existential angst

there is this formidable fear:

self is presenting
the absence of anything
beyond the physical world

this is not the last action of self
to insist that it exists,
but a powerful one

who is experiencing this fear?
suffering can only exist in the mental world
self is the one experiencing its fear

then who is observing the fear?
the nihilist says it is the same self

the nature of this fear is nihilism

of course,
at the same time
saying goodbye to
all forms of metaphysics
god, heaven, reincarnation, karma …
might be a price too high to pay … for self

but the revolving door doesn’t care,
self can leave the same way
together with all metaphysics

the fear only lasts minutes
but it often returns
reminding me
of me

Pictures by bvdb (whoisbert) september 2014 – @Dunkirk(F) – Canon Ixus HS230 – IMG_8452


20 thoughts on “existential angst

  1. “Pain is different from suffering.
    When a wasp stings me, I feel pain.
    If I react and get angry, I suffer.
    If I’m sulking, I’m suffering.
    If I worry whether the pain will ever stop, I’m suffering.” explains everything so vividly

  2. Hi Bert, I have had an experience of fear and confusion recently, and I would agree with one point I think you are making, having observed myself pass into and out of this state, that fear and a more acute sensation of self arise together. I cannot recall a fear that, when translated into words, did not in some way revolve around a judgment, comparison, or trepidation about the self and it’s spectrum of perceived inevitabilities. The process of emerging from these difficulties seems like (though I’ve never done it) a moment of flipping a kayak that was upside down in the river. The reasons I had proposed mentally to myself for the fear seem to dissolve when the state changes, and the closed-in sense of self seems to expand to the point of disappearing. Fear is almost like a chronic isolation I think sometimes…

    Here’s to flipping the kayaks.


  3. Bert, is this ‘me’ you speak of the same as ‘self?’ And isn’t nihilism a form of negating any sensible science, as well? It’s one thing to eschew organized religion – I understand that well enough. However to refuse to cop to the continuity of existence is to toss out physics as well as to negate all that nature demonstrates on a daily basis. I have no need to be ‘right,’ yet I do wonder at your meaning, Perhaps you could further clarify?
    Anyhow, you’ve written a provocative piece! Aloha.

    • Hi Bela,
      Well, in those last two lines, there were two different ‘me’. I don’t know myself how both are interelated, but I notice that there is something like self reflection, and this has at least two different faces. I wrote a very short post about it: awareness or metacognition.
      It appears that my awareness is a different mode of operation. Probably still in the brain, and least interfacing with it.
      I think that solipsism is negating everything, while nihilism is more about meaninglessness. But while I open wikipedia right now, I see that there are 6 different forms of nihilism. I seem to talk about existential nihilism, if I follow that page: “the belief that life has no intrinsic meaning or value. With respect to the universe, existential nihilism posits that a single human or even the entire human species is insignificant, without purpose and unlikely to change in the totality of existence. The meaninglessness of life is largely explored in the philosophical school of existentialism”
      It was not my intention to provoke, although I can imagine that nobody likes their religious concepts to be put at the trash. I didn’t talk about the real God with a capital ‘G’. I only talked about the conceptual one. Nothing conceptual really exists. If big G exists, then I’m already experiencing That right now. And ‘less self’ or ‘no self’, might reveal me more about it.

      • Bert, thanks for the explanation. I was not offended, personally. Just wondering at your meaning. However one perceives Divinity is a personal thing. And if a person feels their beliefs threatened, it might provoke them to reflect further. I think that’s a good thing 😉 Aloha.

  4. Why do you suggest that fear requires the existence of an observer Bert? An experience does not require the use of a mirror or homunculus to glean knowledge of itself. And why the beef with the label ‘metaphysics’? Are gravity, qualia and awareness not metaphysical? I think if we do away with the term, we must also do away with the correlative term ‘physics’. As templates of understanding, are these concepts not helpful? Like Jana, I’m not entirely clear what you’re saying here.

    In any case, I’m far too old and dull-witted to concern myself with existential angst. o_O


    • Hi Hariod,
      poetry above, although it looks like regular sentences, and then … how do I explain all that? Some of those things have no explanation. Like, where does that fear come from? I have no idea … is it coming from self? It is a fear from the unknown, that’s for sure, and it’s not a physical fear, and probably not emotional either, so it most likely comes from the unconscious, the deeper layers of self.

      Fear doesn’t need the mind, but the suffering that might follow the fear comes definitely from mental worry. As a vertabrate, we will always experience fear.

      Gravity is not metaphysical, it is physical. One can experiment on it and always obtain the same results. Neuroscience is already tricky, psychology is not always the same for everyone, and DSM4 differs a lot from DSM5, while newtonian physics is still the same for the past 3 centuries, corrected by relativist physics when time and speed and gravity go to extremes.

      Near Death Experiences are the closest we have come to investigate the beyond, but unfortunately, whatever people really ‘see’ in that experience, is not what they can recall or write down afterwards. We get a very coloured story, coloured by what it ‘could’ be that the experiencers saw.

      I do not claim that metaphysics is wrong, or that it does not exist, but I have to get rid of all my supposed concepts before I can see reality as it is. ‘Self’ is an impediment to seeing reality, as it always filters, and interprets, just like those interpreted NDE accounts. I sometimes see self disappear. Photography and Silence help a lot. Beauty doesn’t need an interpretation. In fact, it makes mind speechless.

      If the world and the universe is meaningful, I have to find this out by myself, not second hand. Why does it exist in the first place? And if it were meaningful, what would be the purpose of meaning?

      So to come back to that ‘angst’ or whatever it is … it is like jumping from a cliff in the fog, and hoping there will be water 15 meters below. And whether my mind is creating this fear or not, I have no idea. Once you jump, it disappears; the next time the fear will still be there, but it will have manageable proportions — but whether this is true for the jump to ‘no-self’ (never tasted it longer than 5 minutes) or not, I have no idea.

      In the end, fear for the unknown has many shapes. And this fear that I see these days, flickering like an ephemera for several minutes, only comes up when mind is quiet but not entirely silent.

      And no, you are not dull witted, and never too old .. i’m the crazy one 🙂

      • Thanks Bert. May I ask, is this sense of dread (what you call ‘angst’ and ‘fear’) anything other than a particular state of the nervous system? In other words, can you put your finger on anything other than an unpleasant feeling? This is not easy to answer, because almost without fail, we apply a concept to the feeling and the two become integrated as an emotion [e.g. fear, angst, dread] which then invites us to look for causes and further responses – such as distraction and control. It’s interesting that it only comes up when your mind is quiet.

  5. ‘Suffering can only exist in the mental world’

    Well Bert, this phrase sticks out for me. We’re physical beings. We exist and function in a physical world…..It is inclusive of our thoughts but we don’t “drive our bodies” around like cars. We may approach perception this way … but this ‘separation’ ultimately catches up with us, drawing us back into our bodies to heal …. or not….

    Perhaps this is what you are saying here?

    • Hi Jana,

      Pain is different from suffering.
      When a wasp stings me, I feel pain.
      If I react and get angry, I suffer.
      If I’m sulking, I’m suffering.
      If I worry whether the pain will ever stop, I’m suffering.

      The same is true for emotional pain. The emotional pain will trigger emotional sadness. And then grief. And one has to go through that, and we cannot short circuit it. And most pain is a combination of all three.
      And then there is the point where we see things in the right perspective, and suffering ends, while pain is probably long gone.
      Trauma sometimes needs to be ‘relived’ to cure.
      The separation is in the ‘head’. It is not the wasp anymore, but the question “how could this have happened (to me)”

      I think, but very unsure about this, that ‘no-self’ means a more natural way of living. I can only say the ‘less-self’ is easier. There are lots of things I don’t care about anymore; like me or another, being ‘in time’ at an appointment. I will still do my best. I cannot do more.
      Or following the plan, like Rabbit in Winnie the Pooh. Or the fears of Piglet 🙂 most of those have become a lot less. Not Winnie the Pooh yet, but he’s my friend.

      When I’m in a commuter train, at the window, and I see the landscape flash by, then I’m not driving the body, I’m not steering the seeing. The seeing is driving me. Many of us think they are in control, and that they are in the driver’s seat, … but it is the other way round: we are driven around, and now and then we have a limited choice, or not, and we experience the ride, sometimes beautiful, sometimes ugly, … and when those who want to be in control finally see they are not, they invent karma, so they can still be in control, or at least appear to be.

      • HA! Quite the buzz this morning Bert….

        Perhaps Bert, we are all simply unique perceptual interfaces…personally responsible for our responses to all we perceive.

        The learning curves are the forms of our persuasions, beliefs, distinctions and distortions we create in order to fulfill the things we think we need…..whatever that may be.

        When confusion reigns…everyone gets wet!

        • yes, a unique view on reality; wiring is different for everyone. I feel also quite different and alone with these strange fears, and reluctant to blog about it. Confusion! Yes 🙂

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