There have been many times when I’ve struggled with life’s meaning and dabbled with nihilism. Existentialism is a byproduct of consciousness, it seems.
Some time ago I had a bit of a revelation, in a bluer moment. For some months I’d felt listless, weighed down by the absence of meaning. I’d felt that, as monkeys on a rock, spinning round a star in a universe containing many quadrillions (yes, this is a real number) of celestial bodies – in my case without a religious belief – that I just didn’t understand the point of me, and the world around us.
I explained how I came to my revelation to someone recently – someone who’s suffered the same feelings – and they told me that my perspective had helped. So in the spirit of only truly understanding things properly when I write about them, I thought I’d try to galvanise my thoughts a little.
The revelation is this…
If you’re feeling that everything is pointless, or lacking in meaning then that’s absolutely fine. Go with it. In the absence of meaning then wind blowing through leaves on a tree, or water rippling on the surface of a lake has no meaning too. Yet if nothing has any meaning then that wind, those leaves, that water and your senses taking these in, well in the absence of meaning then these events are extraordinary.
If nothing means anything, then what is wind doing blowing through a tree? Plus it’s often beautiful. So if it’s beautiful, then haven’t you just attributed meaning to those things – e.g. beauty? In a weird and wonderful way, in the absence of meaning these things are even more beautiful. If some God created them, then cool. But if they came from nothing and mean nothing, well to me strangely that’s even more mind-bogglingly awesome. So the absence of meaning can create meaning. That’s very cool.
Our actions might still be pointless – there might not be any fundamental or significant meaning behind them – but once again in the absence of meaning somehow I find these things perhaps more beautiful. That’s it. There is no meaning but it’s beautiful and so in that moment, right there, you have your meaning because you’re conscious of that beauty. Even parking wardens, mosquitos and Donald Trump become laughably wonderful that they are even there, in the absence of meaning.
And with that revelation, I have just about enough energy to see things from a different perspective. I don’t need to understand the meaning, because there probably isn’t one. But I don’t have to get stuck there, because if there isn’t one then things are still wonderful… and so on…
It hasn’t protected me from becoming blue again, or for feeling these existential gripes, but when I remember to look at things from this perspective, it definitely helps me. I hope it does you too.
PS – do read this article about Victor Frankl’s wonderful book ‘Man’s Search for Meaning’ if this is of interest. Then go read the book.