René Magritte – The Human Condition Gandalf’s Gallery. Flickr.
“Any great art is meant to illuminate the human condition.”
Sterling K. Brown
1. We Are All Part Of One World
The Human Condition is a term that encompasses the common needs, experiences and essentials of existence of every one of us.
It refers to a state that universally affects all human beings on the planet.
We may be diverse in many ways, and our differences are highly important in society. At the same time, we are all deeply connected.
“Every man bears the whole stamp of the human condition.”
Michel de Montaigne
For example, we are all born and we are all going to die. We will, every one of us, age, and we will all struggle with the limitations of our biology.
We are also the only animals on earth who reflect upon and question our own existence, as conscious and sentient beings.
“All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances;
And one man in his time plays many parts,
His acts being seven ages.”
We all need to relate, have intimacy, rest, sleep, eat, drink, secrete, breathe….
“There is no human deed or thought that lies fully outside the experience of other people.”
Irvin D. Yalom
Vincent Desiderio – Sleeping Family Gandalf’s Gallery. Flickr.
“If you don’t know the guy on the other side of the world, love him anyway because he’s just like you. He has the same dreams, the same hopes and fears. It’s one world, pal. We’re all neighbors.”
Each of us needs community; even if we are not individually very sociable, there will always be times when we require the help of others.
2. “Whistling In The Dark”: We All Face Uncertainty And Lack Of Control Over Our World.
Lamberto Melina – Humana XXII  Gandalf’s Gallery. Flickr.
“Most of us, no matter what we say, are walking in the dark, whistling in the dark. Nobody knows what is going to happen to him from one moment to the next, or how one will bear it. This is irreducible. And it’s true of everybody. Now, it is true that the nature of society is to create, among its citizens, an illusion of safety; but it is also absolutely true that the safety is always necessarily an illusion. Artists are here to disturb the peace.”
“I think the uncertainty of our lives is one such commonality that unites us all despite our varied difference.”
3. We Share Universal Emotions.
D*Face – High School Hell Cats 2015. Gandalf’s Gallery. Flickr.
“You think your pain and your heartbreak are unprecedented in the history of the world, but then you read. It was books that taught me that the things that tormented me most were the very things that connected me with all the people who were alive, who had ever been alive.”
The emotions of humanity are indeed universal. For example, we all feel love, hate, anger, envy, fear, joy, pain and suffering.
“The bounds of a personality are not reproducible by a sharp black line, but…each of us flows imperceptibly into adjacent people and things.”
Here are some artworks that powerfully illustrate the breadth of our shared human feelings. I think we can all identify in some way with the moods and emotions depicted:
Jeff Hein – Facing the Mob Gandalf’s Gallery. Flickr.
“One thing I can be sure of, every person is capable of great kindness. And the dark opposite is also true. This is the human condition.”
Charles F Glassman
Love And Desire:
Gustav Klimt – The Kiss [1907-08]Gandalf’s Gallery. Flickr.
“A flower cannot blossom without sunshine, and man cannot live without love.”
Sadness, Grief, Sorrow, Desperation….
Vincent van Gogh – Sorrowing Old Man (At Eternity’s Gate) Gandalf’s Gallery. Flickr
“Every man has his secret sorrows which the world knows not; and often times we call a man cold when he is only sad.”
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
Edvard Munch – Anxiety. Wikimedia Commons
“My anxiety doesn’t come from thinking about the future but from wanting to control it.”
Happiness and Joy:
Machiko Edmondson – Untitled . Oil on canvas. Gandalf’s Gallery. Flickr.
“Sometimes your joy is the source of your smile, but sometimes your smile can be the source of your joy.”
Thich Nhat Hanh
Thoughtfulness, Reflection, Reverie…
Johann Heinrich Vogeler. Reverie. Wikimedia Commons.
“Unconscious insights or answers to problems that come in reverie do not come hit or miss… they pertain to those areas in which the person consciously has worked laboriously and with dedication.”
Whether we acknowledge it or not, we all have an internal world, an unconscious. Some of us are aware of this, and can feel a little more in control of their own lives, as a result.
“Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate.”
4. We All Have To Face Existential Issues.
We are all, ultimately, alone in this world. We enter it alone and we leave it alone.
“One third, more or less, of all the sorrow that the person I think I am must endure is unavoidable. It is the sorrow inherent in the human condition, the price we must pay for being sentient and self-conscious organisms, aspirants to liberation, but subject to the laws of nature and under orders to keep on marching, through irreversible time, through a world wholly indifferent to our well-being, toward decrepitude and the certainty of death. The remaining two thirds of all sorrow is homemade and, so far as the universe is concerned, unnecessary.”
Richard Baxter – Unseen Flame . Gandalf’s Gallery. Flickr.
“Which of us is not forever a stranger and alone?”
“To hold two ideas that contradict each other is to flirt with absurdity, and humans are creatures who spend their lives trying to convince themselves that their existence is not absurd.”
The Psychotherapist Yalom and Existentialism.
Yalom was a pioneer in terms of existentialist psychotherapy.
His work highlights the way we all grapple with the problems of existence, and how fears in this area constantly underlie the presenting problems of psychotherapy patients.
“Everyone – and that includes therapists as well as patients – is destined to experience not only the exhilaration of life, but also its inevitable darkness: Disillusionment, aging, illness, isolation, loss, meaninglessness, painful choices, and death.”
Irvin D. Yalom
“Four givens are particularly relevant for psycho-therapy: the inevitability of death for each of us and for those we love; the freedom to make our lives as we will; our ultimate aloneness; and, finally, the absence of any obvious meaning or sense to life.”
Irvin D. Yalom
There are some people who come to therapy wanting to be cured of the human condition They hope to banish pain, grief, the past, forever..
Yet every one of us, therapists and all, are in the same boat, the boat called the human condition.
We know it in other people because we know it in ourselves. There is no cure for the human condition.
“Sign above a drugstore counter: No Prescriptions For Life.”
The pandemic has strongly highlighted the fact that therapists, too, share the human condition with their patients. People coming to therapy with pandemic-related fears are, inevitably, going to be echoing those fears of their therapist, too. This is the human condition.
Psychotherapy can have a powerful role now, helping people to cope with isolation, loss and fear.
“Regardless of the approach used, therapists should adopt a supportive and humanistic stance, given this time of shared suffering. Recognizing that there are few among us who are unaffected by these extraordinary events, we can communicate that working together will help all of us optimally manage this crisis.”
“Life is tragic simply because the earth turns and the sun inexorably rises and sets, and one day, for each of us, the sun will go down for the last, last time.”
The pandemic has brought home to us just how fragile are all our lives.
All of us have had to try and protect ourselves from a potentially killer disease that knows no boundaries and will attack any of us indiscriminately, regardless of age, class, nationality, race, colour, or gender.
Illustration from The Prince And The Pauper. 1882. Frank T. Merrill, L.S. Ipsen, John Harley
Bernard Perlin – The Bar Gandalf’s Gallery. Flickr.
5. This Is What Makes Life Worth Living For All Of Us Trapped In The Human Condition…
Oskar Kokoschka – The Power of the Music  Gandalf’s Gallery. Flickr.
Despite the uncertainty and lack of control, we all know that life can be full of interest and excitement:
“I think what makes people fascinating is conflict, it’s drama, it’s the human condition. Nobody wants to watch perfection.”
We may be powerless to direct the universe, yet accepting this is somehow freeing. If we stop trying to control things, we will discover that we are more able to live and enjoy life.
It is through this acceptance of the human condition, that we are, paradoxically, freer to change ourselves and to have some impact on the world around us.
Life is an unpredictable blend of happiness and sadness, conflict and peace.
With this awareness, that despite tragedy, life can still hold beauty for us, we are helped to be strong and resilient and to have the courage to face the limitations of our human condition:
The Thing Is
BY ELLEN BASS
to love life, to love it even
when you have no stomach for it
and everything you’ve held dear
crumbles like burnt paper in your hands,
your throat filled with the silt of it.
When grief sits with you, its tropical heat
thickening the air, heavy as water
more fit for gills than lungs;
when grief weights you down like your own flesh
only more of it, an obesity of grief,
you think, How can a body withstand this?
Then you hold life like a face
between your palms, a plain face,
no charming smile, no violet eyes,
and you say, yes, I will take you
I will love you, again.
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© Linda Berman