I experience life through three general “lenses.”
When I am in a passive mood, my mind wanders, and I think about everything—nay, ANYTHING. My brain sifts through knowledge and flips through memories, while making guesses at the future and organizing everything in the background.
Although it’s very shallow by nature, some people experience most of life through this lens. It’s associated with organization, planning, anticipation, stress, worry, and minor, habitual decision-making.
Being mindful is all about “just living in the moment, mannn.” When you are being mindful, you do very little “thinking.” Instead, you are simply aware of what is happening or going on around you. It is one of the healthiest ways to live—to simply exist within each moment. A mindfulness mantra would be something like, “Don’t think; just be.”
The third lens, which is pretty rare (but probably not as rare for me as it is for other, less weird people), is the existential perspective.
When I am having an existential experience, the reality of life, the universe, and everything comes crashing down on me. It’s usually accompanied by a racing mind and an epiphany—you know the one: that you are a speck in an infinite universe, that everything you know is just what other people told you, that one day (TODAY possibly) you are going to die, that the people you love are going to die, and that it’s all going to happen incredibly fast.
You suddenly remember that you are standing upon a huge (and yet, relatively small) ball of dirt that is spinning around a star, both of which are soaring through the universe.
You listen to this song—
—and you GET IT.
Each time you experience this, it baffles you. It can leave you helplessly terrified—it’s given the nickname “existential crisis” for a reason—but it can also be exactly what you need. The perspective it delivers can help you understand what really matters to you.
Contrary to how it may seem, being mindful is not the opposite of feeling existential. For me, at least, mindfulness is something I can seamlessly move in and out of, and it doesn’t last very long. It happily coexists with the other mindsets.
However, when it comes to the passive and existential lenses, the active one seems superior, and the other seems absolutely ridiculous.
In the middle of an existential experience, day-to-day life can seem pointless.
It’s as if the only moment that has ever had any meaning is the one you’re in right now.
Life seems beautiful, miraculous. Or maybe dark, unforgiving, and twisted.
But when you’re back to feeling “normal” again, the existential episode seems manic, or perhaps depressive. Either way, you feel silly for being so emo, and you forget about the massiveness of your realization(s).
The current perspective seems superior, while the other seems silly, frivolous, implausible.
Which brings us to a story about something that really happened to me.
There’s this beautiful place on a “mountain” [mountain: Appalachian for plateau/big hill] I live near. It’s called Sunset Rock, and it’s perfect for those who dislike hiking but still want the benefits (i.e. me).
One night a few years ago, we decided to visit Sunset Rock for the first time at the last minute (right before sunset). We raced up the “mountain,” navigating through the curviest of curvy steep roads and looking for signs that point to Sunset Rock.
We finally found it, parked in the designated lot, and walked through a gate with a sign on it that warns “Park Closes At Sunset”—because that makes sense. We walked for about 5 minutes down some extremely uneven Earth-stairs, and while it wasn’t as physically trying as a real hike, it was steep and far enough away (not that far) to leave two hardcore gamers out of breath.
After all that, we were feeling pretty “THIS HAD BETTER BE WORTH IT”—you know, typical passive mindset—as we [cue British GPS accent] reached the destination.
And it was absolutely (in a good way) breathtaking.
The best part about Sunset Rock is that even though it’s a cliff that’s a short hike away on the edge of a “mountain” and thus, super high up, there is no railing or fence. You can walk right up to the very tip of the edge. You could just jump off if inclined to do so. There is nothing there to protect you from yourself—which for some twisted reason makes the experience feel more authentic.
Cue existential mode.
We sat down near the edge of the cliff and took in the view, observing everything below and beyond. All of the tiny human specks we could see were oblivious to the fact that we were up so so high, looking down on them.
Look at all those humans.
They’re all speeding home from work, eager to watch TV and eat some dinner and browse the Internet.
What are they thinking? What was I thinking before, grumbling about the hike and worrying about the park—aka OUTSIDE—closing? Have we all forgotten about reality?
THIS was real life.
THIS was human existence.
And I’m going to die one day—EVERYONE is—I’m made of STAR DUST—I—
—I hear something.
What the F is that?!?!