In the coming weeks and months I am going to roll out a series of essays and stories about a topic that I believe is the key to a life well and authentically lived. I don’t believe that it has ever been explored in quite this way before, and my art and blog are dedicated to it. The three topics of Meaninglessness, Rebellion, and Joy are closely interlinked. Take a look at Joseph Campbell’s quote:
“And in this life-creative adventure the criterion of achievement will be… the courage to let go the past, with its truths, its goals, its dogmas of “meaning” and its gifts: to die to the world and to come to birth from within.” — Joseph Campbell, ‘The Masks of God, Volume IV’ page 678.
Campbell placed the word meaning in quotation marks. What a grand and understated nod to our central condition in this life! I want to expand on this for months, maybe years, but the gist of it is that meaning, that meaning which so consumes those who strive to live consciously, is not a foundation or a solid rock. Rather, it is more like a useful model of how to live here, and what to do to live well and truly. Meaning, so to speak, is a structure which gives form and impetus to a life. Obviously, a life without meaning is unbearable. Yet, meaning itself is not a thing. It does not exist as anything. There is no meaning or meaninglessness at all, unless someone chooses one or the other. In other words, the basis for the meaning of our lives is just a choice to have meaning in our lives. There is no deeper ground.
Now, I can hear the protests of the religious saying that the ultimate ground of meaning is God. Sure, I too believe in God. But God notwithstanding, it is still your choice to give meaning to God. God gave you the freedom to choose, but he did not give you meaning itself. It may very well be that the great abhorrence toward atheism and nihilism by the religious is nothing more than an unrecognized dread of this truth about meaning—that is, that it begins and ends with us alone. God or no, I must face the universe myself.
At birth and throughout life, everyone gets a package of ready-made meaning. Meaning is presented as something real, as truth. And generally, rebellion against the myth is not tolerated. Enter Rebellion and meaninglessness. To live truly, you must rebel. We are on a “life-creative adventure” and the chief achievement will be “the courage to let go the past with its truths… its dogmas of ‘meaning’”. The rebel is the one who sets out from the warm hearth of his inherited meaning. She ventures away from meaning and crosses through meaninglessness– “I walk through the valley of the shadow of death”. There are many wastelands, but this is the ultimate. It is also the one most worthy of being crossed. You must “…die to the world and come to birth from within”. So the rebel crosses the valley to new meaning, to truth and authentic life. That is the process: Rebellion, Meaninglessness, Joy.