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.

And remember,

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.


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