To prepare for this Sunday’s activity on generations within our congregation, I have been reading about the psychological stages of life and what is achieved in each stage. What interested me the most was the suggestion that each stage had an existential question associated with it. This work was done by Erik Erikson and added to by his wife, Joan Erikson.
Erikson claims that the first stage is the first two months of life and is about developing trust or mistrust. Even as a non-parent, it makes sense to me that the first thing a baby needs to become aware of is that her needs will be filled. When she cries, someone will be there to feed her, clean her or cuddle her. She develops trust which leads to an attitude of optimism.
The existential question would be “Can I trust the world?”
As a spiritual counselor, I see that many people have forgotten that they can trust the world. The universe is a safe and friendly place.
The next stage answers the question, “Is it okay to be me?”
As a small child we learn this as we confront shame versus autonomy. Brene Brown has researched this topic extensively. What I know by reading her books and watching her TED talks, is that she believes that the people who live wholeheartedly are the ones who know that they are loved regardless of what their actions.
The next existential question they encounter is, “Is it safe for me to do, move and be.”
Later children explore their competence as they learn sports, music, languages and projects and commit to learning. They are asking, “Can I make it in a world of people and things?”
Then as social relationships become more important, they might ask: “Who am I? and Who can I be?”
The next stage is exploring intimacy versus isolation. It is all about friends and partners and romance.
The question is “Am I lovable? Can I love?”
Later in life as we ask, “Can I make my life count?”
And in the last stage, we reflect upon the question, “Is it okay to have been me?”
Somewhere along the way, we may feel a tug into an unseen power, a force for good, that has been within us the whole time.
It is at that time of exploration that we often ask the same existential questions but in a much deeper way.
Then for some reason, known or unknown, a crisis of faith or an ordinary moment, we ask again, “Who am I? Who am I really?”
And we begin to see that every stage and experience led us to that one eureka moment, in which we knew along with the poets and songwriters such as Daniel Nahmod, “Something is Calling Me…calling me deeper than I have ever gone before.”
I have asked those existential questions at many time in my life. As I mature spiritually, the answers to the questions shift to a deeper perspective. What is calling you?