Have you ever asked yourself this question?
If you’re human, you probably have.
But you don’t need to feel ashamed about asking, What is the point of life?
Part of being alive is to be ceaselessly wondering–aloud or inside one’s own head–about what all of this exactly means.
Because it’s when you quiet those thoughts that you quiet the part of you that makes you human.
To your credit, it makes sense to want to put a lid on great existential questions.
Thoughts are weight. They are laden with meaning.
If they weren’t, then why would they keep us up at night?
It’s precisely the questions that keep us up at night that are the questions worth pursuing.
It will always be so.
I am an anxious person. I have anxiety on my better days, but I am also an anxious person.
I fluctuate between the two.
Before I figured out how to sleep through the night, I ambled in and out of my dreams and nightmares.
People with rich internal worlds often struggle to sleep.
It’s as if the few hours that we are awake each day are not enough to satiate our active imaginations.
We need more time.
So in creep the thoughts and images that couldn’t be sorted out in our limited allotment of daylight.
And the biggest of questions–the existential ones–find their way into our dreams.
Dreamscapes are an amalgamation of thought and emotion landscapes.
The images that parade through the mind during a fitful dream are too illogical to be true–but they’re not too far off from reality to be useful.
That’s why some of the world’s greatest thinkers kept–and keep–a notepad next to their beds.
Shifting shapes and words that leak from the mind upon awakening can be used.
Dreamscapes provide fertile ground. From them, we can unearth questions worth considering. Questions like:
1. Am I good enough?
2. Am I doing the right things?
3. What does it mean to be happy?
4. Why can’t I get that person out of my mind?
But it’s not so much the question that is being asked that is important; it’s the fact that it’s being asked at all.
If there a question that continues to emerge from within you, no matter how many times you try to submerge it, there’s a good chance that this is a question that you must pursue.
Meaning comes not from escaping what tortures us–but from grappling with the difficult thoughts and emotions that the torture provokes.
Maybe your torture is a family member. Maybe it’s your current job.
Or maybe you are your torture.
Only you can know for certain.
Only you can decide what to do with the struggles you’re in.
All of this sounds bleak.
Who in their right mind would choose to wrestle with such quandaries?
Who would spend their time on existential dread?
Especially in this day and age, where escape is only a smartphone screen away.
You would. The person who is searching for meaning.
Because deep down, you know you won’t find it on your smartphone screen, or on Netflix, or anywhere else you choose to escape to.
Because you can’t escape yourself. You can’t outrun the runner.
Eventually, you’ll run out of road–and you’ll find yourself on a path untrammeled by the common traveler.
Finally, if you keep going, you’ll find no path at all.
Then, you are left all alone.
You are completely responsible for deciding what to do with your life.
You are left with the question:
What is the point of life?
Let’s break this down
A general, multipurpose, blame-escaping, banal and safe and bland version of life?
Or your life?
I’m guessing it’s the latter.
So now you know it is your life in which you seek meaning, the only real life that you have any semblance of control over.
Making that fateful decision is the first step–but it’s an important one.
Taking responsibility for your own life is harder than it sounds.
It’s much easier to pass the responsibility to someone else–to parents, to a partner, to a friend, to anyone other than the being who is tortured by the tantalizing threat of big questions to consider.
How does it feel to try that thought on for size?
Is it terrifying? Emboldening?
Whatever it is, it’s your thought and subsequent emotions.
All of these are data, as well as tools–tools for chipping at your paint-flaking exterior so that you can come to know yourself better.
All self-knowledge must start with the tools are available. How can anything be changed or improved if it’s not first brought to awareness?
Now we’re starting to get somewhere.
Once you make the commitment to yourself and to your precious life, you start to take it seriously.
You start to see that there is beauty in the struggle for meaning.
At first the meaning might be faint, it may whisper in your ear only occasionally.
But pursue the call long enough–and you’ll start to hear it more often, growing louder and louder the longer you pursue it.
Over time, you may very well find that the things that once terrified you were mere stepping stones to greater vistas.
The path of self-knowledge doesn’t only lead down and through treacherous chasms; there are soaring heights as well.
But you have to do the work to get there, just like your ancestors did. The great work that brought you into this world is the great work that will carry you through it.
You will never find happiness in mindless escapism.
To be entertained is to be temporarily stunned. It’s an illusory promise at best. And the more you come to rely on it, the more you realize just how much of a crutch it has become.
This undulating path that is your life, where does it lead?
Where do you want it to lead?
Do you want it to go up, or do you want it to go down?
Well, it depends on what you desire, on what you value the most.
So first you must spend the time figuring out what you value.
Forever go back to your data, to your ephemeral thoughts and emotions.
Those outputs will always be there, waiting for you.
And you’ll be waiting for them, at the point where the well-trodden path runs out–and where your life’s work begins.
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This post was previously published on Nerve 10 and is republished with the permission of the author.
Photo courtesy Unsplash.