The purpose of life is to find a mode of being that’s so meaningful that the fact that life is suffering is no longer relevant.
To start with, this is totally not an advertisement because the person I’m writing about probably has no idea that I’m writing about him. I’m writing this article because a film came along the way and touched me in a way that nothing ever had. It doesn’t matter if it didn’t have a superhero or any comedy, but every single one of its elements was powerful.
The Existential Dread, a short film by Mir Saqib Farouq, a 21-year-old aerospace undergraduate, deserves to be talked about and written about. I would say that in a place like Kashmir, where every hour a singer is coming into existence and being worshipped and liked a lot, it’s getting harder to find people with some different talents. This article is meant to highlight this “altogether different” talent that I’ve come across.
This short film, only 3 minutes and 42 seconds long, is available on YouTube. Beyond its clear agenda to get rid of emotional pain, an agenda that is questionable, the film explores how much dread is there in a country where people have lost their basic freedoms? Even tourists experience it, because of mirror neurons: we are empathic individuals, which means that just drugging ourselves to release our dread will ultimately just harm the body and create imbalance. What is needed is a method that treats the dread as a teacher where the spirit is not yet free – and to work on releasing these fears. Then, when we experience dread, it will transform by itself into the energy of compassion.
Welcome to existential dread or the existential angst. There are other ways to say this, but none seem as apt. Calling something “a matter of life and death” sounds hysterical and alarmist; “existential threat” feels more solemn, gravely analytical, as if you’ve been pouring over classified reports with world-weary experts.
Friedrich Nietzsche in Kritische Studienausgabe writes,
“Main thought! The individual himself is a fallacy. Everything which happens in us is in itself something else which we do not know. ‘The individual’ is merely a sum of conscious feelings and judgments and misconceptions, a belief, a piece of the true life system or many pieces thought together and spun together, a ‘unity’, that doesn’t hold together. We are buds on a single tree—what do we know about what can become of us from the interests of the tree! But we have a consciousness as though we would and should be everything, a phantasy of ‘I’ and all ‘not I.’ Stop feeling oneself as this phantastic ego! Learn gradually to discard the supposed individual! Discover the fallacies of the ego! Recognize egoism as fallacy! The opposite is not to be understood as altruism! This would be love of other supposed individuals! No! Get beyond ‘myself’ and ‘yourself’! Experience cosmically!”
Existential dread is just not the kind of issue that comes up in everyday conversation. It’s firmly in the ‘weird and difficult’ category of thoughts. Existential dread has been around a while. Although it feels like our current lives (on-screen living, digital connection and social disconnection) provoke feelings of existential dread, Tolstoy described it vividly in A Confession in 1882:
“Sooner or later my affairs, whatever they may be, will be forgotten, and I shall not exist. Then why go on making any effort? … How can man fail to see this? And how go on living?”
And while I’m putting this confession into my article, I can surely relate it to those impeccable 3 minutes during which Saqib and his team has portrayed my life, their lives, and all the existing lives, happy or sad, short or long, killed or died or whatever. I remember one of the scenes where he’s walking on the banks of the Dal and he says, “The delight of love is to acquire a beautiful woman, the blessing of friendship to help each other out of a financial tight spot, the passion but to give a speech, the courage nothing but facing a fine of 10 dollars. Cordiality is to say, “You’re welcome!” after a meal, the fear of God nothing but going to communion once a year. Seeing all this, I laugh. The meaninglessness of my life, decaying. A life wasted, decomposed. I resign from my life, my humanity. I no longer want to be a man. My existence is my exile and nothingness is my home.”
I feel like it’s not him but me and so many other people, or in fact, all of us who are going through these hallucinations. It’s like we all have absorbed this fact into our heads that we are superpowers and we can do anything, but at the end it comes with a price – a cosmic loneliness. And this cosmic loneliness is dearly related to this existential dread. This perception appears especially in times when we become aware of our own mortality or are in a crisis, especially when we are unfamiliar with or not met by others in the situation. Accordingly, negative feelings such as sadness, hopelessness, anxiety and meaninglessness are experienced. Consequently, in addition to wanting to be recognised for their intrinsic worth as persons, humans wish to be known for being this or that special person, and when they feel they are not so adjudged, epistemic loneliness erupts. However, the lonely complain not only about the non-acknowledgement of their essential distinctiveness and of their not being understood and appreciated, they also decry the fact that their very existence is unknown or ignored so much that they are sequestered in anonymity and so bewail the feeling of being unattached to anyone or anyone in particular.
Existence is demarcated by what Carl Jaspers calls “limit” or “boundary” situations, which include finitude, chance, death and loneliness itself. Although ultimately impenetrable to rational comprehension, these experiences are potential turning points in one’s life and are mandatory for the development of authenticity. A legitimate case can be made for the contention that loneliness as a whole, and especially existential loneliness, is not only a limit situation but is a crucial ingredient of all other boundary situations. What is more, one must distinguish the experience of loneliness from the loneliness of one’s self-defining experiences. It is the latter which is existential loneliness and which constitutes the inner lining of all the other boundary situations. I couldn’t stop myself from asking this guy about this idea and plot and other things.
The idea portrayed in this film was inspired a year ago while I came across the philosophy of Kierkegaard and Emil Cioran. This short film is a portal into the thought processes going on in my head ever since I started reading existentialist philosophy.
I completely relate the film with myself. I’ve always struggled to create a meaningful life. And in the film, there’s a grotesque touch about how difficult it is to really create a meaningful life. As far as I’m concerned, the purpose of life is to find a mode of being that’s so meaningful that the fact that life is suffering is no longer relevant.
We all struggle to create meaning in our life. But it’s a worthy endeavour. And I believe it’s better to live a meaningful life than a happy one. I tried to show the hollow facade of confusion and meaningless in the film, how it can drive one to horrific conclusions and propel suicide. But in the final moments, I also try to reveal that it’s not worth the bother of killing yourself, since you always kill yourself too late.
The only way out of this dread is to live life to the fullest and to the point of tears.
As Iqbal says: The moment you realise something beautiful about this world, you stop being a slave.
Similarly, when you find a beautiful mode of being, you stop being a slave to all the meaninglessness.