Four worlds of existence and their paradoxes

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Information about Four worlds of existence and their paradoxes

Published on March 7, 2014

Author: emmyzen



A simple introduction to the idea of four worlds of existence and the paradoxes and tensions we have to manage on each dimension.
Copyright Emmy van Deurzen.

Four worlds of existence and their paradoxes Emmy van Deurzen

Emmy van Deurzen brief CV  Philosopher:    Psychotherapist:   trained from 1973-1977, Saint-Alban, Agen, Bordeaux, Esalen, London (Lacanian, psychodrama, group/community therapy) Clinical psychologist:   Masters in 1974, Montpellier, France Doctorate in 2000, City Uni, London UK Masters Bordeaux Uni, France 1977 Lecturer andTrainer since 1977, Arbours, South West London College, Antioch Uni, Regent’s College, City Uni, Schiller Uni, Sheffield Uni, New School of Psychotherapy and Counselling, Middlesex Uni.


Book on Happiness best intro to these ideas

Onto-dynamics: living wisely      Learning to live in line with the laws of life. Paradox, conflict, difficulty and dilemmas are our daily companions. With a crisis thrown in here and there. The way you respond depends a lot on the worldview and strength you build up for yourself Your courage and flexibility will increase with practice as you gain greater perspective and depth on the challenges of living

We learn to make sense of life by learning about opposites

Life always has both positives and negatives at all levels: life=tension

Life is about positives and negatives We can’t have the good, unless we tackle the bad

The paradox of life is that only as we face one side of life will the other work for us. Opposites work in tandem. Only to the extent that we accept polarities, conflicts and contradictions do we learn to live with truth Onto-dynamics rather than psychodynamics: Life is tension between opposites

Energy is the flow between two poles Source:

Dialectics Thesis, antithesis, synthesis.  Human evolution proceeds with constant conflict and forward movement in overcoming a previous state.  Paradoxes and dilemmas can be integrated and gone beyond. 

Dialectics Transcendence Synthesis Thesis Antithesis

Dialectics: transcendence in space Synthesis: a wider view future Thesis: my view (past ) Antithesis: your view (present)

What does it mean to live well?  Socrates: the unreflected life is not worth living. The good life is passionately lived.

Life as hero’s journey   The challenge: travelling far, braving danger in order to save the world. Have an adventure, then return to safety: home coming, using our compass.

Our life is like a river     We wind our own way down the road of life When it flows steadily that feels good Set patterns are like sediment in the river that make us stagnate Get back into the flow of life

Tight fit:  Sometimes life is plain sailing, but we may have to navigate between a rock and a hard place..

Being Captain of your Ship  Finding our way through our life with deliberation

Connecting to the wave and tides     Until I saw the sea I did not know that wind could wrinkle water so I never knew that sun could splinter a whole sea of blue nor did I know before, a sea breathes in and out upon a shore by Lilian Moore

Facing anxiety The energy of life And energy can be used or can overwhelm you

To live is to be anxious     Until we die Because we die Because we were born We have to learn to stand up and be counted; to eksist in past, present and future

Seasons and cycles of life    We are born We live, love, work Then we die

Our life is in flux Things constantly change and so do we  Circle of life goes on  We cannot stop it  We have to go with the flow 

Our lives are like the seasons or the birth of day and night.

Watching life go by We can be: observers  participants  creatures  or creators  active  reactive  pro-active  passive 

Time streams like sand through an hourglass: we are time The ec-stasies of time:  1.past  2.present  3.future  4 eternity

Passionate engagement is like fire: it eats time.    Time is fast when I am at one with the world and give myself over to being Engagement is vital Being alive: claiming your life

We need an image of what life is for Life has to be remembered backwards but it has to be lived forwards  Kierkegaard. 

Different perspectives  Depending on where we stand light refracts differently through the prism of life.

Existential Space Physical space Spiritual space Social space Personal space

Your own little sphere of existence matters

Imagine a person like a sphere

That person is located in a universe with other planets, stars, suns, moons and spheres

Sphere as a planet or a cell: micro or macro level.

If a cell: connection with other cells, function and internal constitution are paramount

If planet: orbit and position matter

Merleau Ponty: Visible and Invisible  Things are structures – frameworks – the stars of our life: they gravitate around us. Yet there is a secret bond between us and them – through perception we enter into the essence of the flesh (Visible and Invisible: 220)

You experience yourself as having a nucleus: a core, a heart or a soul

Perhaps we are more like suns, generating heat and light

Solar anatomy

Layers of the sun  Corona, chromosphere, photosphere, convection zone, and core.

Layers of a person’s life. 1.Spiritual: Uberwelt 2.Personal: Eigenwelt 3.Social: Mitwelt 4.Physical: Umwelt

Dimensions of existence Spiritual: Good/Evil Intuitions, values, beliefs, purpose, meaning. Worldview/Ideas. Personal: Strength/Weakness Thoughts, memories, identity, freedom. Selfhood/Me. Social: Love/Hate Feelings, relations, belonging, acknowledgement. Communication/Others. Physical: Life/Death Sensations, actions, environment, body, things. Survival/World.

Paradoxes of human existence

Conflicts and dilemmas are essential       Conflicts are the core of existence. Things and people oppose each other. Conflict can either destroy you or deepen you. Relationships are about tension: fission or fusion. Most conflicts are not just with others but with the world, with beliefs and with ourselves. Conflict does not have to lead to combat.

Marcus Aurelius  It is not death that a man should fear, but he should fear never beginning to live  The paradox is that death, troubles, labour, failures, pain and sorrow are unavoidable and necessary  They are the things that wake you up to awareness and that open you to life

Things to remember       We learn in context and with others To build a true learning community we need to come close to people in mutual respect And by addressing the life issues that really matter to us Suffering and fears are the sacred fires that make us human and bring us to life It is up to us to show how these can burn safely and not destroy In order to transform and transcend them we have to make human understanding central to all we do.

Meaning and Purpose      Find out what is meaningful to you. Find out what your purpose in life is. Work for it in truth and with dedication. Come what may..

Human values rediscovered.   DESIRES FEARS VALUES PHYSICAL life death vitality SOCIAL love hate reciprocity PERSONAL identity freedom integrity SPIRITUAL good evil transparency

Four dimensions and resilience     Physical: how do we manage our physical space? Social: how do we relate to other people? Personal: how do we define ourselves? Spiritual: what are the values we adhere to?

OVERCOMING TRAUMA Spiritual: Integrate what has happened in world view Improve rather than give up values, beliefs, purpose, meaning. Stick with what is true. Personal: Allow the event to strengthen your character Express thoughts and memories. Regain a sense of freedom in relation to adversity. Learn to yield as well as be resolute. Social: Seek to go beyond hateful and destructive relations by isolation and avoidance till Reconciliation is possible. Seek belonging with like minded allies. Communicate your emotions without reproach, resentment, bitterness. Physical: Seek safety when under threat. Trust and heed sensations of stress. Find natural environment that can soothe as well as expand your horizons.

Different dimensions of the four spheres of existence Umwelt Mitwelt Eigenwelt Uberwelt Physical survival Nature Things Body Cosmos Social affiliation Public Others Ego Culture Personal identity Private Me Self Consciousness Spiritual meaning Sacred God Soul Transcendence

Reclaiming your space Finding fluidity, peace freedom and purpose.


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