Since the dawn of human consciousness and rational thought (something that has seemingly yet to occur for some ‘Tea Party-goers’ in the US), we have hunted for meaning or significance (or maybe just the significance of meaning).
The questions are not new:
What is the meaning of life? Why am I here? Is there a God? If God created everything, then who created God? What should I do with my life? What is our purpose? If a bird shits on my head, is that really lucky, or just a way of dealing more placidly with the cleaning? Have I the time to read this blog post or should I be getting on with something more important? What dictates importance? Am I important? Who to? Is it important to be important? What if I am really important but really miserable? What if I am really, really unimportant but happy?
I help people find jobs – hopefully jobs that are meaningful to them and more meaningful to society in general.
One of the most common complaints among these job-seekers, as well as others I meet, is that most have not yet figured out ‘what they’re doing with their lives’.
Very few people I know feel they are wholly embracing their calling. Many of those who have found their passion seem to need that passion to give them meaning – namely, it is a self-fulfilling prophecy.
What if you never figure out what you’re doing with your life?
What if, despite how hard you work, or what you do, nothing you do matters?
If you never figure ‘it’ out and nothing you could ever do matters, is that a horrible thought or an enriching one?
In their hunt for meaning, most find the idea that they are not important terrifying.
I find it deeply exciting and powerful.
If nothing I do, or could do, is of any importance, it gives me huge freedom. It removes the shackles of expectation. It enables me to live in the present, rather than looking to the future, or the past, to determine where I’m heading, or what I’ve done.
I spent many years hunting for meaning. Now, I find more significance in the absence of meaning than I do in its pursuit.
Insignificance can be frightening. It can suggest sliding into the nihilism of Crime and Punishment or The Dice Man. Without meaning, we have free licence, it would seem, to do what we want and that could be bad, even evil.
But that kind of meaningless seems to suggest that without some set of rules or ideas to which to pin ourselves, we are lost.
I believe that human nature is essentially good. Mother Nature, for example, has rules that were existing long before we decided to pin our rationalisations to them.
I don’t believe that, left to our devices, the world inevitably becomes a Lord of the Flies type scenario. It can. But it is not inevitable.
And certainly, the rules imposed by religions and governments can often create more issues than are solved. From the crusades, to holy war… from cultural revolutions to genocide, the rules and systems are regularly used for destruction. Even capitalism, our ‘modus operandi’ manages, in its purest form, seemingly to cause as much, if not more, damage than it solves.
I find that when I let go of the pursuit for that meaning – in the acceptance beyond the hunt for, or someone else’s definition of, meaning – that is where I truly thrive. It is there, when I’m just living and not pursuing, paradoxically, the most meaning is found.