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The “existential” bit has to do with your own existence — specifically, the meaning of your existence.
Questions like “who am I?” and “why am I here?” and “what are my values?”
There are two modes — two different ways to come at the questions of your own existence and understand who you are:
Let’s just assume that you understand that you’re not defined by your reflection in the physical mirror, or at best that’s a limited definition of “me”.
Well… it turns out that there are other kinds of mirrors:
Even without other people, the mind keeps putting up mirrors.
The reflective self-definition that is generated automatically by ancient psychological processes, the machine that seems to want to turn everything into “it’s about me” in some way.
That’s the first kind of identity or the first existential mode: reflective, in that there’s some kind of mirror — physical or abstract, and self-defining in that the process yields a semi-stable definition or concept of what “I” refers to.
Imagine that you’re playing a board game like Monopoly.
The game is a given — something we are born into — and our existence is framed such that it’s only meaningful in the context of the game’s rules and elements and processes.
That’s how the ego relates to life: “life is a given, and I am an object born into that given environment.”
The model of reality is like the Monopoly game — our “knowledge of what things mean”, including our own existence.
We sleep-walked through the process which built the gameboard that gives meaning to our existence as a cannon or scotty dog or ship.
What if someone becomes aware of their own production of the meaning that gives them their identity?
You’d be on the way to being the owner of the game, because naturally the author is the owner… the one who put the walls up owns the room they live in.
People sense that being the owner of the gameboard means that they have vast freedom and are not bound by the limitations of the ego and so sometimes they get carried away and don’t understand the nature of their freedom or “awakening”, and they make up nonsensical metaphysics and “New Age” beliefs and so on.
Garbage-think, it should be called.
You really are “a thing in a given context”: your life is bound to your body and you will die and that’s the end of any useful meaning of “you”.
If we understand that the Monopoly game metaphor does not refer to the physical universe, it refers to the “realm of meaning” which gives the self its context, then we’re back on solid ground and we’re not trying to violate the laws of nature.
Reality is what it is. We create the meaning, and being unaware of our own role in that we “see ourselves” reflected in the meanings that we have assigned to our experience and model of objective reality.
When you only know yourself by reflective self-definition, and don’t appreciate the vast possibilities and natural freedom that comes from being the owner or source of the gameboard, you’re stuck.
To be the owner is truly being, and to understand and sustain that relationship to your own existence is where the “coherent” bit comes in:
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