What is existentialism?

Existentialism is a philosophical inquiry into the nature of human existence and the context in which it manifests itself. Existential philosophy asks: Who are we? What is life, and what are the laws that govern it? What is its meaning and purpose? What is real; what is unreal? What is truth, health, evil, disease, death? How are these elements of existence cognized and understood?

The term “existential” is used to connote whatever deals with the above issues. Existential psychotherapy is an endeavor to help individuals and groups attain greater conscious harmony with the fundamental order of existence. What is the derivation of the word “existence”? “Existence” is etymologically rooted in the word “ek-sistere,”or “ek-stare.” The word “ecstasy” is frequently assumed to refer to some intense emotional experience. However, that is not really correct. “Ecstasis,” or “ek-stasis,” refers to a peculiar ability to stand apart and be an observer of our own experiences and thought processes. We have the capacity of self-transcendence. No other creature, as far as we know, seems to have this ability. There is a mental disturbance where this human capacity is temporarily lost. What is happening in such situations is a loss of awareness of one's own identity and reality under the impact of severe anxiety. The faculty of transcendence gives man a sense of orientation and assurance about himself: I am that I am. I know that I am.

-Dr. Hora; Existential Metapsychiatry Session 1; Basic Concepts

Here we are introduced to the idea that in order to know ourselves and to authentically express ourselves we need to transcend who we’ve been taught to think ourselves to be. “Who we are” already is; exists right now. Who we think we are is always someone we are trying to be. How challenging it can be to let be who we really are without control, manipulation, wanting or judging. This is the quest of the spiritual seeker; to discover what already Is and to let it be.

-comment by Nancy