SOME THOUGHTS ON EXISTENCEA human being is that animal that has the self-knowledge of his/her mortality.
I`ve always been in awe of those earliest writers, many years before Christ, who had the intuition to present the myth of “Genesis” as the opening book of the Old Testament. How could such “primitive” people identify what remains the central question of human existence.
The Creator creates a Garden of Eden for the first humans. There is no knowledge of suffering, life is blissful. Yet, the Creator has “Created man in his image” and so offers him/her the fruit of the Tree Of Knowledge. He warns them of the dire consequences of tasting this fruit. If they have the courage to digest what is in the fruit, they will no longer be just an animal but in defying Him/Her, will become something more than animal, and will no longer enjoy the mindless bounty given to them in Eden.
Through Eve`s intuition, Adam is persuaded of the possibility of being something more than “animal” and the two of them make the first existential choice. If we rejoice in our humanness, we may accept Adam and Eve`s banishment from Eden as the day that the Creator breathed a soul into them, making them more than animal. The price we pay for this is, of course, the knowledge of our mortality.
For most of us, this is a burden too powerful to bear. All of Man`s characterological defenses appear as ways to restrict this knowledge from consciousness. We go about our lives in general ignorance, sheltering ourselves from what Kierkegaard called “Fear and Trembling”.
And yet, for some, given a particular genetic makeup and/or life experience, there often arises a feeling of unease. Their dreams are not only wish fulfillments but, at times, something more primitive and frightening. Death anxiety impinges upon consciousness, albeit in various disguises. Characterological defenses are not always sufficient to cathect the energy from these thoughts and terror presents itself.
Otto Rank and Ernest Becker suggest the burdens of humanness for these souls can only be lifted by regressing into the use of more primitive defenses which signify “mental illness” or by the creative, heroic solution. By the use of sublimation, some of us try to rise above our mortality by becoming artists, in the widest sense of the word. We attempt to gain immortality by leaving something of our essence behind. I think this is why I became a psychologist and why I so admire all who struggle with their attempts at heroism.