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Principles for a Present Centered Existence

by Herb Stevenson

According to Peter Koestenbaum, existential philosophy reflects our pursuit of the authentic meaning of human fulfillment. (1979) Using the phenomenological method, existentialism “accepts as authentic or original data, those experiences which are presented to us in immediate consciousness. The true nature of the facts of human experience are as they appear to the apprehending ego in their unadulterated form, that is, without assumption or presupposition.” (1971, 64-65) “Both the method and its ensuing theory have many of the characteristics of scientific inquiry: analysis of reality based on descriptions of the actually observed facts and structures of existence rather than on a priori categories. (1971, 63)

Our pursuit of authentic meaning as suggested by Koestenbaum is often correlated with finding our home, wherein the pursuit of finding our home is actually the pursuit of finding our authentic self. In these terms then, “home is the consciousness that each of us is in our silent and solitary centers...To understand and to experience that individual conscious center is to have found our home...that is, to have discovered our sacred inward nature.”(1979, xiii)

To discover our inward sacred, we typically move through two levels of emergency: (1) something tragic, such as a health crisis occurs, where we realize our fallibility and (2) an existential crisis embraces us, such as an spiritual or identity crisis, where we realize we do not know “how to live well, how to fulfill our destiny, and how to give our life true meaning.” (1979, xv) The latter is often referred to as a “midlife” crisis, however the crisis can happen any time in life.


“Life is a meaningful concept only because of the idea of death...We would have to invent our death in order to be aware of the fact that we are alive...This insight, that opposites create, is compressed in the very meaning of the word definition. To define means to delimit, to set boundaries, because to bring out the meaning of a concept is to show its borders, to indicate what it is not. (1979, 150) Hence, to understand night, we have day and vice versa; to understand joy, we need suffering and vice versa, to understand aloneness, we need Other and vice versa. Consciousness expands when we become aware and understand the polarities that we use to define our lives, our self.

The Other

“The other is a necessary aspect of consciousness.. It is our roots. The other, by its nature, opposes the subject of consciousness. Sometimes the opposition is called hate, sometimes love. But always it is the other. The other can be a person or nature. Every experience in which we feel real, substantial, joyous, and alive is an experience in which we have discovered the reality of the other; we have discovered that we are not alone in this world. Nature is real, not an illusion. People are real, not an illusion.” (1979, 150-151) Hence, to know “I”, we must know “not I” and therefore, “we want negation; we choose it and assume full responsibility for it; negation is an aspect of humanity’s supreme good” (1979, 151) It is how we create our life.


Frustration, existentially, helps clarify the other. “The experience of frustration can include, in addition to anger and aggression, such feelings as bitterness, disgust, cruelty, hate, annoyance, destruction. The disclosure—conscious awareness—opened up by frustration is the reality of the other in life. Frustration is...[the inability to confront the reality of the other in existence. Hence], frustration can be turned into love if we recognize that behind it lurks, at least in part, the childish desire to be alone with a fantasy world, [ergo] the inability to confront the reality of the other in existence. [Nonetheless], frustration reveals to you that the world beyond your inward consciousness is real and is there for you. (1979, 174)

Social- and Self-Consciousness

We have two forms of consciousness—social and individual. Our social consciousness is the source of our social self–concept. It is a cultural affair where family, friends, institutions such as church and school and state, and profession attempt to define, introject, and enforce generally accepted behavior. Our individual consciousness is inward and completely personal. It is that aspect of ourselves that is exclusively and uniquely ours, which we do not share with others. It is our personal programming, our original way of making meaning, our established way of living in the world, that rarely is self examined and more often is self–sealed. It is the lens created from which to see and experience the world. (1979, 22-25) In relating to these two forms of consciousness, “the more immersed we become in a changing culture, the more we need to be reminded of what is timeless and fundamental—my consciousness and capacity to reflect on my own thinking.” (2001, 4-5).

To understand the power of the social self-concept and the impact it has had on the individual self–concept, “make the assumption that you brought about your relations with people and your lifestyle deliberately. Tell yourself ‘I created my world. I created my personality and I am responsible for them. I constructed my environment; I alone am responsible for my environment and only I can change my environment.’” (1979, 24) Pay attention to your thoughts that immediately create defensive comments to refute your personal responsibility for your life. Pay attention to rising tension or nausea or dizziness or dissociation that fills your body. Pay attention to any sense of deepening or despair over the possibility that it is true. “A general rule is that your individual world —personal, social, and environmental—is a strong clue to your [self-sealed,] self-image. (1979, 24)”

Some Innate Truths

Interestingly, the social self tends to deny some innate truths about our authenticity and humanness. First, “freedom is a fact of our existing in the world.” (2001, 10) Much of the social self-concept is to diminish this freedom and lead each of us towards a specific way of being, and therefore a specific way of perceiving the world. Second, “accountability, true accountability, cannot be imposed or demanded; it occurs as an inevitable outgrowth of our freedom, for we account for what we choose and what we claim as our own.” (2001, 10) Any external method of accountability is actually a means to ensure compliance with a designated policy or custom or law and to justify punishment for non-compliance. Third, “as inevitably as the existence of our freedom, we are forced to experience and confront:

Fourth, “and most important, these experiences are what give meaning, character, and texture to our lives; they are not negatives or failures that a healthy person should move beyond.” (2001, 11) Rather, a well lived life that is present-centered recognizes that freedom manifested through conscious efforts is a series of choices about living, how we behave, how we treat other people, how we choose to be in the world that we have created. Fifth, when we accept the preceding philosophy of life, we realize that we constitute the world in which we live, which is to fulfill the promise of being created in God’s image. (2001, 11) It is in God’s image that we create our own lives, that we are responsible for what we have created, that we can choose to live consciously or to slide into our socially created self-concept of habitual patterns, that we can choose moral or evil behavior, and that we can face and accept the consequences of our choices. In essence, we can consciously examine and self-define who we are, tending to the internal creation of one’s individual self-concept, or we can continue to blame our existence on the external culture, our social self-concept.


Freedom is an inescapable truth for mankind. “Our freedom within certain boundless.” (2001, 30) We can choose to live consciously or we can choose not to choose and therefore live unconsciously. Regardless of our choosing, “it is an irrefutable and irrevocable fact that we have free will.” (2001, 31)

A Fish in Water

Culture manifested in family of origin, ethnicity, religion, nationality, gender, race, sexual orientation, etcetera, presents the illusion that we are not free because like a fish in water, we are immersed and therefore unaware of these limiting or constricting influences. Nonetheless, we choose to deceive ourselves into believing that we are not free because like a fish, we can move out of water so as to know it and therefore decide whether to be confined by it or to accept it consciously within our free will.

“Once we have mustered the courage to understand, to accept, and to face fully the absolute existence of our free will, we will discover it can give us unequaled power to handle our fundamental problems. To accept and to understand one’s free will is to have reached maturity, to have developed the capacity to live life fully. (2001, 31-32)

To fully understand our free will requires that we constantly use self-reflection and introspection to examine what we choose and choose not to choose. This process results in the development of conscious awareness. As we develop our conscious awareness, we begin to find other cultures or fields of immersion that hold a frame of reference of how to be in the world. Once these fields of immersion are revealed, we begin to realize that there are other cultures, etc., and therefore that we are immersed in our own culture. Once we realize this state, we have further revealed personal freedom in choice and in use of free will.


“To feel responsibility for one’s actions is not merely a desirable frame of mind, but is above all the recognition of a fact of human existence, a fact that follows directly from our understanding of our free will or freedom.” (2001, 40) “Blaming other people or external circumstances for our problems, misfortunes, failures, and meaninglessness is not an insight into the “true” nature of things, but merely a cheap and eventually ineffectual form of escape. To blame others merely means making a decision to avoid responsibility which ultimately and inescapably is one’s own.” (2001, 41.) We are responsible for the quality of our lives.


“Realizing the fact and nature of our freedom makes us mature; it gives us the reins of our life—we can exercise control, direction, and command over our own existence, We each become an individual, with all the satisfaction, concreteness, solidity, and security that this implies. Successful and authentic living and action require a constant consciousness of the fullness of our freedom and the corresponding responsibility and control.” (2001, 78) In short, responsibility is learning to show-up (be fully present) without preconceived notions while being able to clearly set boundaries and to take action congruent with whom you are.


We tend to spend tremendous amounts of energy subduing anxiety. Because it exists within every person, it is a part of the human condition. However, because we are a symptomatic society that ranks discomfort within the “bad” symptoms or conditions of life and comfort within the “good” symptoms of life, we tend as a society to eliminate part of what it means to be human. When we get down to the basics of humanity, we realize that the “experience of anxiety is not an undesirable pain but is, in fact, a fundamental clue to the authentic structure of the human condition.” (2001, 92)

Authentic Anxiety

Authentic anxiety reminds us that we can experience life as pointless, empty, boring, and meaningless, while at the same time being terrified to admit it. (2001, 93) Simultaneously, anxiety reminds us of the nothingness of life that is experienced via dread, anguish, and angst, each reminding us of the deep sense of loss of those things that matter most. Anxiety is the threatened loss of existence as we know it. Often, anxiety leads us into despair where “we discover that ultimate anxiety discloses that the indestructible presence of consciousness. Rather than death, we discover “the very ground of being that we are. Thus anxiety is the threshold that leads to the understanding that the consciousness and the ego (which is not the same as my body or my person) cannot be thought of as not existing.” (2001, 95)

A sense of the struggle to surrender to our humanness is suggested by the following poem.

The Angst of Awareness

The angst of awareness
chokes my soul
beholds my whole
extols a toll
while extanting
why I am in the world.
The angst of awareness
pierces the disdain
shreds me with pain
detects the insane
while proclaiming
how I am in the world.
The angst of awareness
screams for freedom
belies my real-dom
reveals the heal-done
while personifying
who I am in the world.
    © Herb Stevenson, 2001

Anxiety is really about death or more precisely the anxiety about death. The presence of any sense of death, whether it be by the experience of negation of one’s existence in any form, including the lack of “being seen” or “mirrored” by a parent as an infant, creates deep anxiety. However, the presence of death, also, leads to courage, strength, and integrity, and makes clear what our genuine values are.” (2001, 96–97)

In short, “anxiety is the natural condition of human beings. Anxiety is [fear and] reveals truths that we wish to hide but in fact need for our greater health. Anxiety is the experience of growth itself. How does it feel to proceed to the next stage of growth? The answer is, be anxious. Anxiety must, therefore, be valued, not denied. [Moreover,] “the healthy person is the courageous one, the person unafraid of anxiety, who says yes to life in spite of the overwhelming omnipresence of this abyss of death. In fact, courage means to know a secret: anxiety is pure energy. It can go in either destructive or constructive directions; you make the choice. To be is to say yes to anxiety [and overcome your internal fear].That is the meaning of courage. (2002, 142)

As described above, “existential anxiety, also called authentic anxiety, is the unique aspect of human experience that reveals our truth of what it means to be human.” (2001,124-125) When anxiety is denied, our nature for depth and breadth of existence is denied. “And that denial leads to conditions of inauthenticity called, variously, mental illness, neurosis, maladjustment, maladaptation, melancholia, and so forth. But above all, the denial of existential anxiety leads to a lack of meaning in life, to an existence without a task, to a condition of despair—because we must live yet cannot live. (2001, 125)

Neurotic Anxiety

Neurotic anxiety, typically referred to as resistances in Gestalt theory, is secondary anxiety. It is the denial of authentic anxiety , or, if you prefer, it is anxiety (or fear) about anxiety that is played out by denying its existence. Hence, fear of the truths that might surface about ourselves and the avoidance of pain in various form of psychological discomfort lead away from the insights that can surface from authentic anxiety.

Authentic anxiety results in an experience of some truth, whereas inauthentic anxiety converts the pure energy into various mechanisms such as repression, projection, dissociation, compulsion, obsession, compensation, sublimation, and so on. (2001, 126) Neurotic anxiety leads to various degrees of unhappiness because we have not developed sufficient internal and/or external support to face or bear the truth of our existence. More specifically, neurotic anxiety limits life because a jaded picture that life should only be positive, joyful, ecstatic or pleasant is a naive’ is used to justify denial of the authentic anxiety.


Guilt is defined as a feeling of having committed wrong or failed in an obligation. When applied to presence or present-centered living we find that guilt has a more indepth meaning. “Existential guilt is guilt about unfulfilled potential, about self-betrayal and anger at one’s weakness. [Whom I am.] Neurotic guilt has two layers: the denial of the existence of existential guilt altogether, and the internalization of external and essentially irrelevant rules and values.” (2001, 295) [What I am supposed to be or do]

“Freedom leads to the anxiety of guilt, for whenever you choose freely, you can deny freely, and whatever value you deny by your choice can lead to guilt. In fact, guilt is proof of the existence of freedom, for guilt is what you feel when you have made a deeply personal and very difficult choice. To face the anxiety of guilt is to move forward with courage.”(1979, 73/2002, 143) “To choose means to say yes to one thing by saying no to another.” (1979, 73) Often, the yes is to answer the call to be whom you are versus what you’re suppose to be. In such situations, a sense of joy results from yes-saying to whom you are and the sense of guilt derives from no-saying to what you’re supposed to be. “Joy is proof of a decision made, but so is guilt.” (1979, 73-74) Guilt is the realization that a decision has been made and the existential awareness is that decision-making is an authentic, free and human activity. As such, the existence of...guilt proves that you have the strength to make decisions, to evaluate your own life by your own standards, and to choose and maintain your own standards and values. (2001, 75)

“Existential guilt of the most profound pains in life, a pain impervious to medical and psychological treatment,...regret over unfulfilled possibilities, grief over unrealized potential.” (2001, 297) It is the deep and unadulterated awareness that we did not show up for our self whether it be in life, love, learning, relating, dreaming, or living.

Existential or ‘good’ guilt “cannot be cured. [It] is the essence of humanity. [It] is a means to self disclosure, and the wisdom thus gained can make one free...The guilty person can gain strength, maturity, and joy as the result of a direct confrontation with [‘good’] guilt. (1979, 72-733)

“Neurotic guilt is the limitation placed on life when one rejects the guilt about possibilities. People who do not recognize that they are always betraying their most genuine intrinsic values are individuals living on the surface, who spend most of their time trying to forget the real values of life. It is also the act of swallowing whole a set of external rules[, such as family, ethnicity, culture, institutionalized customs , and nationalism] and then forming an overdeveloped stance of judging ourselves and others. This second type of neurotic guilt leads to the defensive personality. It is exhibited by people who do not feel entitled to their rights, do not feel they belong in this world, and find it necessary to apologize for actions, demands, and needs that most people find quite acceptable. They must therefore depend on others to tell them who they are and what they must do.” (2001, 296)

In truth, guilt is healthy when we understand that “existential guilt refers to the knowledge that you are betraying what your own inner wisdom tells you about your own purpose and the choices before you. At issue is being honest with oneself about— What do you want? What is right for you?”—not what are you supposed to do. (2001, 296-7) As such, it is important to understand, existentially, you are not responsible for the decisions of others. Guild is real and important. To mature, be your guilt; identify with it; it will give you strength. Assume fully the responsibility that your guilt suggests. It will reveal your original source of guilt—when you ignored or betrayed your true self—and make you independent and dissolve artificial polarities. (1979, 80)


To fully live we need to face the limitations that are inescapable, such as death and failures. In basic terms, death reveals itself via death of another and death of myself. Death of another is an act by which we are a witness to the death, whereas death of myself is the total disintegration and dissolution of my personal world. Simply put, I no longer exist. Once we understand that death of myself is inevitable, it becomes clear that through my free will, I can choose to live each day fully and as if it is my last. In other words, “the enormous anxiety generated by the full understanding of the meaning of the death of myself leads, like a catharsis, to the determination and eventual acquisition of a meaningful life. (2001, 216)

Symbolic Death

“For the purposes of finding meaning in life, a symbolic death has all the reality of a so-called real death. Every person lives in a self-created world...A Symbolic death is the collapse of the particular world which our energies and goals are directed...[Moreover,] a personal slight is a further example of symbolic death. To be ignored by others, especially by those whose attention we prize and esteem, is to be thought death[, that is non-existent.] A common form of expressing anger, hate, hostility, or chagrin is to refuse to speak to the person with whom we relate that feeling. What we do, in fact, is refuse to acknowledge the very existence of that person; we act as if that person were dead. And the effects of our actions are similar to those facing a person in what real or genuine death.”(2001, 222)

Understanding the implications of foregoing leads us to the following understanding. (1) To accept a person—by being understanding, forgiving, friendly, cordial, open-hearted, and sympathetic—is to act as if the person were alive. To accept someone is embrace that person in our world. In the act of acceptance, their world reaches out to ours. (2) On the other hand, to reject someone—by criticizing, disapproving, or ignoring what is important to that individual—is to threaten him or her with symbolic death. (2001,222) To reject is to create the experience of nonexistence. In the act of rejection, their world is denied entry to ours.1

Courage to Live

The sense of death, real or symbolic, requires an act of courage to live. The courage and determination to make sense of this life while it lasts and fulfill all its possibilities—in the face of death—is seen in common cliches about death such as “he went out with his boots on”. It is in the living that we make meaning and create life. It is also in the living that we begin to unravel the illusion of symbolic deaths. Symbolic deaths are unwarranted transferences of our existence and its determination onto another, whereas in truth the only death is our own. Barring murder, no one can eliminate our existence except when we choose to act as if they can do so.

Reality of Mortality

“Authentic happiness and success in human existence demand uncompromising realism; we must understand and acknowledge the facts of life. (2001, 228) We are going to die. We can choose to fully live—by consciously creating our existence. “People who are aware of their death and the consequent limit to their time on earth will concentrate on the essentials. They will not waste time in useless details, since detail is often but an excuse to avoid the real issues in life.” (2001, 232) Once we recognize the reality of our mortality, values and goals become crystal clear and action is focused towards them. By constantly knowing what is important, the world begins to be assembled around these goals and values.


Evil connotes so many meanings and instantly inspires massive images and emotions that it is hard to truly conceive. Most of us prefer to view evil as something that applies to someone else and those “evildoers are not amongst my friends and family (at least not that we recognize).” In general terms, evil is viewed as the destruction, mutilation, or desecration of civilized values, human lives, and the sacred. It is what leads to outbursts of rage, violence, and symbolic death. It is what dehumanizes mankind and leads to treating others as nothing more than objects. Evil embraces and bolsters fear which in turn creates the necessary sense of separation and alienation to create envy, apathy, inferiority, and resentment. Any one of these dark behaviors can lead to the terror-invoking action to destroy, mutilate, or desecrate someone or some thing.

Definition of Evil

In existential terms, evil is “inconsiderateness. Evil is the denial —from insensitivity to murder—of the sanctity of the inward, conscious, and free center of any human being.” (1978, 260) “Evil reveals itself in five elements:

Evil is unacceptable because regardless of the act of evil, it requires denigrating someone or something. For example, to be ignored for promotion because of gender, race or nationality, religion or sexual orientation is evil. It requires creating a symbolic death—“you do not exist”— and thereby violates human integrity and tarnishes authenticity. In basic terms, we missed the mark of being our own humanness.

Self Justification

Evil is real because we justify our actions each day in creating large and intentional as well as small and unintentional acts of silence and violence towards others through ignoring, mistreating and otherwise symbolically killing them. For example, “as people begin to feel unsafe, they start down one of two unhealthy paths. They move to silence (withholding meaning) or to silence (trying to force meaning).” (Patterson, et al, 2002, 51) Applying existential thought to these behaviors, silence appears in masking our true self and intension by understating or selectively revealing our true thoughts, avoiding contact whatsoever either in conversations or in person and withdrawing from relationship. All three can lead to the experience of symbolic death. Violence consists of any strategy that attempts to convince, control or compel others to your point of view or desired action. Here, again, instead of authentically engaging others, they are treated as objects that need to be controlled, labeled or attacked. Control becomes attempts to coerce, labeling becomes means by which to dismiss or denigrate others, and attack becomes explicit efforts to make another suffer through belittling and/or use of threats. (Patterson,2002, 51-56).

To Be Human

To be human is to struggle against Evil because we cannot know authenticity and integrity as well as what is good without knowing what is evil and bad. “Because of our polarized nature, we exist on the interface between good and evil. Our freedom chooses which side to take and how far to go. This type of choice is archetypal, basic, foundational. It defines who we are. (2001, 248) The story below further exemplifies this polarity.

The struggle against evil gives meaning to our life because the struggle requires vigilance and consciousness to be accountable for who and how we are and choose to be in the world. Moreover, once we are aware of our shadow2 or phantom3 behaviors, we are responsible for them.

Our stance against evil is freely chosen because once we understand and accept responsibility for our lives, we have no choice. We either choose evil or we choose life.

Without Illusion

“Any attempt to rationalize evil away is a tendency toward the denial of evil, whether we believe it leads to good or whether we feel that our struggle against it softens it. Only when we recognize evil as a final barrier do we experience the truth of our finitude. Only then do we live without illusion.” (2001, 250) We are the creator of our own lives. We choose good or evil each moment, consciously or unconsciously.

Tragedies of any form, such as hurricane Katrina or the government’s inept response, resulted in the horror of seeing corpses floating for days in murky waters and sitting in wheel chairs. Such incidents are totally and completely unacceptable. Depending on your frame of reference, God is to blame for creating hurricane Katrina or the government is to blame because of causing global warming and thereby increasing the ferocity of Katrina or the Presidential office is to blame for stripping FEMA, the disaster relief agency, of all authority, funds, and capability. Regardless of how you made meaning, it is in response to the intolerability of the situation, the anxiety of evil. “This is self-evident to anyone who permits the full anxiety (intolerability) of Hurricane Katrina to reveal itself. All that is needed to discover the unconscionable and unacceptable quality of evil is to permit these events to penetrate every pore of our being. That is what we mean by confronting existential or ultimate anxiety and opening up to its revelations.” (2001, 251)

“The only available response for self respecting persons is to struggle in whatever way possible against evil events. And it is precisely this struggle that gives life meaning and worth, that gives birth to the phenomenon of morality in human existence. Morality is our willingness to be accountable for our response to a suffering world. This accountability is born the moment we acknowledge our freedom in having played a part in creating this world.” (2001, 252)

Personal Accountability

“Probably the most effective response to the anxiety of evil is to know it requires us to be accountable for our morality, ethics, integrity, destiny, and purpose. In other words, the reality of evil brings about fundamental recognition: it gives meaning to morality and the need to be accountable for our lives and all that is around us...The sense of being a person is the accountability that consciousness brings about in response to the existence of evil. Individuation occurs in response to the confrontation with an alienated, opposing, and threatening Other. And that Other is what we call evil. ...Evil is the opposing negativity which produces such alienation; evil is the terrifying confrontation which brings about the courage that preserves individuality.” (2001, 255-7) In facing evil, we find the courage to consciously and fully exist. As a result, “this stand against evil offers a sense of individual identity, solidity, and strength. It becomes an intrinsic value. Individual introspection about evil gives a sense of personhood, which is experienced as inherently valuable.” (2001, 258)

Common Evils

“The anxiety of evil produces character and the sense of integrity and worth. But it also produces meaning and the motivation to create a future for ourselves and for the world...You can find meaning, a future, by focusing on your own anxiety of evil, by discovering the greatest evil in your life. Here is a range of evils that might concern you:


Anxiety of evil is more often experienced as something that is not tolerable yet has little or no known basis for creating such an intense reaction. For example, any of the prior suggested sources of intolerable energy—anxiety of evil is likely a clue for what has become your life’s task or destiny. For fear or intolerance of ignorance, you may become a scholars of sorts. For fear or intolerance of illness you may become extremely health conscious. For fear or intolerance of obesity, you may become a physical fitness buff. “If you can produce a profile of yourself in terms of these six types of evil—by asking which of these evils troubles you most—then you may find your goal, destiny, purpose, and life task in the struggle against them. You may already have achieved this aspect of coping with the anxiety of evil. However, you can now bring it into consciousness, use your freedom, and access and revise what you have done...Each of us adopts our ‘life tasks’ in light of such situations. Since these tasks commonly start early and may therefore now be deeply entrenched, you can reverse the process of discovery. You can examine your present interests and then assume that they are in fact your current response to a deep and even unconscious confrontation with your individual and unique supreme evil. And in this way you can discover—through inference—the particular evil buried deep within you.” (2001, 261-262)

“Interest is a function of rebellion against evil. We have philosophic answer to the question of how our purpose originates: people’s interests, values, goals, or meanings are reactions to their perception of what is active evil or the evil or what is missing in the world. An interest is a way of saying ‘I am’ in the face of destructive opposition, confronting otherness, and threatening evil. The anxiety of evil comes first; the discovery of meaning is a reaction, not an action.” (2001, 262)

Goals and Purpose

“A goal or purpose gives meaning to one’s life not because it is achieved or even because it can be achieved. On the contrary, a goal already gives meaning if our eyes merely face in that direction, and even more if our life begins to move toward it...To have a goal—even if that goal be the elimination of all goals—injects passion, life, enthusiasm, vitality, energy, direction, and joy into human existence. Our goal is to face our specific evil. In this struggle we achieve substance and we achieve meaning.” (2001, 263-4)

“If we lack goals in our life we experience ennui, depression, unhappiness, irritability and general dissatisfaction with life” Cynicism being the most common expression of being goal-less. That condition, being goalless in any of its many forms “is proof that we have not made the decision to assume responsibility for being ourselves—or, more specifically, responsibility for confronting evil with meaning. We have not yet made the fundamental, archetypal decision that differentiates us from our environment and creates us as an individual identity. The decision to b an individual has been postponed successfully, for to have a goal is to continually choose to say yes to oneself, and often to say no to another.” (2001. 264-5)

To be goalless means “our center is ungrounded and underdeveloped. When we are truly goalless, we experience the absence of our inner and solid core. We do not understand the meaning of becoming an individual and therefore lack potency and efficacy... Lack of meaning is caused by the absence of a sense of individuality. And this results from ignoring and devaluing our freedom. To be an individual you must make the free decision to be one and to assume full responsibility for your life.”(2001, 265-66)

Our Core

“The foundation for freedom is to be a centered human being, an insight dependent on a clear understanding of our transcendental dimension. Consequently, if we cannot find meaning, no matter how hard we try, there is the absence of an inner core, a core whose existence we can bring about by an act of free will and choice. But this archetypal choice has a special structure. The core is threatened by non-being. The universe itself—and certainly each center within it—is experienced or perceived as contingent; it contains the possibility of non-being. It makes more sense not to be than to be. [Nonetheless,] to be is the ultimate meaning, the ultimate affirmation—and it is made as a reaction to the experienced presence of pure evil. The miracle of being is the answer to evil. This is the core religious insight and experience. “ (2001, 266)

“Existential anxiety reveals to us the reality of evil. To deny that revelation leads to a sense of purposelessness or meaninglessness in life. However, to accept this revelation of anxiety—that is, to courageously confront it and permit oneself clearly to see the evil it reveals—leads to the richness of meaning and fulfillment of purpose in life. This is the deepest meaning of accountability. The essential strategy for coping with the anxiety of the existence of evil consists of making a contract to first discover the evil that is uniquely ours and then construct a life around the fight against and the conquest of that evil. (2001, 269-270)

Existentially, pain is truly and forever inevitable. “It is the pain suffered by the most successful and the happiest of people. That is the pain of human mortality, which means death and frustration. It is also thee pain of human freedom, which means anguish and guilt. An existential philosophy addresses itself to this category of pain by pointing out what first may appear paradoxical, even outrageous; that we choose our limitations freely because we know that they create the best possible life and the supreme happiness for us. To understand this point is to have found the secret of personal maturity and human authenticity. (1979, 136)


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........................(2002) Leadership: The Inner Side of Greatness—a philosophy for leaders. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Peter Block and Peter Koestenbaum (2001) Freedom and Accountability at Work. San Francisco: Jossey- Bass/Pfeiffer.

Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, Ron McMillan, and Al Switzler (2002) Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes Are High. New York: McGraw–Hill.


1. This is not to say that rejection is always the result of criticism or disapproval, for it is possible to be fully present and life affirming while delivering forms of criticism and disapproval.

2. Shadow refers to the shadow as developed by Jung— the unclaimed, fragmented, and alienated parts of our self that have not received sufficient support either internally or externally to be integrated into the person.

3. Phantom refers to the illusory, figments of imagination that have surfaced as means of justification and/or survival that remain unconscious and potentially evil.

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