“To be or not to be, that is the question.”
The legendary words are rather trite today. Their perceptiveness drained with time and abuse. Nonetheless, pain, suffering, and death do permeate life. At a basic level, it’s all absurd. And suicide is a perfectly rational consideration. Shakespeare understood.
In an absurd world, meaning makes life worth living. It answers the question “for what” and, therefore, the question of to be or not. It is an essential need and a profound motivator.
E-H Therapy theory holds that four existential givens (also called paradoxical polarities) pervade The Cosmological Dimension of the Therapeutic Encounter. The fourth polarity is requiring meaning but living in an absurd world.
Meaning means having a point, purpose, or aim in life. Irv Yalom (1980) discussed meaning in two related forms: the meaning of life generally and of my life specifically. Beliefs about the former often define the latter. Despair is the experience of lack of meaning.
Our job as E-H therapists is to hold the paradox of meaning and, as appropriate, explore the issues that arise in it. For example, clients may struggle with feeling empty or unfulfilled, longing for “the meaning of my life”; at the other extreme, they may struggle with the consequences of being a “true believer,” desperately clinging to meaning.
In any case, therapist or client, we may dismiss the Shakespearian question. Or we may contend with the serious issues surrounding “to be or not to be.”
Yalom, I. D. (1980). Existential psychotherapy. New York: Basic Books.
Links to Related Resources and Blog Posts:
The Existential Moment: The Cosmological Dimension
Read all the posts about the Cosmological Dimension
Read all the Existential Moment series posts on EHI’s blog.