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The Existential Moment: The Paradox of Meaning

According to NASA, the image above covers an area of sky approximately the size of a grain of sand held at arm’s length.  That’s a crazy thought.  That speck reveals thousands of galaxies.  Thousands.  And that’s galaxies, not stars!  The estimated average size of a galaxy is 100 million stars.  You get it.  The number of stars in the universe is mind-bending.  It’s simply incomprehensible.

The James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) provides breathtaking images.  Similarly, looking into the night sky can evoke a profound sense of awe and wonder.  However, contemplating the vastness and sheer number of stars in the universe opens another door of contemplation:  our place in the universe.  That thought threatens a profound sense of insignificance, making human life, let alone individual lives, seem inconsequential in the grand scheme of things.  This sense risks a slide to “What’s the point”?

Even so, at the same time, JWST is a testament to humanity’s insatiable curiosity.  The accomplishment of creating such a powerful eye into the universe and its past is amazing in itself.  It reflects a powerful search for understanding.  Many find a profound sense of purpose in that type of search and fulfillment in each success or achievement.

JWST represents the paradox of meaning:  we desire purpose and significance but live in a world devoid of overt meaning.  Navigating this paradox is a challenge in life. 

Many patients enter therapy struggling with boredom, emptiness, despair, etc.  They struggle with a lack of meaning, for instance, from the loss of a job (“the meaning of my life”) or the loss of faith and a transcending purpose (“the meaning of life”).  Sometimes the problem is in plain view, while at other times, it’s lost, like a star in the sky, among numerous other issues.  Watch for it.  Talk about it.  And support removing obstacles to finding meaning.  And consider for a moment the work is likely part of the meaning of your life.  

Links to Related Blog Posts:

Read more posts about meaning making in E-H therapy on EHI’s blog.

Read more posts about the existential givens in E-H therapy on EHI’s blog.

Read all the Existential Moment series posts on EHI’s blog.

Author Existential Moment Series: Scott Gibbs, LMFT, EHI Board Member-at-Large | Website: | Twitter: @Novum_Organum

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