Thich Nhat Hanh beautifully wrote in his narrative work, Old Path White Clouds:
Gautama entered even more deeply into meditation. He saw how countless worlds arose and fell, were created and destroyed. He saw how countless beings pass through countless births and death. He saw that these births and deaths were but outward appearances and not true reality, just as millions of waves rise and fall incessantly on the surface of the sea, while the sea itself is beyond birth and death. If the waves understood that they themselves were water, they would transcend birth and death and alive at true inner peace, overcoming all fear. This realization enabled Gautama to transcend the net of birth and death, and he smiled.(1)
So what if all of life is absurd? Does a cat care whether he has ultimate meaning in life? Does a dog know that she will die and be no more? Of course, the answer seems to be an overwhelming “no!” So why should we humans even care?
Perhaps my reading of Sellars and Russell are influencing me here, but I have come to realize that objects have no meaning without relations. In the same vein, subjects have no meaning except as objects in relation to other subjects either.
S relates to O — OR simply, aRb where ‘a’ is a subject and ‘b’ is an object or other subject (honestly, we seem to treat all subjects besides our own Self as objects).
It’s idiotic to claim that we “make” our own meaning. That’s like digging yourself out of a hole. It’s the wrong tool and the wrong direction. Meaning is a social belief about objects and how we relate to them. To one woman, her child is the most precious object in the world. To another, her child is to her. The subjective world builds meaning based upon relations.
Take for example my son’s attachment to his blanket. At this time, just before his 3rd birthday, that blanket means the world to him. The subject is Sam and he relates to the object, his blanket, in a variety of ways. The most important relationship is how that blanket holds meaning for him. That relationship is based as much on the facts about the blanket as his personal interaction has been with it.
So what about the “meaning of human life?” Well, there is no “meaning” so get that idea out of your head. Meaning comes as much from others as from ourselves, but neither exceeds the other as far as I can tell. So as we experience relations with other subjects and objects, we maintain meaning in our life. I say maintain because meaning 1) changes and 2) fades. Anyone who has ever had a favorite dish served to him or her repeatedly knows this. This doesn’t mean that the dish never had great meaning for us, only that it lost is grandeur as it was perpetually served. Life may actually require change and new experiences in order to maintain happiness with it. But that’s another topic.
Embracing absurdity also has a positive aspect that is at the heart of Buddhist philosophy: a recognition of the impermanence of all things and the fruitlessness of trying to hold on. I’ll take this up in part 3.
There are many things we must come to call absurd. Not invaluable, mind you, but ultimately absurd because of the impermanence of all things. If we were to start with terms alone, “forever” and “always” would be the first to fall under the categorization of absurd, as well as their opposites. For “forever” and “never” both reside only in conceptual domains, not life and love.
Nostalgia, that feeling of longing for what is past and what will never be again, is the only evidence for the devil that I have ever found. The faces that we loved and longed to see get distorted by that villain time since we last saw them. Even looking back into childhood, those toys we once loved and cherished become nothing but memories latched to plastic commercialism. Value dies with time. Value must die since we must die – otherwise, we’d all be in hell. When we lose a loved one, what could be worse than to never have the sting of their absence subside from time to time? At once, we long to feel that connection that is long gone and at the same time we long to have the chains broken. I once feared memory loss more than any thing that could happen to me. But if I could no longer realize that I forgot something, perhaps I would welcome it.
When I know that I have everything that the average person longs to have in their life, why don’t I feel satisfied by it? It’s not that I feel discontent, but I look at everything and see that it is absurd and pointless and fading, endlessly fading. It’s too much to handle. I am not strong enough to stare into that abyss for longer than a few moments. My heart starts to crumble and tears swell in my eyes. What a terrible fate we all must accept.
But what happens when we do accept it? Will a new strength form within us that edges us on to overcome our fears and tempt our fates?
Wisdom leads to happiness – at least this is what people believe. The main problem is that wisdom is confused with knowledge, while happiness is confused with lack of suffering. The truth is that wisdom only leads to happiness as much as one accepts reality. Wisdom is loving the world as it is. If you cannot change a situation, love it as best as you can. Remember that you are owed nothing. Happiness and suffering mean nothing really. I’ve moved beyond nihilism though. So what I mean is that in the end, every creature perishes – so don’t worry about what is happening if you can’t control it. Embrace life as life is available to you.
Live beyond the words you write – such as this. Living is so much harder than writing. What is written becomes a document; it is “set” in the most obvious ways. Living is a continuously changing event and requires constant attention. It is easy to lose happiness because it is easy to lose contentment. It is easy to lose focus because energy is required to perform work – even mental work.
Diligence in wisdom and contentment leads to happiness. Just remember that both the target and the shooter are constantly shifting.
I just have to add a quote I just read by Bertrand Russell:
“The good life is not contemplation only [quietism], or action only [pragmatism], but action based on contemplation, action attempting to incarnate the infinite in the world.”
When I was younger, I didn’t know much but I felt sure about many things about life, meaning, and love. Then, the more I learned, the more I couldn’t understand. There were so many contrasting viewpoints and I couldn’t make sense if them. I found out how complicated people are – including myself. Now, I look back at all of my questions and my search for love and I feel a love for myself, but also a deep pain. Nostalgia. It seems we all learn to love too late. We learn to live after life has past us by. But I hope one day to look at myself and everything in my past and smile – with a simple love and acceptance. I’m finding it hard to do.
It’s a really awkward feeling to know that you’re simply trying to escape from time. When you long for something you cannot have yet – if ever. There is a peace missing. Peace only comes when we accept the present. When the present is looked upon with love. But love is an immensely exhausting task – especially if done right. Real love does not expect reciprocity. But oh how we long for it. In the moments when we are alone and feel a void, it is the inability to express this love that overtakes us. At least, I hope it’s an “us” and that I’m not alone in this world. I’ll take what I can get in regards to love, friendship or just plain attention. But I’m having to learn patience. Unfortunately, patience in one area drains from another. There is only so much work a brain can do at a time. I hope I can strengthen this with practice.
I love, but I do not expect love back. What a strange thing for me. When I look back in a few decades, perhaps it won’t seem strange at all. Perhaps all of the other things I’ve called love were simply part of the learning process. After all, I have been wrong about love and so many other things before. Here I am, still feeling like a boy but starting to look like a man and I battle discontentment as hard as ever.
So here I am sitting, just trying to escape from time. But I long to spend that time in a way that I choose – but, I do not have the ability to choose any longer. At least not without grave consequences. It’s not a matter of what should I do. It’s about what do I feel like doing. It’s almost all an abstraction anyways.
It’s an amazing feeling to fall in love, especially when you have lost faith in your own ability to even do so. But there is an uncanny feeling that comes with it, perhaps because of age, that it’s not real or that you have already lost it even as you feel it.
It’s hard to tell though because the person you care about may show you affection as well, even in the smallest ways. Maybe it is real. Maybe it’s just a limit created by society and you are both trapped. Maybe it’s fear or authority or rebellion that causes you to accept the anxiety.
Yes, love means nothing in the long run, but what does? In the short run, it’s all we truly have. Might as well pursue it, right? Maybe.
Love is a funny thing. It strike when you don’t expect it to. It can be intentionally developed. It is irrational (usually). It comes in many forms. Some forms are easy enough to describe: boyfriend/girlfriend, spouse/spouse, child/parent, family member/family member, friend/friend, pet/owner, etc. And yet some forms are not so easy to describe. Perhaps these are simply attachments without names. When you come to treasure someone or something.
In every relationship though, letting go is the hardest. But every relationship must be let go of at some point: distance, detachment, death, etc. Just like with life, we ignore the impermanence of relationships. We don’t think about the future. We simply enjoy today. Oh, to be the lucky person who can do that. Death is my mind’s best friend.
How is it that I am probably the happiest I will ever be and yet I am full of despair? When it comes to the point you would like to vomit just so your mind will come in touch with your body for a moment. I haven’t been meditating lately because I got the flu two weeks back. I need to see if that improves my mood. I love but am not able to accept love in return because that’s how life is. I don’t think it is even out there or close to me either. I do feel it to an extent, but it is not enough. Nothing is enough when despair is devouring you. Nothing is enough as you are becoming nothing yourself.