Meaning

“The literal meaning of life is whatever you’re doing that prevents you from killing yourself.”

― Albert Camus

Humans, cursed as we are to be so aware, can’t help looking back, far into the past in search of the beginning, and to looking forward, far into the future, in search of a pattern, a purpose, and a meaning.

Why is there a universe? Why is there an Earth, so warm and blue? What is life? Why does life of this kind exist instead of another kind? Why are there human beings? Why am I? What is the purpose of it all?

We’ve been asking these questions for centuries. People from every culture, all genders, the powerful, the meek, the wise and the uneducated have asked. The rich, the poor, black, white, and all shades in between, some we’ve heard of, some silenced, and some forgotten have asked. People wondering publicly and the rest of us have contemplated privately the same question, and no one has been able to provide evidence for one answer over any other.

Even our religious institutions, with all their grand myths, and rules, and ways to live offer no concrete answers from the Gods. Their ends are too lofty for the human mind, so those supposedly close to them say. Their means cannot be deciphered.

There used to be easier answers. There was a time when our ancestors, who we’d never recognize as our kin now but held the seeds of our consciousness then, had only to live to make more life. Their purpose was to procreate, to pass down genetic material.

Later people began to reason and found grander reasons to live. They cried live, for your family, for your tribe, for your nation! Live for a cause, and die for it too, and you will find glory. Live with a sense of duty and justice, worship your God and serve your Kings and honor will be bestowed upon you. Your name will be preserved in history. You will live among the stars, among the heroes, among the greats. You will matter.

But, those ideals no longer suffice. In a world where there are no longer Kings to serve, and Gods can no longer be found or forced to answer for our existence, we’re left with no direction and find ourselves drawn toward the latest drama, the shiniest screens, and get rich quick schemes. How long will those ideals do?

“The purpose of life is to stay alive. Watch any animal in nature–all it tries to do is stay alive. It doesn’t care about beliefs or philosophy. Whenever any animal’s behavior puts it out of touch with the realities of its existence, it becomes exinct.”

― Michael Crichton, Congo

The question now is whether or not we should go on fretting over any purpose or meaning at all? Or should we let go of questions that have no answers? Maybe we should we return to our roots with the animals and live only to survive and to pass on our DNA? Maybe what matters is only what pleasure this moment can bring until the moment that brings death.

Science has given us far bleaker prospects. Science, technology, reason, they have exposed the inner workers of the Gods and shown their hands empty and when the Gods serve no purpose humans are left without meaning. The curtain has been drawn back to reveal, a mirror. When we look for meaning, we are simply looking for ourselves.

In the absence of any other minds, we alone have the power to decree life’s meaning. We are the new Gods!

But, of course, that isn’t good enough. What do we do with all this choice and fear? What do we do with all this longing? They’ve left us no comfort for that.

We are looking for large answers here. We’re starved for profundities where we’ve been served shallow and trivialities up until now. We want to make a difference simply by virtue of our existence. If to be or not to be amount to the same, why choose to be at all?

“Life has a meaning but do not set out to find out. Just live it out.”

― Bangambiki Habyarimana, Pearls Of Eternity

A better question, one that offers more insight, more control, more satisfaction might be “What is the meaning of my life?” for that is the only question we have any hope of finding answers for. The universe is silent, and the Gods have gone, there is only us. There is only you.

The truth is that the truth is whatever we say it is. We are the only ones for whom the truth matters anyway right? The grand design, by default due to lack of competition, will be our design. The ends are ours, and the means entirely up to us.

The truth is, we’ve been deciding it all along anyway. We’ve compartmentalized the responsibility of decision and design to the Gods and other humans we’ve worshiped as such, but we knew, we knew, that they were doing what we couldn’t, taking control of the illusion and deciding our course and reason. The truth is that power can be taken back by each of us whenever we choose and as soon as we are ready.

That is the beauty of the illusion; we get to design the game and play along too. We can write the story and still be a part of the plot twists and surprise endings. We can create a meaning that aligns with our own innate natures, interests, and desires rather than fight against them.

The responsibility is overwhelming, sure, but if you keep a small part of yourself outside of it but still aware of the ultimate truth, that it doesn’t really matter anyway, then you can survive that bleak reality. Better still, you can thrive in it.

So, don’t shy away from the immensity of the task. Do not cower within your smallness. Don’t let the silence of the universe or the longing inside of you where God used to be deter or depress you. The meaning of your life and the answers you find when you confront such questions are where your real life begins.

Begin at the beginning. The simplest answer can be the most profound. The purpose of your existence is to exist. The meaning of your life is to live your life. This is why to be is better than not to be. There is no purpose to be found where nothing can be experienced.

So, just live. Move your life where you would like it to be and spread it out as widely as you’d like. Your purpose is just to be, everything else comes after and, oh, there can be so much more after.

The absence of meaning is not to be dwelled on. It is nothing to carry on about or fight against. The absence of meaning is an invitation to freedom. Seize it!

“You will never be happy if you continue to search for what happiness consists of. You will never live if you are looking for the meaning of life.”

― Albert Camus

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Thanks for reading! If you like this post check out my weekly-ish newsletter for inspiring reads + existential musings on life, love, and inevitable human suffering. Or help support what I do by sharing a virtual cup of coffee.

Written for the A to Z Blogging Challenge: Letter M under the theme “Bleak Realities of Human Existence.” I am aware that the challenge is over and that I have failed to finish on time, but I am determined not to fail to finish at all. 

Photo by Joe Jansen on Unsplash

 

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A to Z Theme Reveal // Bleak Realities of Human Existence

When I was young my parents a tried to instill in me Christian ideals, a reverence for God, and a proper and deep fear of hell. It never worked, not for one second. I saw from a very early age that there was no God, and even more frightening, no real need of one either.

Their beliefs, rituals, and practices always felt like a veil, hiding something truly terrifying but much more real than anything the bible and it’s God had to offer. I peeked behind that veil, I asked myself what does life mean without God, and I found….nothing. Once I sensed that truth I was flung into a state of anxiety, grief, and wonder over the strange predicament and place of the human species on this planet and in time.

This is what we call an existential crisis, and I have been having one for as long as I can remember.

If life has no meaning, then what is the point of everything we try to do, build, make better, or leave behind? If there is no meaning of life, why should we go on living at all? If there are no Gods where did we come from? Why do we exist? And why are we able to ask such questions? How are we to cope with such knowledge, and spirit, and longing in such a short lifetime? How do we cope with life and then death?

ni·hil·ism
nīəˌlizəm,ˈnēəˌlizəm
noun
the rejection of all religious and moral principles, often in the belief that life is meaningless.
synonyms: skepticism, negativity, cynicism, pessimism; disbelief, unbelief, agnosticism, atheism

Nihilism can be a very pessimistic worldview, and it is often where most people find themselves after religion. You accept that life amounts to nearly nothing at all and you set about spreading the news. When you are challenged you point out that every religion, every myth, every law and system of morality was invented, changed, and misused by humans and only humans. You reject any plea or point made to the human spirit and focus on the futility of our search for meaning, perfection, or truth.

There is nothing out there for us and to look to the heavens for answers is a waste of time. What we seek doesn’t exist. We are nothing but another chemical reaction happening on a rather small and fragile planet, orbiting a rather ordinary star, in a featureless corner of the cosmos.

ab·surd·ism
əbˈsərdˌizəm,-ˈzərd-/
noun
a philosophy based on the belief that the universe is irrational and meaningless and that the search for order brings the individual into conflict with the universe

The meaning we long for cannot be found outside of ourselves. For some this conclusion is at odds with everything they feel inside. Every fiber of their being tells them that their life is important, that all life is important. They cannot take the leap, let go of God, and accept that to whatever extent life matters or not, it only matters or doesn’t matter to us alone. The answers we seek are inside of us.

ex·is·ten·tial·ism
ˌeɡzəˈsten(t)SHəˌlizəm/
noun
a philosophical theory or approach that emphasizes the existence of the individual person as a free and responsible agent determining their own development through acts of the will.

The truth is, being alive is hard. Having all this intelligence, this emotion, this desire, and forethought is painful in a universe that doesn’t even know you are there. It doesn’t make sense to us, so we try not to think about it.

But I want us to think about it.

So, for my A to Z Blogging Challenge theme this year, I have chosen to share with you all quotes and saying of deep and depressing insight into the bleak realities of the human condition. I want to share what keeps me up at night, what scares me, confuses me, what is painful and what is interesting about existing.

From what I can tell we all grapple with trying to understand what it means to be alive and come to terms with the purpose of our time on this planet. For most of us the conclusions are far too disturbing and to talk about such things in public is considered taboo.

But I want us to talk about it, together.

I want us to talk about it so we can transcend this truth and suffer unto a greater understanding of who we are. What sets us apart, the only dignity we have, is our thoughts, our freedom, and our ability to shape our world into something all our own. Our power lies in our stubbornness, our empathy, our intelligence, our consciousness, and yes, even in our despair and suffering, which belong to us and no other life forms. We ought to embrace that.

Most of the quotes I’ll share come from famous philosophers like Albert Camus and Friedrich Nietzsche, but I’ve tried to include more recent pop culture insights too. Of course, the list isn’t comprehensive. I had to choose one for each letter, and there are many quotes I love that I was forced to leave out. I’m saving those for future posts after the challenge is over.

I promise it won’t all be pessimism and meaninglessness, though. I’ll try to leave you with some joy or inspiration. I’ll make sure to at least remind you that while the universe may not care about you and that eventually we will all die and it will be like you were never here at all, even though none of us matters, you are important, to you!, and that is good enough.

//

 

Thanks for reading! If you like this post check out my weekly-ish newsletter for inspiring reads + existential musings on life, love, and inevitable human suffering. Or help support what I do by sharing a cup of coffee.

This post was written for the A to Z Blogging Challenge Them Reveal link-up

Photo by Jakub Kriz on Unsplash

Short and Sweet Reviews // The Stranger

“Mother died today. Or maybe yesterday; I can’t be sure.”

// Albert Camus, The Stranger

The Stranger (or L’Étranger in French) by Albert Camus is a book that pushes the philosophies of existentialism and absurdism to extreme situations and conclusions. We follow the main character, Meursault from his mother’s funeral to his casual murder of a man he recognizes and his subsequent trial. All the while we witness him taking a passive role and we learn what can happen when a person has no passion for life and will not act to save his own skin.

Meursault is called The Stranger, or The Outsider, because he is indifferent to all that is around him. To live this life, or that life, or no life at all seems to be all the same to him.

“I opened myself to the gentle indifference of the world.”

// Albert Camus, L’Étranger

To be honest with you this was not one of my favorite books. I couldn’t tell if Meursault was indifferent by nature or just very depressed. I know Camus is trying to make a point. I agree that there was no intrinsic meaning to life but damn, I at least like living enough to fight to keep on doing it!

So, do I recommend it? Yeah, I do, but only if you’ve got nothing else more interesting lined up or you find it cheap in a thrift store or something. Camus does raise some interesting questions and the book will frustrate you enough to force you to examine what you would have done and why. The problem is Meursault sounds so bored with his life it makes you bored with it too!

“Since we’re all going to die, it’s obvious that when and how don’t matter.”

// Albert Camus, The Stranger

I did learn a few things: I learned not to get involved in other people’s domestic affairs. I learned to come in out of the heat if the sun feels too bright or you begin to feel dizzy. Finally, I learned that no matter what you must always take an active role in saving and preserving your own life. You have to care because no one in this world is more wants you to you go on living but you.

Or don’t. It doesn’t matter much either way I suppose :)