Do you sometimes have that feeling of existential dread? That feeling of not knowing what to do? That feeling as if the world doesn’t exist anymore and you’re just thrown at yourself? You feel lost. You feel as if nothing is certain anymore. As if nothing has any meaning anymore. That’s fear. Not just being scared of something but being frightened in its purest sense. It’s a concept that has been introduced by Martin Heidegger, a 20th-century Continental philosopher, who wrote a whole book about the metaphysics of Being, named Being and Time, and who tried to get back to the roots of the metaphysics. Something he thinks has been regarded as self-explanatory by early philosophers. Kind of like Nietzsche did with morality.
In his book he talks about some conditions for a Being to exist. Let’s says for simplicity sake that you’re a Being, since you are in his sense of the word. You don’t just Be. According to Heidegger there are conditions to be able to Be. He calls these Existentials. He gives multiple Existentials but the one that has to do with fear is ‘Befindlichkeit’ which is translated into condition in English, but it isn’t really a great translation. It means that in whatever we do, in whatever time we are, we are always in a certain condition or mood. We are in this condition. The condition is not in us. These conditions determine how we look at the world and how we are in the world.
Fear is in all the things we do, according to Heidegger. It is there when we need to make a decision that might highly influence our lives. If we make the wrong choice our world could fall apart. But more than ever its involuntary. You could live your life and out of nowhere be struck by fear. Your parents have died in a car crash. You have an incurable disease. Your partner has been cheating on you for years. Your world is broken, and the fear confronts you with the meaninglessness of existence and Being. The fear confronts us with our own Being. It is in your fear that you can see the world more acutely. The fear throws you unto yourself. It confronts us with the fact that we live only temporarily. That we were not here for an eternity. We are here for a small amount of time. And then we don’t exist anymore for eternity again. We are temporary.
Now this is a depressing point of view. If this fear grips you, how would you be able to fight against it? How would you be able to stop it? How could you minimalize fear? Heidegger claims that the way to do so is to isolate yourself from the many people and to learn how to die. Plato also said that a true philosopher is one who learns how to die. But is this how you should confront fear? I don’t think so. I think there are better ways to get this existential fear out of the way.
What is it that drives this fear? Why do we have this existential dread? It is because we have been thrown towards ourselves and the world is uncertain. We are conscious of our self in a way we mostly aren’t. Most of the time we just do things but aren’t really conscious of it. When we are thrown at ourselves, we are conscious. So, it is because something happens that makes us uncertain of our place, our self and the world we are in.
You can try to minimalize the things that cause this fear of uncertainty. You could try to create a strong base layer for yourself. Pick yourself up and stand up strong, so when something does happen that throws you at yourself, you are ready. It’s easier to stand fast in the world when you don’t have a huge debt you have to take care off. So, you could pay of your debt. You wouldn’t have to worry about a lot of things, when you have a job. So, try and get a job. There are multiple things one can do, to ward of the fear. You can befriend people who will support you so that when you are thrown at yourself, you are not alone. You have friends standing behind you who will back you up even when you fall.
The existential fear is linked with death. It shows us that we will inevitably die one day. That’s a scary thought. For millions of years you don’t exist, then you exist for a very small time (one might say insignificant, but I don’t believe that’s the case) and then you don’t exist anymore. One needs to ward of the fear of death, to learn to live. Heidegger has a whole philosophy about death, which I might tackle in another post.
This being said, this is a hard thing to do. But it’s something meaningful you can stand behind. Trying to ward of the existential fear is a noble thing to do. So, when something does happen to you, you are ready. And you are the one people can rely on to support them. You do this by taking responsibility for your actions. You do it by starting to live and taking an active part in life. We’ll die. A Stoic would say: “accept it, because all will be well.” The only reason one should be afraid of death is because he hasn’t lived his life yet. It was Marcus Aurelius who said: “It is not death that a man should fear, but he should fear never beginning to live.”