Of Daydreams and Regrets: Learning to work with existential dread
Guard well your spare moments. They are like uncut diamonds. Discard them and their value will never be known. Improve them and they will become the brightest gems in a useful life.
– RALPH WALDO EMERSON
Every once in a while, a sort of panic grips me. It edges in from the corners of my consciousness, squeezing my lungs, shoulders and neck region like a determined python. A sense of foreboding looms. It’s almost as if I can feel the grains of sand representing my time on this planet slipping through the hole and beyond my grasp forever.
My mind screams, “There’s not enough! What if I run out before ______?”
The blank after the “before” varies, depending on whatever goal my psyche has recently fixated upon, however the theme of existential dread is a constant.
They say, “time is the most precious commodity of all because it can never be earned back.” And yet, humans seem to have a default cerebral setting of a different type of future orientation than the one I just described.
We live in a culture grooming us to always look for the next best thing. This thing that will bring new levels of peace, happiness and contentment or even excitement and adventure.
As children we often can’t wait to get to the day where we earn our driver’s license or get asked to prom, to lose our virginity, to find the right mate. But even when that day comes, as adults we continue with our dreaming and our rushing. The next promotion or pay raise, the bigger house, the better vacation, retirement…and then we wake up.
The sand in the bottom half of the hourglass now begins to look substantial. What do we do about this tension? This continuum between daydreams and possible regrets. There’s no time to rush and yet there’s no time to waste.
Marcus Aurelius once wrote, “We are creatures of a day,” implying that our time in physical form is bright, beautiful and perhaps painstakingly brief. We crave being truly seen, for others to bear witness to our significance, and to leave a legacy that will somehow delay the inevitable… to keep our existence alive long after our death.
It’s a common topic in my therapy practice. Universal questions of, “Do I matter? Does anyone care? Why am I working so hard yet never feel like I’m truly satisfied? Am I with the absolute right person for me? What if I’m missing out? What if I never live up to my potential? What if my clients don’t get better? What if those around me find me disappointing somehow?” reverberate daily off the walls of my office.
And I welcome them, holding space for each to shed light on the potential located in the craving beneath every inquiry. You see, it is my clinical and personal experience that our fears hold the very keys to our freedoms and fulfillment. And by naming them, we shed light on the path of our unique soul purpose.
So I invite you dear one, to ask yourself, “What is it that I am truly afraid of?”
Can you now reframe that into a statement of craving? Perhaps the fear of missing out becomes a craving for contentment. An individual might then choose to compile a daily gratitude list or to note possible new adventures to begin making room for.
Or it could be that the fear of being unloved or rejected points to a craving for authentic connection. This individual might then feel led to explore core values or interests that overlap with those of others’. Soon avenues for meaningful experiences arise and with them, the loneliness and need to hold oneself back subsides.
Thus, while the longings are universal, the paths towards relief are individual. Only YOU can decide what it is you most need. Never be afraid to admit them. After all, if we are creatures of a day, then may the words of Dylan Thomas also ring true:
Do not go gentle into that good night, Old age should burn and rave at close of day; Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
About the author:
Tamara Powell, LMHC is a licensed therapist, university psychology instructor, and empowerment coach who believes life should be lived as a journey that is “anything but ordinary.”
Her work is specialized to help individuals break free from toxic cycles of distress, dysfunction, and dissatisfaction with life that are created when trying to live according to someone else’s rules. Only by living what she calls radical autonomy, can one obtain soul nourishing relationships and a sense of true life purpose and inner peace.
If you’re interested in working with her, either in person or online, you can learn more about her services here.