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The Existential Moment – The Ides of March

In the busy streets of ancient Rome, a soothsayer’s voice cuts through the noise with an ominous warning for Julius Caesar: “Beware the Ides of March.” This short-lived exchange in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar (Act 1, Scene 2) reverberates through the ages, a chilling forewarning of Caesar’s inevitable fall. Despite his power, Caesar cannot escape the fate that awaits him: his shocking betrayal and murder.

Historically, “The Ides of March” is best known as the date, March 15, 44 BC, when a group of Roman senators, including Brutus and Cassius, assassinated Julius Caesar. The event marked a significant turning point in Roman history, leading to the end of the Roman Republic and the rise of the Roman Empire.

Over time, “The Ides of March” became a metaphor for impending doom or betrayal, mainly due to the cultural impact of Shakespeare’s play. Now, the term can be used in various contexts as a reminder of the unpredictability of fate and the potential for sudden, unexpected, and tragic changes in life’s circumstances. It urges caution and awareness of potential dangers lurking around what might seem like any other day.

EH Therapy theory holds that four existential givens pervade the therapeutic journey. Standing out in this field, death arises overtly in therapy from time to time. However, it lurks in more than we think and points to more than it seems.

In his seminal work The Courage to Be, Paul Tillich (1952) expands our understanding of fate and death. Rather than an unavoidable event predetermined by some external force (i.e., our destiny), fate represents the consequential, ultimately threatening aspects of life beyond our understanding and control. We are unpredictably thrown into (i.e., birth) and out of (i.e., death) the world and, along the way, at the mercy of these same unpredictable forces. Death is, therefore, the “grim reaper,” the ultimate, inescapable enforcer of a whimsical fate.

As such, death potentially lurks in all manner of therapeutic issues: weakness, disease, aging, accidents, loss, unemployment, homelessness, pain and suffering, cultural change, societal flux, and so on. It’s likewise implied in a broad array of ways of coping, from denial and rationalization to obsessive-compulsive control. Death roams pervasively—unseen. And it involves not simply the terror of “the end”—critically of body or mind (e.g., identity)—but the vulnerability of inescapable dependence and final powerlessness.

Supporting our clients to relate to that experience constructively is potentially part of our role on the therapeutic journey. Be aware of “The Ides of March.”

Links to Related Blog Posts:

Read more posts about the therapeutic relationship.

Read more posts about the existential givens and death in E-H therapy on EHI’s blog.

Read all the Existential Moment series posts on EHI’s blog.

Existential Moment Author: Scott Gibbs, LMFT, EHI Board Member-at-Large | Website: | Twitter: @Novum_Organum

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