” says the Quran in this context, “but the hearts within the breast that grow blind.”

There is a story which crops up in several different religious traditions, about a man from Baghdad who had a vivid dream about a vast treasure to be found under the floor of a house in Cairo.

He sets out to seek this treasure, getting mugged along the way, almost starving and drowning at one point. When he arrives at the house in Cairo, the owner of the house says to him: “I was about to set out to Baghdad, for I dreamed the other night there is a great treasure under the floor of a certain house there.” The traveller eventually returns home, only to find the treasure was under his house all along.

The moral of the story is that we sometimes have to venture out and travel far in order to find the treasure which was already ours.”

At the risk of sounding very kumbaya-like (and maybe this is something that comes with age or when you make many, many blunders in life), I’m beginning to realise that the change I was looking out for all along was within me. That, in the words of the poet William Earnest Henley, “I am the master of my fate, I am the captain of my soul”.

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