Know thyself!

What is the meaning of life and why should it matter?

Who am I? What am I? How am I? Why do I carry on living? What do I want? And why? These are some of the questions swirling in my head.

Life is precious and short. I need to be able to answer for myself why I am here so that, when the time of reckoning comes, I won’t have regrets about having wasted my days. And it isn’t enough for me to have a “nice life,” with some fun and some successes. I need to achieve something. Many people are perhaps satisfied with just being content with a nice, comfortable life (well, at least those lucky bastards that don’t need to fight for survival on a daily basis). I guess that my need for a deeper meaning stems from the belief that there is something transcendental here. Something that transcends the single, isolated individual, and the single life hanging between the apparent nothingness of before-birth and after-death. I don’t know what it is - perhaps an immortal soul or an all encompassing universal consciousness that we are part of without realizing it. But I obviously believe (or want to believe?) that there is something that transcends the obvious limits of one physical body and one life span.

I also believe that we know precious little about ourselves and our potential. We know little about why we feel and act in certain ways, why we value this or that - and even what we truly value. We know little about our potential for love, compassion, serenity, awareness, and presence, about health both mental and physical and how interrelated these two dimensions of being are. Being so ignorant, how can we ever hope to make the best out of the life we have been given?

To be able to find out what would give meaning to my life, I have to learn to know myself. Who am I? What am I? What do I believe? Why do I believe it? What is actually true? What is true for myself - and what is true for every man?

Maybe there is nothing transcendental. Perhaps the “I” is just a product of complex biochemical and electrical processes. Perhaps all the mystical experiences throughout the ages are nothing but glitches in the system, random side-effects of those imperfect processes, just as our numerous cognitive biases are “malfunctions” of our mental processes and heuristics. Perhaps my believe in, or need for, something transcendental is itself such a malfunction. Or an evolutionary adaptation, as people having hope and believing in something transcendental are more likely to push through adverse conditions and keep on living where a more rational comparison of benefits and suffering would yield death as a preferable choice. Perhaps the serenity and happiness one may reportedly experience in meditation is not different from what one would experience when served the right drug.

Even if there is nothing transcendental, it is worthwhile to study oneself. Understanding myself better, understanding what is truly important for me and what gives me joy, overcoming fears and unhelpful desires and emotional overreactions stemming from some subconscious baggage from early childhood and life - in other words, knowing what makes me happy and becoming free to pursue it - would clearly increase the quality of my life thousandfold. (The Man who Wanted to Be Happy demonstrates excellently how we are bound by our unconscious beliefs.)

I don’t know the meaning of life. Neither your nor mine. But working on getting to know myself, “studying your event” as Ralston puts it, seems to be the wisest course of action for me. It will enable a happier and fuller life - and I might event come to discover the meaning I am after along the way. You, my friend, might be content to just live, enjoying the pleasures of life and avoiding its suffering, and aren’t afraid of any regrets. That is all good and well. We all have our paths to walk, our journeys to make. Perhaps we will meet at the end after all, be it in the dark and friendly abyss of nothingness or in the embrace of God?

Side note: The wise, old healer in Laurent Gounelle’ The Man Who Wanted to Be Happy says this about life:

A successful life is a life that you have led in accordance with your wishes, giving the best of yourself in what you do, staying in harmony with who you are, and, if possible, a life that has given us the chance to go beyond yourself, to devote yourself to something other than yourself and to bring something to mankind, even very humbly, even if it’s tiny.