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Existence and the Search for Meaning

Audio Version

It was at around 2:00 a.m. on New Year’s Day. I’d been watching a few shows online as the clock gently ticked past midnight, silently ushering in the new year. According to our current calendar system, the year is now 2020, which sounds very futuristic. But it’s here. I’m still here. I wonder why…

It’s interesting how a fictional, ridiculous, adult cartoon series can prompt one to consider the larger meaning of life. The nature of the narrative touched on something that had been developing deep within my psyche. It’s emerged as a hybrid of simulation theory, quantum physics, and existential philosophy. These individual, communal, and larger collective stories we tell ourselves are held together by the most tenuous of threads. We’re here, and we appear to be “alive,” but how much of the fiction and façade do we need to maintain in order to derive any meaning from it?

I am an adult Caucasian male born in Canada to parents of Croatian descent. Many aspects of my behavior and psychology, which both help and hinder my day-to-day existence, were etched into my bones during the first seven years of my life. Those experiences shaped much of my sensemaking, search for, and deduction of meaning throughout my life, and they continue to do so today. I know that everyone is pretty much in the same situation, with minor differences here and there. That is, in a nutshell, a common human story.

The paths diverge slightly as we consider options for education, career, family, and the numerous ways we can seek purpose and deeper meaning. We shape our bodies, minds, egos, ideologies, and philosophies along the way. Perhaps we discover answers or “Easter eggs” of meaning through diversion, immersion, or submersion in spirituality, science, religion, sports, or 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 involved). The imagination is truly the only limit to how one can experience this human reality. However, we are only ever intimately and acutely 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 times in life, hopefully, when we encounter a reality distortion or another highly charged moment that completely disrupts our narrative — or calls into question the many assumptions and ingrained parameters we acclimate to in our waking lives. Many of the common reasons and justifications for doing what we do strike me as clumsy, empty, and clichéd.

It appears that for many people, simply moving forward in life generates enough momentum to fuel basic, superficial decisions about where to go, what to do, and what piques our interest enough to pursue. Or, more likely, we have parents/guardians who have been caught up in the matrix for so long that they have ample evidence that choosing a path, working hard to achieve something, and carrying on their prevailing legacy is valid enough to push you through many of the same mechanisms they went through.

This is, of course, a widely held viewpoint in modern Western society. I can’t imagine what it’s like to be a child born to a mother who became pregnant through submission or rape, living in a barely vertical hovel in a “third world” country, growing up in a family that never has enough food or drinkable water, and watching your brothers and sisters die of diseases that are easily treatable in the West. But, when you get right down to it, this is also a variation on a theme. That soul could have been born in Canada and raised by a privileged family. But are the stories really that dissimilar?

I would argue that very few people, particularly in the modern, developed world, are truly, deeply fulfilled or happy — at least not for more than a few notable moments, amidst a routine of the mundane, repetitive, and predictable. What is clear, in my opinion, is that life is a series of primarily linear processes interspersed with disruptions and, if we’re lucky, tangential decision-making, in which most people will try desperately to return to the safe and familiar, while the few who are truly courageous will pursue storylines that were previously unknown to them.

There are only so many options based on our perceived capacities and capabilities, as well as the persistent, imposed, or adopted conditions of our environments, so it stands to reason that someone, somewhere, is exploring something you’ve considered, persevered with, or abandoned. How could they not? Why or how would you summon or concoct the idea unless someone else or something in your consciousness — or the larger collective field — inspired or seeded it?

In a reality heavily skewed toward contrast and conflict, the fundamental motivations of life are entirely based on problems that others have caused, perpetuated, or failed to address — at least, this is entirely what our market system thrives on, and it is omnipresent and all-pervasive in developed countries. This strikes me as terribly sad and depressing. It really doesn’t take much to be original and unique, except for the will and curiosity to go far beyond what anyone else has done before — and we won’t know until we do.

These philosophical rants, as well as these fairly ordinary questions and curiosities about the meanings of life, are certainly not unique to me. I’m not addressing anything that hasn’t been contemplated over the last few millennia in far more capable and varying ways. I did not pursue “higher education” in college or university. It didn’t make sense, because public high school was little more than psychological and emotional torture, with students desperately trying to fit in with a few sub-cultures or groups of friends; it was rote memorization, angry, frustrated, and depressed teachers, and simply showing up for most classes. It wasn’t remotely challenging enough to entice me to pursue — and incur significant financial debt for — anything else within that system.

I enjoy delving into philosophical conundrums, but it never seems to be enough. It’s all quite circular, and there is ultimately no solution. The only meanings that can ever exist are those that we choose to bestow; writing has meaning for me. Listening to the sea helps me discern meaning. I find meaning in making brief eye contact with other people and animals. I assign meaning to a woman’s beauty. The sheer, immense presence of an ancient, brilliantly alive forest holds meaning for me. I can sense meaning in the flames of a fire. I struggle to find meaning in silence.

I occasionally see meaning in my reflection.

Solvitur ambulando