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On This Human Condition

Rethinking Our Problems

I’ve always had a problem with those who just see problems. To be more precise, perhaps it’s the way we throw that word around now, how it drips with the subtext of inferiority!

The word’s etymology actually is much kinder and more curious, denoting a question or riddle that is thrown before you or even the barrier that interferes with forward movement. Those kind of problems I’m intrigued by and just fascinated with; they’re the ones that generate creative momentum, that invite us to make our way together through the labyrinth.

Too often though, when I talk to people about my work, even others in the field, they say things like ‘boy, I didn’t realize college students had so many problems!”, as if they were stricken with a terminal condition. Or worse yet, dead on arrival.

It’s not that I deny that problems exist. Nor am I naive enough to think we don’t have to work through complexities and difficulties to get to the heart of the matter. It’s just sometimes I question why it is we are so ready to pathologize in our problematizing.

So much of what’s found in the catalog of disorders– the DSM– are sophisticated ways of problematizing the myriad ways in which the human hearts and minds “suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,” the various ways we all attempt to find some meaning and equilibrium amidst the inevitable storms of life.

I often wonder why we don’t begin to look at the ‘symptoms’ of psychological disorders as Carl Jung did, like messengers, as opportunities for new growth and development. It goes without saying that this place will hurt, it will likely even sting, but this is completely normal. The creative wound is the place from which one is attempting to move out of into something transformative, and it doesn’t happen without a fight!

The symptoms, in fact, may then be seen as a transitional phase– a signal of the place where the dissonance of the chords has not found their way to cadence back to the original key. This is where the creative work of therapy begins!

The taxonomy of problems found in the DSM is essential of course, and it has its wisdom. It differentiate those disorders which are greatly affected by nature-bipolar, schizophrenia, autism, to list just a few-and those which are more heavily impacted by nurture–certain kinds of PTSD for instance–, and many of which are some complex combination of both–depression, anxiety, OCD, etc. However, it doesn’t go far enough in providing the true origin, context, meaning, and possibilities of how these issues connect to being fully human.

In short, it, along with many practitioners and people in general in our culture, can easily forget that the human condition–in all its glory and tragedy–is the most important condition to consider at root.

It’s healthy to accept the fact that we can’t fully escape this human condition either. Coming from this place might even take off the extra burden of trying to be superhuman in trying surmount our challenges. This human condition may be terminal but it’s also what makes our infinite complexity and beauty possible.

So the next time, someone says you’ve got problems or that you yourself think you do, consider the fact that we all have this human condition.

The interesting parts happen when, with support and guidance, we arrive at new forms and creative solutions, ones that transcend what we initially thought possible. We make something out of what appears to be nothing–or at least, nothing good.

When we arrive at this place, we can feel heartened that we are deepening ourselves, solving our unique riddles, and that, above all, we are not alone in our journey through this mysterious condition we all are attempting, each day, to truly possess.

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- MARCUS AURELIUS

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