Once I accept the hard, scary fact, that my life is meaningless; that striving to find the meaning I thought was bestowed on me from birth is really a distraction from the fact that I’m just passing time here on Earth, I own that I am the only one responsible for how I choose to spend my time. From here I can make a meaningful life, even when life is meaningless.
My friend has been saying for years that life is meaningless. He subscribes to the philosophy of existentialism. This is a philosophy I’ve always agreed with, at least cognitively. But, it wasn’t until recently that I was able to really feel the entire concept fully throughout my body and soul.
While Lying in Savasana
I was lying in savasana, relaxing after an intense yoga practice, when a thought reappeared. Yeah, I know I’m supposed to let the thought glide by like a cloud, but this time I couldn’t.
I say ‘reappeared’ because I’ve had this thought before. Thing is I usually don’t give it air time as it’s far too scary to process. But, for some reason I was ready. So I gave in, let the thought fester, and allowed the visions to unfold.
I saw my travels spread out before me. I observed how things really didn’t change much in different places. I didn’t change much. Thus it didn’t matter where I went. I could travel around the world and back, and my life was always going to be what I made of it.
I lay there with the simultaneous emptiness and empowerment these visions filled me with. I actually embraced how alarming this realization was.
After a few more moments of allowing these thoughts, visions, and feelings to take root, I saw that in the core of my being all I’m really doing on this planet is passing time.
I always thought there was some grand story I was playing out, or that I was en-route to finding a predetermined purpose to evangelize, but that day I understood. There is no grand scheme. There is no greater purpose. I’m just here until I’m not.
Facing the Fear
Yeah, scary, I know.
Once I sat with the realization without trying to negate it with my usual defensive thoughts like “No, I have purpose! I’m here to help my friends and family live a happier life.” or “No, that’s ridiculous. Obviously there is a bigger script I’m playing out!”, the most amazing thing happened.
I felt an immense amount of freedom. A burden was lifted. I was back in the driver seat.
Roll with me on this one. If life is meaningless and there’s no script I’m supposed to play out, it really is entirely up to me to define my life. In this case, there is no reason for me to define that life based off of trying to create a narrative that feeds my and society’s ego. Why live life for anyone or anything else? It’s my life!
What I should do instead of trying to live according to some script (which doesn’t exist at least in this thought experiment) is choose joy in each moment. Why, because why not? Choosing sadness or angst don’t make me feel very good, and I’d rather feel good than bad.
The Point of No Return
I won’t deny that I hesitated to really feel all of this. If I choose to focus only on joy in each moment, would I just be giving up, being lazy, or ensuring ultimate turmoil? Says the line of thinking that’s kept me in fear this long.
But, the feeling I had in that meditation was so crystal clear, I mean it went straight to the core of all that I am, that I knew my understanding of life had shifted and there was no going back.
Diving Into a Meaningless Life
I next decided to re-acquaint myself with existential theory. After some amateur research on the subject I found this principle which I think exemplifies what I felt that day:
“Authentic existence involves the idea that one has to ‘create oneself’ and then live in accordance with this self. What is meant by authenticity is that in acting, one should act as oneself, not as ‘one’s acts’ or as ‘one’s genes’ or any other essence requires. The authentic act is one that is in accordance with one’s freedom., ‘the inauthentic is the denial to live in accordance with one’s freedom. This can take many forms, from pretending choices are meaningless or random, through convincing oneself that some form of determinism is true, to a sort of ‘mimicry’ where one acts as ‘one should’.”
The idea here is that living an authentic existence, in this case living a life where I choose my own freedom and joy in each moment, is paramount to living a happy and peaceful life. Each moment has a purpose of finding joy, but there isn’t some overall predetermined purpose for my entire existence.
Anxiety vs. Joy
Let’s stop here for a minute. Take a breath, and think about what you just read. What if there was no purpose you were supposed to uphold in life? All you need to do is find whatever joy you can in each moment given the circumstances you’re in. That’s it.
Maybe I’m not here to, say, empower others, but only to smile instead of scream when the dog throws up on the rug (not that I’m speaking from personal experience).
The seemingly depressing part about this thought experiment for me is the idea that “my life has no purpose”. I, for one, have been trained since I was born to believe that my life should be purposeful, but I never stopped to question why that’s the case. I just know that when I think that my life is pointless, I feel not so good about it.
I learned that this angst is something called existential anxiety.
Here’s a further description of the term: “Whether referred to as existential angst, despair, or anxiety, the concept is the same: the idea is that life is inherently pointless. That our existence has no meaning because there are limits or boundaries on it, namely, that we all must die someday.”
Well, that’s depressing.
Until I found the opposite of this anxiety, existential joy.
Here’s some more about this more hopeful term: “Existential joy is the direct opposite of existential anxiety. The joy of being one with the world counters the feeling of being disconnected and isolated from the world. Existential joy is what helps one to transcend the kind of anxiety that is all encompassing.”
All this to say, if my life doesn’t have an overall, predetermined meaning, it doesn’t mean I can’t make a meaningful life. It just means that someone or something else isn’t in control of defining meaning in my life.
Making a Meaningful Life When Life is Meaningless
How do I make a meaningful life if life is meaningless? I’m glad you asked! This is where choosing joy in each moment comes in. Allow me to provide another example.
Recently I rewatched the movie Groundhog Day. Watching it after having these reflections and thoughts blew my mind.
Bill Murray’s character is stuck living the same day over and over again; a metaphor for modern day life. After battling his existential angst, he realizes that he is the only one who can bring joy and meaning back to his life, and he sets out to do just that.
He basically just starts doing things that bring him joy. He learns to play musical instruments. He starts helping others around him (which makes him joyful). He basically reflects then takes action on, what will make him happy in each moment.
Although he knows he is bound to a life of the same day over and over again, he chooses joy in each and every instance he can instead of succumbing to madness. He may not have control over the events of the day, but he does have control over how he views them.
For me, the big lesson I’m taking away from Bill and from my recent yogic reflections is that of choosing to opt in to being the master of my own domain. Life truly is what I make it (thank you DMX and Nas).
So, I’m going to work hard to choose joy in every moment. Because otherwise, what else is there but the passing of time?