Skip to content

Existence and the Search for Meaning

It was about 2:00am on New Year’s Day. I’d been watching a few shows online while the clock had gently ticked past midnight, to silently ring in a new year. According to our current calendar system, it’s now 2020, which sounds futuristic, really. But, it’s here. I am still here. I wonder what for…

It’s interesting that a fictional, ridiculous, adult cartoon series can inspire one to thinking about the greater meaning of life. But the nature of the narrative touched on something that has been formulating somewhere deep in my psyche. It’s surfaced as something of a blend between simulation theory, quantum physics, and existential philosophy. These individual, communal and broader collective stories we tell ourselves are held together by the thinnest of threads. We’re here, we’re seemingly “alive”, but to be so, how much do we need to maintain the fiction and façade in order to derive any meaning in any of it?

I am an adult male, caucasian, born in Canada to parents of Croatian descent. Predictably, many aspects of my behavior and psychology — that both help and hinder my day-to-day beingness — were etched into my bones in the first seven years of my life. Those experiences have directed much of my sensemaking and search for and deduction of meaning throughout my life, and continue to do so to this day. I know that everyone is pretty much in the same boat, with minor variations here and there. That is, in a nutshell, a typical human story.

The paths diverge a little with choices in education, career, family — and all the myriad ways we can take stabs at purpose and deeper meaning. We shape our bodies, minds, egos, ideologies and philosophies along the road. Perhaps we find answers or stumble upon “Easter eggs” of meaning through diversion, immersion or submersion in spirituality, science, religion, in sports, or in deeply traumatic experiences; through loss, hard-won victories, falling desperately in love, lovemaking and orgasm, birth, death, discovery… or psychological dysfunction (and/or the therapies engaged therein). The imagination is really the only limit to how one can experience this human reality. Yet we’re only ever intimately and starkly aware of our own, singular, unique existence.

And what’s it all about anyway? Why are we? What, truly, is the point of anything?

There are episodes in a lifetime, hopefully, when we’ll slam into a reality distortion or some other highly-charged moment that singularly disrupts our narrative — or throws into question the many assumptions and engrained parameters we acclimate to in our waking lives. For me, a lot of the common reasons and justifications for doing what we do are incredibly clumsy, empty and cliché.

It seems that for many, simply stumbling forward in life creates enough momentum to fuel basic, superficial decisions about where to go, what to do and what attracts our attention enough to pursue it. Or, what’s more likely, is we have parents/guardians who have been entangled in the matrix for so long that they have ample evidence that choosing a path, working hard to achieve something, and continuing their prevailing legacy is valid enough to push you through many of the same mechanisms they suffered through themselves.

This is of course a very common perspective in modern, Western society. I can’t imagine what it is like for a child, born to a mother who got pregnant through submission or rape, living in a barely vertical hovel in a “third world” nation… growing up in a family that never has enough food, or drinkable water, and watching your brothers and sisters die of what in the West would be easily treatable. Yet this, too, is a variation on a theme, when you get down to the bones of it. That soul could have been born in Canada, and could have been raised by a “privileged” family. But are the stories really so dissimilar?

I would argue that very few people, especially in the modern, developed world, are truly, deeply fulfilled or happy — at least, not for more than a few notable moments, amidst a regularity of the mundane, repetitive and predictable. What’s apparent, in my view, is that life is a series of primarily linear processions, interspersed with disruptions and, if we’re fortunate, tangential decision-making where most will try desperately to get back to the safe and familiar, while the few who are truly courageous dare to pursue storylines contrary and unknown to them previously. There are only so many options — based on our perceived capacities and capabilities, and the persistent, imposed or adopted conditions of our environments — so it would follow that someone, somewhere, is exploring something you’ve thought about, persevered with, or given up on. How could they not? Why or how would you even summon or concoct the notion unless someone else or something in your consciousness — or in the greater collective field — inspired or seeded it?

In a reality that is heavily biased toward contrast and conflict, the basic motivations of life are entirely based on problems that others have caused, perpetuated or neglected to address — at least, this is entirely what our market system thrives upon, and is omnipresent and all-pervasive in the developed world. This, to me, seems dreadfully sad and depressing. It really doesn’t take much to be original and unique, save the will and a curiosity to dare greatly to push beyond what anyone has done before — and we can’t really know that until we achieve it.

I am certainly not original at all in these philosophical rants, and these fairly ordinary questions and curiosities about the meanings of life. I’m hardly addressing anything that hasn’t been contemplated upon over the last few millennia in far more capable and varying degrees. I didn’t pursue “higher education” through college or university. It didn’t make sense to, as public high school was little more than psychological and emotional torture, desperately trying to blend in to a few sub-cultures or groups of friends; it was rote memorization, angry and exasperated and depressed teachers, and simply showing up for most classes. It wasn’t remotely challenging enough for me to want to pursue — and to go into great financial debt for — anything more within that system. My older cousin was and did the exact opposite, and seems to be happy to have not only stayed the course, but — and perhaps inevitably — to herself become a teacher.

I enjoy exploring philosophical conundrums, but in the end, it’s really not ever enough. It’s all quite circular, and ultimately, has no solution. The only meanings that can ever exist are those meanings we choose to bestow; I give meaning to writing. I discern meaning when listening to the sea. I find meaning in brief eye-contact with my fellow humans, and with animals. I assign meaning to the beauty of a woman. I derive meaning from the sheer, immense presence of an ancient, brilliantly alive forest. I sense meaning in the flames of a fire. I struggle to find meaning in silence. Occasionally, I see meaning in my reflection.

Solvitur ambulando