Our Existential Predicament:

Loneliness, Depression, Anxiety, & Death

by James Park


Outline for Chapter 5:

The Existential Void:
Discovering Our Bottomless Emptiness

I. TWO KINDS OF EMPTINESS

II. OUR QUEST FOR FULFILLMENT

III. IMAGES OF THE VOID

IV. HOW THE EXISTENTIAL VOID TAKES OVER

A. The Collapse of Self-Fulfillment Schemes.
B. The Failure of Cultural Assumptions.
C. The Downfall of Optimism and Romanticism.
V. ATTEMPTING TO MANAGE THE EXISTENTIAL VOID

VI. GETTING A GRIP ON THE VOID CREATES AUTHENTIC EXISTENCE

VII. EXISTENTIAL FULFILLMENT

A. My Personal Experience of Fulfillment.
B. How the Fullness of Being Comes.
VIII. INWARD SELF-CRITICISM

Chapter 5

The Existential Void:
Discovering Our Bottomless Emptiness

Ever more patients complain of what they call an "inner void,"
and that is the reason why I have termed this condition
the "existential vacuum."
In contradistinction to the peak-experience
so aptly described by Maslow,
one could conceive of the existential vacuum
in terms of an "abyss-experience."
            —Victor Frankl The Will to Meaning, p. 83
     There is a wind blowing inside us, thru a vast wilderness of emptiness.
We feel like seeds blown uselessly across the desert,
without the possibility of germinating or fulfilling our potential to bloom.
Our existential nothingness is an internal vacuum with an insatiable appetite,
an emptiness at our core, threatening to suck everything else in.
Our lives are essentially hollow, lacking inner strength and vigor.
Like limply-inflated plastic bags,
we have no pressure inside flowing out to our limbs.
Instead, a central, all-consuming ulcer draws power out of our limbs.

     The Void is a dis-ease of our depths, the distress of nothingness,
a hollowness that threatens to engulf and dissolve the rest of our being.
This menace does not threaten us from outside.
Rather, it threatens to consume us from within,
so that our skin will become too thin to stand up all by itself.
At best, we can isolate the Malaise, encapsulate the gnawing Void,
before it devours our whole being and makes us disappear.

I. TWO KINDS OF EMPTINESS

     This devastating existential hollowness and screaming internal Void
is really an encounter with our Existential Predicament.
But because we have no direct human words for our Existential Dilemma,
we must borrow words from ordinary experience.

     1. “Emptiness” normally denotes a situation of some specific lack:
“The room is empty” means that it lacks either people or furniture.
“The glass is empty” means that an expected liquid is missing.

     However, “my life is empty and hollow” does not suggest what is missing.
Nevertheless, we often treat this deeper sense of nullity and void
as if it could be filled with something:
“If only I had money...”  “If only someone would love me...”
But what if we had it all: family, friends, status, success, security, health,
and enough money to go anywhere and do anything we want?
Perhaps especially when we “have everything”, we feel the Existential Void.

Chapter 5     THE EXISTENTIAL VOID:   OUR BOTTOMLESS EMPTINESS     by JAMES PARK     77


     2. We understand the causes of ordinary feelings of hollowness:
We may feel the absence of someone we love.
Perhaps a job has come to an end and we miss whatever it meant to us.
Or maybe we feel empty when our children move away or disappoint us.

     But below these ordinary, intelligible deficiencies
lies a deep existential longing, an inexplicable sense of ‘emptiness’,
a lack of content or purpose to life, which nothing can fill.

     3. Ordinarily our sense of deprivation is temporary:
Buying a new house or finding a new person to love satisfies that longing.

     But if attaining our dreams does not make us complete,
perhaps we are feeling our Existential Void—a permanent nothingness.

     4. Usually what we want lies within one area of concern:
We can easily differentiate our need for money from our need for love.
We do not seek interpersonal fulfillment by accumulating possessions.

     But our existential lack is not limited and circumscribed.
There is no painless place in our being to which we can fly for refuge.
Our whole being is one empty ache.

     5. Each kind of ordinary emptiness implies what we need:
If we feel unloved, we can seek better relationships.
If we feel poor, we can try to earn more money.

     But nothing can satisfy our existential hunger.
Nothing we can buy, attract, attain, or achieve will fill the inner Void.
This existential frustration does not imply what is lacking.
Perhaps we initially feel impelled toward striving and accomplishing
because in the past achieving something has brought satisfaction.
But thru frustrating experience, we discover that our existential hollowness
is not filled by doing or having or loving or being entertained.

     After a while we may recognize that we have two kinds of ‘emptiness’:
One kind of hollowness can be filled by “the good life”.
But the other remains empty no matter what we try.
Only after concerted efforts to fill our Existential Void
with the things that usually satisfy ordinary longings
are we convinced that our existential hollowness is ultimately unfillable.
Those momentary experiences of happiness and ‘fulfillment’
—which kept deceiving us that we were on the right path—
turn out to be distractions and dead-ends,
techniques for covering our inner Void, not for filling it.
Even in the midst of affluence, success, love—the perfect life—
the hollow Void screams thru the comforting fog.
In our secret depths, we still feel utterly empty and helpless.

78        OUR EXISTENTIAL PREDICAMENT: LONELINESS, DEPRESSION, ANXIETY, & DEATH



 
ORDINARY EMPTINESS
THE EXISTENTIAL VOID
1. Specific lack, deficit,
absence, or loss.
1. General, free-floating sense
of utter hollowness.
2. Caused by easily-understood
situations in life.
2. No connection with the objective
world; an inward nullity.
3. Temporary—until the situation
is changed, the want satisfied.
3. Permanent—no matter what changes
objectively, the nothingness persists.
4. Limited to specific dimensions. 4. A hollowness of our whole being.
5. Knowing what we lack, 
we know where to seek it.
5. Nothing we can get, achieve,
or accomplish will fill this Void.

  
    The rest of this chapter on the Existential Void

—11 pages in all—will be found in Our Existential Predicament.
See the website of the publisher for details: www.existentialbooks.com.


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