Do you remember Alice’s journey to Wonderland? When she meets the Caterpillar, he asks her,
“Who are you?”
This question confuses Alice and sends them into a circular argument until the Caterpillar gets impatient and crawls off. She’s left to figure out where she is and what the hell is going on (and what part of the mushroom she’s going to eat).
In this one question, the Caterpillar is implying: what makes you, you, why are you important, what is your purpose, what do you want? This sends Alice on a journey to try and figure out her identity, importance, and place in the world.
Have you ever had an existential crisis like this?
One where you aren’t sure who you are, what you want, why you’re here? Why any of us are here?
I have and I can tell you it’s pretty uncomfortable. There’s a reason it’s called a crisis. You feel like nothing matters, but everything matters. It’s so fucking confusing and scary and filled with dread.
These crises can be triggered by trauma, loss, and difficult life transitions. You know, the shitstorms.
Something bad happens and you start to question it all and head into the well or the tunnel or whatever dark enclosure metaphor you want to envision. Hence, the uncomfortable feelings.
But, it’s also incredibly enlightening and freeing when you make it out the other end.
Why so? You go from doubting and questioning, to fearing and rejecting, to realizing and coming to terms with yourself (and life)… similar to the hero’s journey, as Joseph Campbell described it.
There’s a reason there are so many myths and stories written in this pattern. As humans, we all experience (or should aspire to) some form of the hero’s journey where we’re called to adventure, face a struggle, overcome it, experience a deeper revelation, and transform in some way.
If you haven’t had an experience like this, I highly suggest you make it happen. Don’t worry. You don’t have to go out and cause some trauma or pain in your life to get there. That’s the typical route, but not the only one.
Take a more intentional and joyful approach for your journey into the depths of you by deciding you want to go and keeping these things in mind:
- Pack light. You will face darkness on your journey so go prepared with a torch of hope, joy, and curiosity to shine on the scary and unexplored areas you’ll surely discover. Down in the tunnel or well or cave you go into, you will likely meet the pain, sorrow, hurt, disappointment, and other unaddressed nasties in your life you’ve stuffed away there.
- Be flexible. All travelers know things don’t always go as planned. Your intentions may have you on the 7:15 am train to a new city, but reality has you stuck behind an overturned farm truck in the middle of nowhere. This is when you want to go with the flow and see what else awaits you. Facing your struggles (demons), learning from them, and bringing back a more enlightened you will require adaptability.
- Ask questions and ask for help. When embarking into the unknown it’s good to go with courage and humility. Don’t think for a moment your bravery won’t be tested. You’ll think you have it all figured out and all of sudden you’re down a dark alley unsure of where to go next. It’s ok. You’re in a new place. You don’t need to have all the answers. Ask for directions, for help, and ask questions to help illuminate where you might go next.
- Focus on the journey, not the destination. When you travel, most of the beautiful, surprising, and delightful moments happen along the way not necessarily when you arrive somewhere. Enjoy the process. Know you are learning more about yourself and connecting more deeply. You are healing old wounds and discovering your magic within. You are becoming more whole and, therefore, more equipped to handle life and make it the best it can be.
- Come home. Once you’ve gathered new experiences, new knowledge, and new revelations about yourself integrate them into your being. The best way to experience this new-found you is to incorporate it into your everyday life. This is also the best way to test out what you’ve learned. It may not be comfortable. Some of your old habits, old connections, and old behaviors will rear their ugly heads and try to pull you back into the well.
Shattering the illusion that you are perfect, have nothing to fear or worry about, have nothing to be angry about is the culmination of the existential crisis. Once you’ve accepted those realities, you can move on to creating the life you want to live.
This doesn’t mean you aren’t whole. Welcoming in the imperfection, fear, anger, and shadow parts of you actually lead you to wholeness.
Once you’ve faced yourself, your whole self, and let go of the illusion of who you’ve been presenting yourself as you can start to ask the deeper questions regarding your existence:
- What’s my purpose?
- How can I live a better life?
- How can I love myself more?
The Caterpillar from Alice in Wonderland provokes these same questions and represents the beauty and transformation (his butterfly form) we can experience by answering them for ourselves.
If you’ve had an existential crisis that triggered an inner journey count yourself lucky. If you haven’t, it’s never too late to book your roundtrip ticket to Wonderland, to the inner you.
If you go with intention, focus, and joy you’ll be sure to bring back a hard-earned souvenir of enlightenment.
Have you questioned your existence? What answers did you get? What did the journey reveal for you? Leave your stories, comments, and questions below. ♥