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  1. #1

    Existential Therapy: What Can Death Teach Us About Life?

    Existential Therapy: What Can Death Teach Us About Life?
    By GABRIELLE GAWNE-KELNAR, The Therapist Within

    Camellia-1-G-Gawne-Kelnar.jpg Camellia-2a-G-Gawne-Kelnar.jpg Camellia-3-G-Gawne-Kelnar1.jpg

    The footpaths were littered with camellia blossoms this morning, as I walked around the streets. Perfect pink blooms dropped onto the pavement.

    I heard a saying, once, about this phenomenon. These flowers, falling mid-bloom from the tree, echoes the way we’ll all fall from the tree of life one day.

    Unexpectedly (even when it’s expected). And often with a sense of ‘too soon.’

    So how might we prepare for this?

    Are there things that could make it easier when our time (inevitably) comes?

    And what might our death actually have to teach us about living?

    It’s funny how we often prepare for other life events like exams or performances, court cases or giving birth. Yet when it comes to one of our most powerful life events – our death – we’d often rather look the other way.

    Do you find yourself turning away like this? Pretending, somehow, that it won’t happen?

    Existential therapy encourages us to brave this stuff. To look into the face of it and see what’s there. To truly know our own death as one of the ‘four existential givens’ or the four inevitabilities of our very existence (death, freedom/responsibility, isolation and meaning/meaninglessness). Existential therapy wants to know if understanding these ‘givens’ might change the way we’d choose to live.

    So what comes up for you if you just take a moment or two right now and consider your own death?

    It’s not always easy…

    And if there’s fear there for you, perhaps it’s worth asking yourself exactly why that is (for maybe these very fears or anxieties can be pointers to a richer life).

    For instance, is it hard to think about death because something remains undone – some calling, some passion, some experiment in living? (And if so, what could you do about that?)

    Or is it perhaps more about the love you have for the people in your life? (And if so, how might you express that love more fully?)

    What other values or touchstones are there for you in these fears about death? And, by revealing what matters to you in this way, could death itself help you craft a life that’s more meaningful? A life that’s more alive.

    Similarly, another part of the mythology around camellias points to the living end of the spectrum. For they also represent a passionate life lived in a blaze of colour. And they
    reflect a sense of evanescence, of transience – those qualities which beauty itself is said to be based on.

    So these flowers remind us to live as well as that we will die.

    They remind us that ‘life is in flux’ and that ’death is what makes life special’ (as this beautiful video animation puts it).



    And perhaps they can also remind us that, though it seems like dying is lonely business, that in another sense, simply because we will all go through it, we’re all in this together…

    Photos: Gabrielle Gawne-Kelnar
    Gabrielle Gawne-Kelnar (Grad Dip Counselling & Psychotherapy) is a Sydney psychotherapist in private practice at One Life Counselling & Psychotherapy. Gabrielle also co-facilitates telephone support groupsfor people who are living with cancer, for their carers, and for people who have been bereaved through a cancer experience. She is the editor of a journal on counselling and psychotherapy and she provides regular therapeutic updates on facebook and Twitter @OneLifeTherapy.
    "What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us." ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

  2. #2

    Re: Existential Therapy: What Can Death Teach Us About Life?

    Not Enough Time to be Busy?
    By GABRIELLE GAWNE-KELNAR, The Therapist Within

    ...Busyness is often given a lot of kudos in the western world. It’s almost a badge of honour. It feels important. Even worthy, perhaps. But is that enough, considering what you might be exchanging it for?
    To take this thought even further, using a challenging and quite somber existential perspective, see if you can imagine your whole life in retrospect for a moment.

    As though you’re looking at it from a place where it’s already been lived.

    As if you could even see what was written on your own gravestone…

    And what if you read:


    “She was always very busy”
    or
    “He got through a big to-do list”
    or
    “She was efficient”
    or
    “They worked hard”
    What does it feel like to ponder that?




    Existential Therapy and 'One-Day-Thinking'
    By GABRIELLE GAWNE-KELNAR, The Therapist Within

    ...How is it that we can see and experience others dying and it often seems ‘too soon’ – and yet imagine that we’ll magically be immune from that. That we won’t be cut short. We’ll have the time. One day.

    Joyce Carol Oates, in her new memoir exploring widowhood, writes about this sort of stuff in terms of the “vanity of believing that somehow we own our lives.”

    And, maybe subconsciously, that we believe we can control how long we’re around for and when we can afford to put things off until…

    Yet our particular ‘one day’ is coming – the day it all stops being an option. (At least in the way we currently experience our lives).

    So in light of the (unmeasurable, unknowable) time you still have left here, what seems important to you? What would you like to say, to see, to heal, to attempt, to become? What freedoms and responsibilities do you have? What choices do you want to make? (This is all deep in the territory of existential therapy).

    And what action might these things entail?
    What changes might you like to make in your life to bring this about (while you can)?

    And when?
    Later?
    Sometime?
    Eventually?
    When you get around to it?
    Or maybe even today

    Maybe you want to stop swapping the life you have now for some mythical ‘later’ – to stop bartering what you do have for what you don’t (or maybe even can’t have). To live right now…
    So, as it turns out, the billboard might be right. One day could change your life.

    And perhaps that day might even be today…
    "What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us." ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

  3. #3

    Re: Existential Therapy: What Can Death Teach Us About Life?

    "Remembering that I'll be dead soon is the most important tool I've ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything — all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure — these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important."

    ~ Steve Jobs (from his 2005 commencement speech at Stanford University)
    "What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us." ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

  4. #4

    Re: Existential Therapy: What Can Death Teach Us About Life?

    Are there things that could make it easier when our time (inevitably) comes?
    For a like minded few, I agree there are things that could make it easier, but they are a minority. Until one faces death, and the prospect of knowing that only a few hours of life are left, if even that, all the comfort words and philosophies offer fall by the wayside, and uncertainty reigns. Devout adherents to religious beliefs that offer an afterlife seldom die content in knowing the afterlife will be better. They would much rather stay among the living.

    It's nice to let ones mind wander about the ambiguity of dying, but, when crunch time comes, few want to leave despite all the quaint uplifting existential Soylent Green types of scenarios. I am speaking of when Edward G Robinson lays down to die listening to Beethovens Pastoral.


    Existentialists of the past, the great philosphers of which there are many, contributed little more than argument and indecision to the common person, and the world is mostly common persons, and they care little for the clique of existentialism. Death and dying, for the person involved, is full of apprehension, unless drugs dictate otherwise.

    all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure — these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important."
    ....and few acknowledge this until their number is up....and what is it that is "truly important"? What is truly important is how you feel about yourself, and the role you played in life, and that in death, whatever deities may preside, your actions will be noted on the plus side.

    Steve Jobs was first and foremost a salesman, a corporate super hero, and in the vangaurd of finacially rewarding technological breakthroughs that further isolate personal interaction among individuals. That he is in some ways deified in a sense is irksome. That he has been compared to Randy Pausch is particularily irksome. We will all have words of meaning when we are dying, but the time to say, and live them, is when we are not dying.

    This article has hit a particular nerve in me. Palliative Care workers know the truth about dying, and it is seldom designated to, or improved by, any philosophy other than fear, regret, and apprehension. There are some that die with calmness, but not many.

    A little off topic, but hopefully not to critical. The video in the post is very thought provoking. Thanks for posting it.

  5. #5

    Re: Existential Therapy: What Can Death Teach Us About Life?

    I think a larger criticism of existentialism is that it has an obsession with death. Even some existential professors with heart conditions, like the late Robert Solomon, think existentialism has a "death fetish."

    The Joy of Philosophy: Thinking Thin ... - Robert C. Solomon - Google Books
    "What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us." ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

  6. #6

    Re: Existential Therapy: What Can Death Teach Us About Life?

    Yes, I have always felt something macabre about existentialism. Too black and white.

  7. #7

    Re: Existential Therapy: What Can Death Teach Us About Life?

    Expectation, Acceptance and the Art of Letting Go
    By GABRIELLE GAWNE-KELNAR, The Therapist Within
    November 2010

    I read a great saying the other day, on Facebook. It was sent as a message from one friend to another, offered as a kind of reassuring salve for the sting of not feeling appreciated or acknowledged by other people:

    “Do something good and throw it into the ocean”*

    Wow.

    I like it because at first it seems a little extreme. And then the sense it makes starts slowly dawning…

    To just do the thing for its own sake.

    To release any expectations or hopes for the way it might be received by others.

    To just let go of whatever happens next…

    It’s exactly what I needed to hear just now. Having recently finished a project of sorts, I could feel that, even though the more ‘adult’ part of me didn’t need it, some smaller, more vulnerable part had quietly hoped for acknowledgement. And this saying helps that part to just let it all float out to sea…

    It’s so freeing.

    For what does it mean if we shackle our take on things to getting a particular kind of response?

    If we let the way other people react (or not) decide how we feel about our achievements or our efforts.

    If we judge ourselves via the lenses others see us through (or at least the lenses we imagine they have).

    If your experience of something – perhaps even of your life – is largely defined by how others view it, where does that leave you?

    Have you ever felt like that?

    Maybe it’s been around the things you do.

    Or maybe it’s about who you are.

    Perhaps like you really wanted someone to understand you, or to acknowledge the pain you experience in your relationship with them? Or maybe you really hoped they’d ‘get’ you and how you see the world.

    (Maybe there’s even a quiet sense of resentment or hurt tied up in all of that).

    What might it be like to just surrender all of that to the waves? The expectations and the pain they can cause.

    To ‘do your best and then throw it into the ocean’.

    To accept the drift of the currents.

    And to continue walking along the beach …
    .
    *An Arabic saying

    Gabrielle Gawne-Kelnar (Grad Dip Counselling & Psychotherapy) is a Sydney psychotherapist in private practice at One Life Counselling & Psychotherapy. Gabrielle also co-facilitates telephone support groupsfor people who are living with cancer, for their carers, and for people who have been bereaved through a cancer experience. She is the editor of a journal on counselling and psychotherapy and she provides regular therapeutic updates on facebook and Twitter @OneLifeTherapy.
    "What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us." ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

  8. #8

    Re: Existential Therapy: What Can Death Teach Us About Life?

    150 years ago, a world-famous philosopher called busyness the sign of an unhappy person -- Quartz

    ...Kierkegaard saw busyness as a form of sloth—at the other extreme to laziness, but a vice just the same. Busyness may not look like sloth as we typically imagine it, as a person lolling around and refusing to engage in any activity, but it’s a form of mental or spiritual apathy, a refusal to take up genuine and meaningful work and so, in this sense, it’s lazy.

    ...Kierkhaard diagnosed busyness as a common flaw of the human condition. And so while it may be exacerbated by contemporary technologies, it’s not unique to our times—and will not subside unless we make a conscious effort to root ourselves in the present and engage with bigger questions to find meaning in life.
    "What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us." ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

  9. #9
    Join Date
    May 2011
    Location
    British Columbia
    Posts
    1,374

    Re: Existential Therapy: What Can Death Teach Us About Life?

    Thank you, Daniel.....this thread was very helpful for me at this time....I am coping with the death of a family member and also with death in my work place....I have very little experience with death.....directly.

  10. #10
    Join Date
    Feb 2016
    Location
    Canada
    Posts
    210

    Re: Existential Therapy: What Can Death Teach Us About Life?

    My second therapist was existential therapist, I went for about 12 sessions. It was hard to achieve any fast results, but I remember pieces from here and there at times and at times find them helpful

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