Suddenly you look around and realize that you are grown up, that you made decisions that have limited all future decisions. No one warned you. There is no more infinite possibility, there are instead deadlines, commitments and obligations. Then you log on to the internet to get escape and catch some inspiration. Hours go by as you chase this and that idea, job description, craft project and recipe. Nothing gets done and when you stand up from your desk you are no more happy than when you began.
Søren Kierkegaard was a Christian who believed that the only way to live in true joy was to embrace who we truly are – spirits created by God. He suggested in his “The Sickness unto Death” that when we are not living truly as ourselves we are out of balance and in despair. The scenario that I’ve described above is one of many types of despair he explores. This particular one is what happens when we chase possibility but do not embrace “the actual” (our current circumstances) in our lives. He suggests that we need to embrace both “the possible” and “the actual” in our lives to be truly happy. If we spend all our time chasing after dreams of what might happen then we never actually do anything. On the other hand if we are overwhelmed by the oppression of what we have done and feel that we have no choices left and no way forward we are equally in despair. Kierkegaard explained that true freedom comes when we embrace our current circumstances and we proclaim with faith that with God all things are possible.
Here is an extended quote from Chapter 3. As I read it I can’t help but think of all the false promises of our technology. I’m not against technology (obviously because here I am blogging). Technology, like any tool, has advantages and disadvantages. It’s advantage and disadvantage is to open up so many new possibilities, many of which aren’t actually possible.
“Possibility then appears to the self even greater and greater, more and more things become possible, because nothing becomes actual. At last it is as if everything were possible — but this is precisely when the abyss has swallowed up the self. Every little possibility even would require some time to become actuality. But finally the time which should be available for actuality becomes shorter and shorter, everything becomes more and more instantaneous. Possibility becomes more and more intense — but only in the sense of possibility, not in the sense of actuality; for in the sense of actuality the meaning of intensity is that at least something of that which is possible becomes actual. At the instant something appears possible, and then a new possibility makes its appearance, at last this phantasmagoria moves so rapidly that it is as if everything were possible — and this is precisely the last moment, when the individual becomes for himself a mirage.”