Evolutionary Psychology

Deep Existential Yearnings

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At various times in our lives we’re gripped by powerful, confusing feelings of having lost something, or of wanting something but not really being able to put our fingers on exactly what that something is. We might call these feelings deep existential yearnings.

These deep existential yearnings really boil down to connectedness, or in the case of the human condition where we’re often poignantly aware of our inherent separateness, the lack of connectedness. This is the basic existential dichotomy of human existence, being a part of nature yet apart from it, a part of humanity yet separate individuals.

Across evolutionary time humans moved from a state of oneness with nature to conscious awareness of differentness from nature and we all experience this same process in our own short lives as we move from the comfort of the womb and the narcissism of early childhood to the dawning awareness that we’re separate beings housed in our own skins, that we’re ultimately responsible for our own choices, that our life experiences are uniquely our own, that no one else has full access to our inner worlds. And at the somewhat more practical level, any time we choose one course of action the other possible courses of action fall be the wayside and disappear, they’re relegated to the symbolic graveyard where they remain unfulfilled forever.

So there are very good reasons for those deep existential yearnings we experience from time to time. At bottom they are the wish to go back to paradise, back to the womb, back to nature, back to some mythical time where mortality, in its real and symbolic forms, was not an issue because we weren’t aware of it. What we’re really talking about here is grief, not just for what used to be but for what never could have been though we dearly wish otherwise.