One day I decided to type the title of this post into Google and see what happened. I suppose I was in a moment of despair at the boredom I was experiencing in my work cubicle. In the search results I found a lot of dumb shit and inanities* (I guess that’s redundant), but I also found some interesting discussions. Here’s one discussion of life’s meaning I found that I thought was interesting. I don’t agree with what most of these folks are saying, but I liked the exchange they had. I liked that there was a respectful and intelligent exchange about believing in God, something that you almost never see in our polarized society. After reading the discussion, I saw something missing in all the posts.
What’s missing is in the way the question is asked. These people — all of us really — when we ask, “What is the meaning of life?”, are really asking “What is the meaning of MY life?” And that is the flaw. One can never get to the bottom of the purpose of one’s life as an individual who will cease to exist. That’s why these discussions go in circles. One does not live alone in a vacuum. One lives as part of an interconnected universe.
As an example, let’s take a tree. As we know, in the tree are atoms (quarks and smaller matter too, but let’s just go to the atomic level.) Is there any “point” to an individual atom? Can the atom have a “point” to it’s existence while ignoring it’s part of the tree? It just doesn’t make sense, just like trying to see the point of your own existence as an individual while ignoring that you are part of the universe makes no sense. A lot of the posts in the discussion I read saw the universe as “out there.” Weird, when you give it any thought. (By the way, I blame all this kind of disconnected, separateness type of thinking on Descartes, whom I despise. Despise! Which reminds me of a joke. Descartes is on a plane and the flight attendant says, “Would you like some coffee or tea?” Descartes says, “I think not” and disappears.)
The point of our existence can’t be realized outside of our interconnectedness to everything else. In the U.S. the individual, the maverick, is paramount and prized. Advertisements appeal to this paradigm by selling us the idea of their products as “unique” and “as individual as you”. The importance here is to value how different you are from everyone else. Your difference and uniqueness is what makes you important and special.
Like all advertising, that is a sham. The thoughts behind it are a sham. What makes you special is not your uniqueness but that people (and animals, for me) you love make you feel special. It’s the strong bond between us that makes us have value, not our individuality. People are incredibly more alike than they are different. Even if you think of yourself and the person who you feel is most opposite from you, in the end you have more in common than not. We all want to love and be loved, we all get old and die. It’s how we go about it that’s different, but that’s more about proclivities than essentialness. If you think of yourself and a sea anemone — well, now we’re talking different.
I wonder how these discussions of the meaning of life go in non-American (or at least non-Western) societies, societies where sameness and group cohesiveness is valued.
When I’m in nature, I feel very different from being in civilization and especially from being indoors. I *feel* all the life around me. It’s like all my cells come alive and respond to all the cells around me. I don’t know how to explain the feeling without sounding kooky. But I believe this feeling, on some level, is what it is to feel connected to the universe.
None of this resolves the dread of, “Oh shit, I’m going to die someday.” But it reframes the question of existence, which for me is crucial to accepting my limitations.
Life’s a piece of shit,
When you look at it…
*Please note that according to Merriam-Webster, the word “inanity” was coined in 1603.
Now and then I find myself thinking about Rabbi Ferris, whom I wrote about here. When I was at Chanan’s memorial last week, he spoke about their 30-year friendship. True to form, he joked the whole time except at the end when he said, “Time is precious,” and his voice cracked. I was very moved by this. I’d never seen him be upset or emotional before. It made me realize what a huge loss this is for him. We all think we will all be together to the end, but it doesn’t really go that way. We leave this life at different times, which is very inconvenient emotionally.
I’ve been thinking about that period in my life when I a lot of my time with two families: the Ferrises and the Felds. I was at one of their houses at least once a week. I was very happy in their homes. They fed me well, they let me sleep over if I wanted to. Basically, they nurtured me in a way a very much needed. I was pretty messed up in those days and it was nice to know there was a respite from myself I could access any time. I remember when I slept at the Ferrises I would always have wild, vivid dreams. I slept very deeply there.
I’ve often wondered if I would have remained religious if I was a guy. I didn’t fit in with the rigid gender roles, and that was one of the problems that made me start wondering if there wasn’t a flaw to the entire paradigm. What started as a small doubt there, a little discrepancy here eventually led to a sea change of thought. Sometimes it seems too bad that my logical mind dismantled my little Chassidic world. But I realized today that the happiness I felt there would never have lasted no matter what I was or what I became. That happiness was really based more on my being young and cared for than on my beliefs. By losing my religion I lost that world. But even if I had remained religious, I would have been expected to get married and have children, no matter what gender I was. Inevitably that magical world of tranquility would have vanished.
Some things aren’t meant to last.
Yesterday as I was leaving work, I bumped into a coworker who was carrying a toy stuffed baby seal. He said he happen to be cleaning behind his desk and found this toy he had bought for his daughter about five years ago and completely forgot about. I told him I had had a dream the night before that I owned a baby seal, and he said I could have the stuffed one if I wanted.
I didn’t take it. It’s just too damn freaky. What are the chances that a)I would dream I owned a baby seal, being I’ve never dreamed this before b)on the same day my coworker would have found the toy baby seal and that c)I would happen to bump into him on this day, being that I only bump into him about once a month? I think the chances of this encounter happening are negligible.
But what does does it mean? I mean, how did I and this man have this freakish connection? Let’s drop modern science for a moment (I know, it’s hard) and we proceed with the hypothesis that my dream and his reality had a connection. What is the connection? Some possibilities are:
- I controlled the future through my subconscious
- I predicted the future in my dreams
- This coworker has unconscious access to my subconscious, which causes him to act
Of course, there’s no way to know if any of these things are possible or if they happened. But it’s interesting to think about our minds and the outside world (or other minds) have a direct, mysterious connection.
(BTW, as The Nerge I must tell you that the toy pictured depicts some strange hybrid of a seal and a sea lion and is anatomically incorrect.)
Last night I dreamed about a mother and baby hippopotamus who had escaped from the zoo, and about a baby seal that I owned.
The baby hippo had entered “our garage” (a place that doesn’t exist in reality), and then the Mom showed up outside the garage door. She was pissed, so we climbed out the window to avoid any confrontation.
Why did I have these dreams? I don’t know. But I really loved that baby seal. In fact, in the dream I wondered why I had gotten it, because I knew it was doomed to break my heart someday when it got sick and/or died. I guess my subconscious is reminding me NOT to get any pets no matter how cute. In fact, I think it is telling me to especially avoid very cute pets.
Here’s some cute pictures so you can simulate entering my subconscious. The one of the baby hippo underwater did not happen in my dream, but I had to include it because of the cuteness quotient.
Heartbreakingly cute baby seal…