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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Five Minute Friday // A Purpose After the Fact

I grew up with religion. I grew up in churches with stories about fate, and destiny, and every human’s part in God’s plan, but I don’t believe in that anymore.

There is no purpose for any of us, not one we come into this world bearing anyway. It was a hard pill to swallow, but now that it has gone down and been digested, I feel better.

Humans need a purpose, though, and when I found I didn’t have one, I made one up. I found one or two that agreed with my interests and drives, my values and my hopes, and I got to work. I told myself the sweetest lie. I have a purpose.

Does a purpose after the fact count? Is finding a few things to inside a hand-made decorative bowl you impulse bought from Target the same as having a reason for existing?

I was sprung into existence on accident, and I figured while I was here I might as well make myself useful. I know this, and it doesn’t matter one bit. I don’t need fate or divine purpose. Meaning I made up, just for me, is enough to get me through this life happy and fulfilled.

I made meaning out of a life that might have been nothing at all.

That is magic.

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Written in response to Kate Motaung’s Five Minute Friday prompt: Purpose

Featured image via Unsplash

We are Nothing, and this is No Place, Enjoy!

Where you come from is gone, where you thought you were going to never was there, and where you are is no good unless you can get away from it. Where is there a place for you to be? No place.

Nothing outside you can give you any place,” he said. “You needn’t look at the sky because it’s not going to open up and show no place behind it. You needn’t to search for any hole in the ground to look through into somewhere else. You can’t go neither forwards nor backwards into your daddy’s time nor your children’s if you have them. In yourself right now is all the place you’ve got. If there was any Fall, look there, if there was any Redemption, look there, and if you expect any Judgment, look there, because they all three will have to be in your time and your body and where in your time and your body can they be?”

― Flannery O’Connor, Wise Blood

I am deep in existential thought this morning. There is so much that hurts about being alive that we have spent considerable evolutionary and cultural time building elaborate defenses against our own minds. We work very hard to protect ourselves from the knowledge of death, suffering, and disappointment but every so often—just before we fall asleep, or perhaps while starting at a particularly beautiful sunset, pair of eyes, or our own reflection in the mirror—we remember what we work so hard to forget. We remember that we are nothing and nowhere after all.

Please, I swear this is not meant to bring you down. I think it’s a good thing for us to remember that for most of us our existence will be good but ordinary. We will have regrets, ou probably does already. We will be sad, somewhere deep down, we all are. You will be scared, and angry, and you will find yourself reacting in the two ways all humans do, quiet acceptance or white-hot rage.

This is how we cope with the knowledge that we are stuck. We cannot fight time or space. We will have only this lifetime, this planet, and this set of circumstances. We will do what we can, sure, that is where our greatest strength lies. We will exert whatever influence we can upon the universe to have some scrap of control over who we are and what life will be for each of us.

We cling to half-truths. Each of us is unique, oh but we are each dreadfully boring ad ordinary too. We can change each change the world, yes, but never all on our own. We can be whatever we want to be, but we have no knowledge of how to be it and so spend most of our time making mistakes and learning again and again that what we thought was our path turns out not to be after all.

So what could be so motivating about that? Well, whenever I remember how short and sad my life will eventually be, on instinct I search for the good. I collect whatever happiness and accomplishment I can find in memory, and I let it fill me for the moment. I hold tight to it in the hope that when it is my time to go I will go with a smile.

Then I immediately remember that once I am dead, it won’t really matter much either way whether I was happy or sad or did what I wanted or didn’t. It may matter to my loved ones, but they will be gone one day too. The miraculous thing about this thought is that instead of sending me into a depression, it feels entirely freeing (usually).

You see, in humanity’s attempt to hold on to the “now” so that we can believe in forever we work hard, so hard, to do a whole lot of things we don’t want to do. There are so many of us who work jobs we hate and live in places we hate because we think we have to. We waste every single day doing a whole lot of things that don’t matter all that much to us, but we have tricked ourselves and each other into believing they do.

So, what does that mean? Not a whole lot to be honest. I’m not calling for a radical revolution. I am not pretending I know how to change your life, hell I don’t even know how to change my own in all the ways I want to. What I do know, what I believe in, and what matters more to me that anything, are those teeny, tiny, changes we can make. They are all we have, all we can ever have, besides lady luck.

This week, I have very little to give you in the way of advice. Facing yourself and the truth of you fragility and inevitable demise is hard and terrifying. So, maybe just really think about what matters. Deep, deep down, past all the things you were taught should matter. What will you cling to? What will make you feel like this life has been a good one? What kind of future do you want for the people who will come after you, who you will never know and will never know you?

There is no right or wrong answer. You may find you just want to make yourself happy and the people who come next ought to worry about themselves. That is entirely valid. You may want money and fame, and you may want something to pass down to your children. You may not even want children. There is nothing wrong with living your life however you want to, just remember time is short. Look around you, this, this, is all you have. You should do what you can to make the most of it! You should try to find what happiness and meaning you can here.

Enjoy your life.

Or don’t, I guess. There is no right answer.

As for me, I try every day to do something small that feels big, that feels like a step, to more of those memories and accomplishments I can cling to. I try to remember why I do it. Not because I want to be rich and famous, that life isn’t for me, but to do nothing more than say “Lisa was here!”. Another illusion I cling to, one where it matters whether I was here or not but one I cannot seem to let go of.

Somewhere deep down I do want to have a small impact on what is to come, even if I will never see it. I want to lessen the pain, in whatever way I can, of a girl, far in the future, who may have the fortune and the bad luck to be born a little like me. I want to believe that people will live lives that make them feel good, or at least a bit more accepting of not just death but of every disturbing and embarrassing aspect of being a fragile human being on a fragile planet at the mercy of dangers, we cannot even fathom.

I want to imagine a future where we understand who we are and what we want to do, together. I want that because of the very few things I believe in one is that we are all we have and we have to start acting like it.

So I work through my ugly truths trying to get at what this little insignificant life means to me. I flash my half-assed answers, my process, my fears and dreams wherever I go hoping that others will face ugly and uncomfortable truths too. I hope in doing so they can find what I have, a sad reality where we are nothing and nowhere but where we can come together and make whatever this “life” thing is something really grand and good.

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Check out my weekly-ish newsletter for interesting reads + some of my own existential musings on life, love, and inevitable human suffering, or help support what I do by sharing a cup of coffee.

Featured image via Unsplash

It is Important That You Know You are Important

Hello and happy Monday dear readers. I hope your weekend went well and I hope you are able to start the week off on the right foot. For the first time in a long time, I felt prepared for the work week ahead of time and I hit the ground running. It is strange to feel motivated when there is also a part of me that feels so tired and a little down.

If I keep moving, if I stay busy, I feel ok. If I stopped to think too long I feel my depression sneaking out and around me. My old friend asking if I am ready for them to return.

For a little while now I have been feeling very small. I feel unimportant. I feel the vastness of time and space all around me and I feel like I do not matter one bit. I know I matter to my friends and family now but eventually, they won’t matter either. It seems it is time again for a mild existential crisis. I’m surprised it took so long for it to rear it’s ugly head again.

So what do you do when you begin to feel like your life has little to no purpose or value? What meaning can be found for those like me? People who see the world for what it is, nothing but a small island floating through an essentially empty, cold, and callous universe? What keeps you going when you know there is now higher authority beyond other humans who matter just as little as you do?

Well, as someone who goes through this sort of depression regularly I can tell you that all you can do is get through it, one step and one day at a time. The best way is to turn your thoughts inward and remind yourself that while you may not live forever and you may be forgotten in the distant future that you do in fact matter. You matter just as much as any other human being does.

When was the last time anyone ever told you how important you are?

// Maya Angelou

Maybe what is outside this world and this time just doesn’t matter. Today matters, this moment matters, and you matter, right now! It’s everything else that shouldn’t matter. The rest of the universe, as far as we know, is lacking in humanity. It is lacking in the beautiful curiosity, enthusiasm, and joy that can easily be found here on Earth and inside of each of us. We are what matter because we are all we have and right now matters because each moment will only happen once and is unique in itself.

You matter because you are the only you there is and no one else in this world will experience this moment from your perspective every again. You may not make a huge impact on the cosmos but you will matter to one person, and they will matter to another, and so on.

And if that isn’t enough, remember, you are important because you are all you have in this world. Even if you can’t live forever and you can’t do everything you can make a life that means something to you.

That is what I tell myself. I matter to me. I am the one who makes my life worth living and I am the one who sees how beautiful and unique I am. I am a witness to my own greatness and it will be quite a show.

I matter, you matter, to each other and to ourselves, and it is so important that we know that.

P.S. The title came from a quote that for the life of me I cannot place. If you know who said it please let me know

Featured image via Cwote

Oh Look, It’s Time For My Yearly Existential Crisis

Ever since I can remember I have been obsessed with death and the meaninglessness of life. Every so often, about once a year, it gets really bad and I just stop caring about anything. I am going through that right now. I find myself, asking myself, why? What does it all mean? Why go on? Why keep trying? As I have gotten older I have come up with some answers. These answers are just my answers and they work for me.. I am not going to say I have it all figured out. I doubt I, or anyone else for that matter, will ever have it all figured out.

I am, and probably always will be an Existentialist. This means I believe that there is no inherent meaning to life. Not my life or “life”as a whole. There is no reason for us to be here or not to be here. There is no meaning in any of it, except for the meaning we create. There is no reason for living and breathing, for working and paying bills, for love or relationships, there are no reasons for any of it, except for the reasons we create. In short, the universe gives no fucks.

At first this sounds incredibly depressing, and a lot of the time it is. I am often paralyzed by the thought that nothing I do means a damn thing. I try to remember that that does afford me an incredible amount of freedom. If the universe doesn’t care what I do than I can do whatever I want! Now, that does not mean there aren’t consequences for my actions. What it means is I can do things that are pleasing for me to do as long as I am prepared to deal with whatever the consequences may be. This may come off sounding selfish but there are many acts of kindness that are pleasing too. I like to help people and make them smile. This makes me happy, so I do it. I also like to write and learn new things and then write about those things so other people can learn too. This makes me happy, so I do it.

Existentialism, to me, means letting go of what society says is right and good. It means taking a step back and deciding for myself what is right and good. I like it better this way because at least I know myself and my reasons for thinking and doing the things I think and do. I have a deeper understanding of my own mind and motivations.

Even though the universe doesn’t care about me, I care about me. I have decided that even though living or not living means nothing in the end, I want to live. After you decide to live you have to decide why and what to do. This can be overwhelming at first but take baby step. Start with deciding what gives you pleasure. Is it family, is it writing, is you you wife, what do you enjoy about life? After that go find more things that you enjoy about life, then spread the joy!

I have decided this is what works for me. A lot of that has come from learning more about Zen and what that means. To me Zen is a lot like Existentialism in that there is no one right way to live, there is an emphasis on letting go, and there is an acceptance of life and the world around you. You have to let go of everything in order to learn something about yourself and the world around you. Zen goes a little further and tell us to let go and look inside and find you true meaning and live it!

Both philosophies lead a person to view life from a more detached point of view. We can see the bigger picture without all of the emotional distraction and suffering. This may sound like a life filled with emptiness and meaninglessness but it doesn’t mean that at all. It means seeing the world differently and finding a bigger, deeper meaning. It means freedom and fulfillment! When the meaninglessness of life and death get me down, I remember that even though I will be forgotten one day, I will have lived, and that is wonderful and special. It will have been special for my friends and family and they are the ones who matter, fuck the universe!

So instead of trying to change the universe, which I believe is impossible, I try to just make an impact right now, where I can. I do this because it feels good to do so. I do this because I want to help everyone live a happier life. We only get so long on this planet and we have to make the most of it. Well, I guess you don’t have to because the universe doesn’t care either way, but I care and I want you to have joy and fulfillment.

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