Phenomenology Online

A Resource for Phenomenological Inquiry

Guided Existential Reflection

All phenomenological human science research efforts are really explorations into the structures of the human lifeworld, the lived world as experienced in everyday situations and relations. Four fundamental lifeworld themes (or existentials) may be helpful heuristic guides for reflecting on human experiences: lived space (spatiality), lived body (corporeality), lived time (temporality), and lived human relation (relationality or communality).


Our lived experiences and the structures of meanings (themes) in terms of which these lived experiences can be described and interpreted constitute the immense complexity of the lifeworld. And, of course, we can even speak of the multiple and different lifeworlds that belong to different human existences and realities. For example, the lifeworld of the child has different experiential qualities from the lifeworld of the adult. Similarly there are the lifeworlds of the elderly, the sick, the man, the woman, the researcher, and so forth. And each of us may be seen to inhabit different lifeworlds at different times of the day, such as the lived world of work and the lived world of the home.


There are at least four existential themes which probably pervade the lifeworlds of all human beings, regardless of their historical, cultural or social situatedness. In order not to confuse these fundamental lifeworld themes with the more particular themes of certain human phenomena that we want to study, we shall refer to these fundamental lifeworld themes as “existentials.” These four existentials that may prove especially helpful as guides for reflection in the research process: lived space (spatiality), lived body (corporeality), lived time (temporality), and lived human relation (relationality or communality).


We can always ask about any experience the fundamental questions that correspond to these four lifeworld existentials. Therefore, spatiality, corporeality, temporality, and relationality are productive categories for the process of phenomenological questioning, reflecting and writing.