In this second installment, in trying to understand the liberating and redemptive power of meaninglessness, let’s separate the wheat from the chaff. Let’s slice off some of the nonsense that philosophy has handed down to us. Let’s get back down to the clean dirt of mother earth:
Meaninglessness is not Nihilism. Nihilism is not worth considering. A nihilist, driven to certain desperate straits or torments, will abandon his fake philosophy and begin striving for better conditions. Bereft of the luxury of pretending that nothing matters, he begins to work for things that do matter to him, even if it’s only his next meal. So much for Nihilism. No, meaninglessness is not a place where nothing matters. On the contrary, meaninglessness is a place where things do matter. It is a place where hearts desperately crave meaning and purpose, but cannot latch on, or have become conscious of the circularity and distressingly human-centric aspect of life here on earth.
The things that we pursue here do matter, and it is important to live well. Before moving on to more nourishing notions in future posts, I wanted to make sure that I explain that with these essays I am not here to wallow in the imaginary problems of the well-fed. Existentialism is not a way to occupy a mind unoccupied by crushing want. It is an honest attempt to live truthfully and well, according to the heart, and against all dogma.
This series is focused on how to live well in practical terms. Please don’t harbor any thoughts that any of this is supposed to veer off into the clouds. What we want is to recognize that life is ours to embrace, and that things do matter, but we must come to terms with the true nature of meaning and meaninglessness if we are to improve ourselves, the way we treat others, and our lot here on this beautiful planet.
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.
It’s two months today.
I hope to exceed 100 followers sometime today. I hope that’s good for two months in here. WordPress has been amazing. It gives us a vast, dynamic, and energetic community for sharing work and ideas. It’s so motivating to have an audience who can actually see and react to our work. I’m used to filling up sketchbooks and piling up paintings that hardly anyone will ever likely see. But here, I am excited every morning, work day, and evening to see what I can come up with that might vibe with someone. I have tacked away from painting for these two months because it is so fun to try to smash out a drawing every day, to see if my audience can grow.
I am part of the audience as well. Due to the competitive nature of WordPress, I find that I am exposed to ever more creative, engaging, informative, and up-to-the-second posts on anything that interests me. It stokes my imagination like a hurricane.
WordPress I love you. Thank you.
To those who have chosen to follow this blog, thank you for participating and I will do my best to make it worth your while.
To those I follow, thank you for you hard work and relentless creativity.
To everyone else, wow!
Sisyphus 1, Gods 0