You Gon' Die: The Existential Window
Updated: Sep 21, 2022
“The ‘therapeutic window’. What a delicious term for the interruption of medical treatment! Might you perhaps hurl yourself into the void through this therapeutic window? How about a hermeneutic window from which to hurl yourself beyond meaning. Or an existential window from which to hurl yourself out of existence and the perpetual reasons for existing.” – Jean Baudrillard
In 2010, when attending a graduate-level counseling course entitled Group Counseling with Adults and Children, a professor introduced me to the concept of existentialism. Some people, particularly those of religious or faith-based conviction, may not appreciate existential philosophy.
An oversimplified way of describing this topic is, as one source states, “Existentialists believe that we’re born without purpose into a world that makes no sense — but each person has the ability to create his or her own sense of meaning and peace.”
The professor would often greet the class by saying something like, “Good morning, class, just a reminder before we get started—you are all going to one day die.” Sometimes he would follow the statement with encouragement to find meaning in the face of suffering, sometimes not.
It was one of my favorite courses and truly one of the most meaningful concepts I’ve yet to learn. Notably, from as early as I can recall, I was raised with awareness of my eventual death. I simply didn’t have a way of describing purpose and meaning aside from religiosity.
My household was not one in which I was taught lies about an overweight man bearing gifts in the night, an intrusive woman sneaking around in the dark to check underneath my pillow, or a hypersexualized rabbit that hid treats in the yard. I was taught that we live and we die, also known as truth, without needing to “look at life through a replica of reality, tryin’ to make it lifelike.”
What I didn’t learn as a child was how to find meaning amidst suffering. Death was a given, making sense of suffering until the grave wasn’t as clear to me.
Practicing Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT), I assist clients with existentialist consideration. I can’t prevent suffering, because proposing I could do so would be akin to learning of a winged deity that shoots people with arrows and impacts uncontrollable desire.
Rather, I encourage clients to consider what Trippie Redd so eloquently states in his song “Death,” featuring DaBaby, by aptly declaring, “You gon’ die.” To me, this seems as self-evident as how good corn is said to be for some people. “It’s corn! It’s awesome!”
Still, I find that a surprising number of people deceive themselves about their impending deaths. I’m not talking about those who simply avoid contemplation of their eventual inanimate status; I’m referring to those who pretend as though there is no such thing as death.
I’m willing to entertain the idea; yet, I live as though my heartbeat, lung movement, and brain activity will one day cease to function. This seems self-evident.
How you choose to interface with life is not within my control, nor should it be. Likewise, how I choose to live my life is also not a matter of your determination. Each of us has choices.
Most high-functioning clients with whom I’ve worked haven’t deluded themselves into thinking they will never die, regardless of their personal perspectives concerning what may or may not occur after they pass. The majority of my clients accept that they gon’ die.
This being the likely case, what then may be done while one still has blood circulation, breath in the lungs, and active brain and mind function? What will you do, reader, with the time you have left in your life?
My group counseling professor taught the class a therapeutic technique he deemed the “existential window.” It is used to promote purpose and meaning in regards to the remaining time in one’s life.
The exercise goes something like this:
From the time of your birth, there began an open window that closes with each passing moment. There is no guarantee as to how long the window will remain open or what view the window provides.
Your window may last one week, a decade, or even one century. You may observe a green pasture, the side of an urban building, or even the recreation yard of a prison.
A portion of the time your window remains open, you aren’t even aware of its existence. What toddler contemplates an eventual death? What aged person, experiencing cognitive decline, can accurately recall various stages of the window’s position?
While your window is open, the windows of others are slammed shut. Still, other windows are opening. And with the passage of time, your window inches closer to an end.
Suppose you reach midlife, whenever that may be. If you die at 14-years-old, it’s seven. If you pass at 80-years-old, it’s forty. What have you done with the time your window has remained open?
You can’t heave the window in an upward direction, opening it further. Perhaps you can slow its descent or increase its rate of closure with the choices you make.
For a moment, look out your window. It is open to a degree. It’s closed to a degree. What view do you have? Are you gazing at a scenic landscape, a horrific death camp setting, or some other spectacle?
Are you satisfied with how you’ve behaved when your window was opened wider and there was perhaps more opportunity to alter your view? Perhaps you’re content with what simply is.
Maybe you have a week left of an open window, and without awareness of this possibility, you say to yourself, “What a fulfilled life I’ve lived.” Does this phrase represent the summation of your life thus far?
If not, what may be done to change your perspective? Consider that you may be midway through your life. Have you adequately valued your time?
If not, what might you do with your remaining time? How much more time are you willing to devote towards the view you currently have—a decade, a year, ten minutes, or even one more minute?
We do not control many of the aspects impacting the passage of time from when our windows are up until they close. How much more time will you waste?
Will you devote a decade more of rigidly demanding that others change to satisfy you? How much time has passed of your attempt to prescribe how the world should, must, or ought to function, only to realize your window continues to steadily close?
Perhaps you’re willing to dedicate another year towards using extreme belief systems with which you disturb yourself, only to find that your window continues to shut and other people focus less on your iss-YOUs while tending to the fact that their windows are closing, as well.
A year may be too much to ask. Will you offer up another ten minutes of your life to upsetting yourself mentally, emotionally, and behaviorally? How about another minute?
It very well could be that you’re dedicated to pretending your window doesn’t exist. You may be the type of person who turns your back, closes the blinds, and shuts out a constant reminder of your finite time only to eventually die in astonishment of how much time you’ve wasted.
You gon’ die.
With limited exceptions, you have a choice as to what may be done about your view. What will you choose to do with your remaining time? “Ery’body got choices.”
If you’re ready to choose a purpose-driven, meaningful existence and you’re looking for a provider who works to help you understand how thinking impacts physical, mental, emotional, and behavioral elements of your life, I invite you to reach out today by using the contact widget on my website. Together, let’s work on purpose and meaning.
As a psychotherapist, and hip hop head from the old school, I’m pleased to help people with an assortment of issues from anger (hostility, rage, and aggression) to relational issues, adjustment matters, trauma experience, justice involvement, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, anxiety and depression, and other mood or personality-related matters.
At Hollings Therapy, LLC, serving all of Texas, I aim to treat clients with dignity and respect while offering a multi-lensed approach to the practice of psychotherapy and life coaching. My mission includes: Prioritizing the cognitive and emotive needs of clients, an overall reduction in client suffering, and supporting sustainable growth for the clients I serve. Rather than simply helping you to feel better, I want to help you get better!
Deric Hollings, LPC, LCSW
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