A HAPI Lecture : Existential Angst and the Search for Life’s Meaning

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What gives your life meaning?

Social causes? HAPI? Love? Basketball? Shopping? The Game of Thrones? Music? Your pet snake? Sex? Writing? Family and friends, perhaps? God?

You might derive your sense of purpose from these or you might believe that you were born with a purpose given by God or gods. Whatever the case, this sense of purpose gives our gives meaning. For the religious, the belief of an afterlife allows them to give their life meaning. But how about for Atheists or other non-believers, stereotyped by the majority as having a meaningless life, who don’t believe in such? Are they condemned to a meaningless , sad life?
Either you believe in the supernatural or not, at some point, we all go through (or still going through) fear and anxiety in search for meaning. But for the non-believers, the search for meaning is as real as it gets.
In the recent HAPI lecture: Existential Angst and the Search for Meaning, held at The Pearl Manila Hotel, last November 26, Dr. Will Davidson, MA, LMHC, the keynote speaker, discussed the concept existential angst and terror, its causes, and how to deal with it. Dr. Davidson also discussed the concept of Self.

With the popular belief that Atheists and other non-believers have no– and can’t possibly find– meaning in their lives, the lecture presented otherwise.

While the participants enjoyed a delightful bacon sandwich with unlimited iced tea (for free!), Dr. Davidson discussed how our perception of reality and our perception of ourselves (the Self) lead to alienation, and thus we experience existential angst and terror. Existential angst, Dr. Davidson discussed, is the idea that without immortality, life is futile and meaningless. Existential terror, on the other hand, is the fear of nothingness.

“When people say “my life has no meaning”,” Dr. Will said, “what they really mean is they feel alienated.” Alienation comes in different types, according to Dr. Davidson. It can be alienation from nature, from our bodies, and from others. Different parts of our minds can also be alienated from each other.
Because of the feeling of alienation, it results to fears: Fear of death, fear of loss, fear of being judged, fear of disappointment, or fear of fear.

Having a concentration in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Dr. Davidson discussed practical approaches to fight fear: Awareness of how fear creates your behavior, acting in spite of fear (facing your fears to avoid its reinforcement), acquiring professional help, eliminating your expectations of the world and ourselves then replacing them with goals, questioning the validity or truthfulness of your thoughts, mindfulness, giving unconditional love to yourself, and giving others the benefit of the doubt.

Here are some notable take-away ideas from the lecture:

  • The Self is not an object, but it is a process and indistinguishable from Nature.
  • Meaning is the subjective experience of connected-ness with nature, with our bodies, with others, and the connected-ness between the different parts of our mind.
  • A life without alienation is a connected whole that provides intrinsic meaning.
  • Life is meaningful naturally.

After the lecture, participants were given the chance to ask questions to the speaker.

Here’s what a participant, and now a HAPI volunteer, had to say about the lecture:

Jinjin Melany Heger -Resident Psychologist for HAPI Well being and new Lead Convener and Council chair for the HAPI Metro Manila chapter group

Jinjin Melany Heger -Resident Psychologist for HAPI Well being and new Lead Convener and Council chair for the HAPI Metro Manila chapter group

“Will Davidson’s lecture on Existential Angst highlighted a core issue I suspect to be part of Atheist/Agnostic questioning. That is “What is the meaning of life?” Without a religious god to answer this question, where does that leave us free thinkers?
My background is psychology, and previously, I have written about a similar topic in my blog. Thus, I am no stranger to topics covered by the lecture. What piqued my interest the most was the interaction during and after the lecture by the lecture participants.
I highlight one phenomena: most of us are hungry for each others’ company. In fact, Mr. Davidson initially planned to just have a free luncheon for his free thinker HAPI friends, and not much more. As an organization, HAPI needs these kinds of events for bonding. There was actually more time spent on talking amongst each other than the lecture itself. Which brings me back to my observation. We are hungry for each others’ company, we members of HAPI.

For my part, a few days after the lecture I decided to be a volunteer for the organization. Here my training as a psychologist would be put to good use. A few conversations to Admin (Marco Mendoza), and I was already put on board. In my head, I thought, “This is the effect of attending one HAPI event. You realize you are part of a like-minded group of individuals, you see hope, and you immediately want to be involved.”
I can say I really do not know what I got myself into. But I am willing to take a chance. I’ll be in the front seat of the organizations efforts on psychological topics. I will do my best to fulfill my responsibilities. I will do so with the help of other people. Because that is what HAPI is, isn’t it?
Fellow humanists reaching out with one another.
Good luck to me and the efforts of the organization.
If I want change, I must begin with myself. “

– Jinjin Melany Heger

The night ended with a delectable dinner (also for free!) and nice-to- meet- you handshakes and group photos and selfies.

Written by: Leoni Erica Tayamen

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