I’m on page 148 of Paul Tillich’s The Courage to Be. He has painstakingly described three types of anxiety that are part of being human (ontologically speaking). There is the anxiety of fate and death, of which the western ancients were most troubled. There is the anxiety of guilt and condemnation, of which the Medieval age was most worried. And there is the anxiety of emptiness and meaninglessness, of which our present age is concerned. All three anxieties exist in every age, but one is dominant.
All three anxieties point to nonbeing. Anxiety is vague and does not really point to any thing specific. So anxiety produces fear, and fear points to specific objects. To deal with anxiety, one needs courage. Tillich describes courage as “the self-affirmation of being in spite of the fact of nonbeing.” He describes several types of courage (and different definitions throughout history and philosophy), but his main two types are the courage to be a part of and the courage to be as oneself. He does not explicitly state it, but heavily implies that there must be a balance between these two types. Depending too much on the courage to be a part of leads to the loss of self in collectivism. (Many people sacrifice their a portion of sense of self to the collective in order to have a sense of courage.) Depending too much on courage to be oneself leads to the loss the world (or community) in existentialism.
So, back to page 148. As I read, I am acutely aware of my sense of meaninglessness around me, in objects and the things I do. I know there is meaning in my relations with people, but I do not what it is. I am lost in ambiguity. I am in search of courage to be, and I am almost gitty with anticipation that Tillich will reveal a secret, a signpost for which I can follow to discover meaning. I suspect, I know, I hope it all leads to finding God as my courage to be. I know the end of the story. I just don’t know how it goes to get there. But my fear is that it will be more of a courage to be a part of than the courage to be oneself. I do not want to loose a portion of myself within collectivism. I am tired of being unbalanced.
For a moment, I am lifted out of myself. In my mind, or above my mind, I can see myself reading this book, thinking these thoughts, the hope in seeking a signpost to meaning, a resolution to my dilemma. Then I realize something. This is my false self, my little egoic self searching for something to hold on to. Something to make itself feel real, to give itself meaning and purpose. And without the prize in its grasp yet, I realized it won’t be enough. It won’t satisfy my little self, who is attached to its own thoughts and emotions. It will satisfy for awhile, but not for long. Not long enough.
As I watch my little self, suspended in the moment of now, there is more awareness. Go ahead my little self, keep seeking for it. You won’t find it. The “it” you are looking for does not exists. Spin your wheels. Keep yourself busy doing. I am happy and you do not even know it. If you could only see. Don’t worry. You and I will.