We still feel our desire to make a positive difference to others (because of our capacity for empathy and conscience) even if we don’t acknowledge or act on it. Similarly, we still feel a desire for the transcendent and spiritual (because of the five transcendental desires and our awareness of the spiritual) even if we refuse to believe in the transcendent.
These unfulfilled desires have a curious consequence—they make us feel empty.
We not only miss the satisfactions of contribution, love, transcendence, and spiritual life, but our self-consciousness comprehends that we are only fulfilling part of ourselves. “Existential emptiness” refers to this complex of self-alienation and self-negation.
Thus, if we are to overcome dominant Level One and Level Two identity, we will have to replace it with dominant Level Three and Level Four identity.
Many of us will try to block it out by increasing our pursuit of Level One and Level Two desires. “If two scotches won’t make me feel better, perhaps five will.” “I feel a sudden need to have another twenty pairs of shoes and three Armani purses.” I am going to take a big risk and leave the town in which my family is most comfortable, to take an even more prestigious job.”
They truly manifest Augustine’s recognition of his own journey to God—“Our hearts are restless until they rest in Thee.”
The need to cover over our sense of emptiness, guilt, and tragedy becomes more and more acute, and we take greater risks—more alcohol, more drugs, more base pursuits on the Internet, more ego highs, more accumulation of possessions, more exaggerated claims about accomplishments, and even ethically questionable behaviors to keep the upward momentum going.
This leads to either the positive one (to move toward dominant Levels Three and Four) or the truly negative one (sinking into a sea of emptiness, depression, and despair).
What happens if we take the “low road”? It manifests itself somewhat gradually. We find ourselves wanting to sleep more, watch more television, play more games on the Internet, spend more time at the club, and so forth. We always have a justification for this: “Sleep is restorative.” “That movie is a real classic, and by watching it for the fifth time it will really give me a new perspective on life.” “The Internet games are helping my mental agility.”
The depression is turning into despair, and if it is not treated, it could become tragic.
ESCAPING YOUR PERSONAL HELL
We will look at “Level Three replacement therapy”
Some people will feel more naturally inclined to pursue Level Three methods first, and then Level Four, while others (like myself) are more naturally inclined to pursue Level Four methods first, and then back into Level Three methods. I would submit that both Level Three and Level Four are essential for moving out of a dominant Level One-Two identity.
Alternatively, if Level Four is unaccompanied by Level Three, then it can lead to a superficial faith that does not seek to make a contribution to people, the common good, and the culture—it is a faith without charitable love (agapē). Moreover, Level Three contribution and love reinforces Level Four faith, while the grace of Level Four faith reinforces Level Three contribution and love.
Our dominant view of happiness determines what we are looking for, and this in turn determines what we are living for (our life’s purpose), and when we live for a particular purpose long enough, it becomes our identity (the definition we give to ourselves).
It is important to find a path to Levels Three and Four before they hit “rock bottom”.