Our Desire for Certainty, Meaning, and Permanence
All of us have an inborn desire for certainty, meaning, and structure. Yet, how does this square with the fact that we live in a world where impermanence is the nature of reality? We get sick, we get old, and we eventually die.
All of our attempts to find a permanent ground to stand on will eventually fail. This is one of the sources of our fundamental existential anxiety.
Our Resistance to Accepting Impermanence
It’s not just the fact of impermanence that causes us to have anxiety and suffer – it’s our resistance to accepting impermanence as an inevitable aspect of life. The inevitability of aging pushes us to confront the clash between what we want – security and comfort – and the reality of what is.
Trying to avoid the unwanted seems to be deeply ingrained in the human psyche, and if we forcefully continue our evasions, our suffering increases.
Growing Older and Wanting Security
The existential predicament starts with the fact that as humans we want a sense of secure ground. However, somewhere along the way we may come to the frightening realization that uncertainty and groundlessness can’t be avoided.
We may experience that when we hit a personal crisis, such as a serious relationship breakup, a financial reversal, or a troubling diagnosis. It may become clear to us that what we want is a sense of certainty and meaning – yet we live in a world that may not offer neither. This is one of the fundamental predicaments that all of us must eventually face, and particularly so as we get older.
The Fact of Our Aloneness
The existential predicament continues with the fact of our basic aloneness. At bottom, this is the tension we feel that comes when we recognize our absolute isolation – the fact that we are born alone and that we will die alone. We may not recognize this very often, but it is in sharp contrast with our deep desire for connection, protection, and our wish to be part of a larger whole.
Accepting We Will One Day Die
Perhaps the most daunting part of our existential predicament is the fact that we will surely die. This is in direct conflict with our deeply ingrained desire to continue to live. There’s no getting around this conflict – wanting to exist and knowing that someday we will no longer be. We may posit an afterlife or take comfort in the legacy of our children or our life accomplishments, but this comfort may not be enough to prevent the anxiety from seeping through.
The solution has to come from our acceptance of the fact that we will surely die, and from our ability to surrender to this part of the natural order of things.
Aging for Beginners
Ezra Bayda with Elizabeth Hamilton
Ezra Bayda and his wife Elizabeth Hamilton have each been practicing meditation for over 40 years and teaching since 1995, including retreats in the US and abroad. They currently co-teach at the Zen Center San Diego. Ezra has written 7 books. Elizabeth is also a writer, and has led numerous workshops at hospices.
Ezra Bayda – Wikipedia / Zen Center San Diego
Elizabeth Hamiltion – Explore Faith / Zen Center San Diego
Ezra Bayda is an American figure in Zen. He is at the “forefront of the movement…to present the essential truths of Buddhism free of traditional trappings or terminology.” He is an author and Zen teacher.
Bayda is a teacher at Zen Center San Diego, in Pacific Beach, San Diego, California, and with the Santa Rosa Zen Group in Santa Rosa, California. He has conducted meditation workshops and retreats in Europe, Australia, and North America.
Bayda is a member of the White Plum Asanga and the Ordinary Mind Zen School. He is also the author of several books, best known for his teachings on working with difficulties and fear in everyday life.
Books Ezra Bayda Has Written Include: