Yes, that’s the meaning of life, give or take a hot fudge sundae with a kid on a summer afternoon
The meaning of life is really simple: to live, breathe, be alive. But it’s how to express our biology that is endlessly interesting. I think that many people who ask after the meaning of life are really searching for direction, guidelines, a key to something bigger than themselves. This is why there are so many religions bawling for out attention; “Live this way and all will be solved!” No it won’t, anymore than the latest diet book is going to work. The answers are within us, not outside of us.
People and other animals who are fighting for every breath do not ask what the purpose of life is, they just fight to live another minute, day, week, month, year. It is only with free time and a longer life expectancy that questions of meaning start to clutter up this living business. So, the meaning of life after basic survival is to express life in the way you feel has the deepest meaning to you. That’s what we all do really, do what we think is important, meaningful, or will lead to things we think are meaningful.
Answering the question of what do with life is a life-long process, and there are no absolute right or wrong answers. Only on our deathbeds do we know how we answered the question of living, and even then the grading is ambiguous and prone to serious personal bias errors.
So, what do you want to be? What would a great life look like to you? For me I value my small family, hot fudge sundaes, community, mountains, wild spaces, adventure, spicy food, sex, sunsets, and as a friend put it so eloquently, “Just watching this amazing universe unfold in nature.” Yes, the universe is damn amazing, and we’re part of something amazing.
For me this is enough. I know there is no God, no soul, no heaven, no hell, no “spiritual” plane despite the copious deluded blather. If there is an absolutely powerful God or presence or whatever then he or she or it is a sadist of the very, very worst kind, and I will not bow to such evil. The evidence is much more plentiful for all the good and bad in our human existence coming from within us, which is a tremendously frightening and also liberating viewpoint. We are responsible for our own lives as individuals, and for collectively for the path of our species. You. Me. Everyone. Hitler, Ghandi, the ice cream guy and the jerk tailgating in traffic.
The universe does not take any more notice of our passing than a screen door does of the efforts of a gnat, and in sum we have far less impact than the gnat. But we notice and experience the universe and each other in the truly wondrous forms of friends, sunsets, family, mountains. If we are looking to powers outside of humanity for validation then I think we’re truly missing the beauty and meaning of the vast life all around us, and ducking the big question of what to be and do individually and as Homo Sapiens. Only by noting and examing our reactions to the universe, and not the other way around, do we begin to really feel the joy — and pain — of our own existence. If we truly take responsibility for who we are as fragile humans then we can express our best answer to the question of how to live life.
I think that’s how it works anyhow, but I’ll need to go for a long run at sunset to be sure, feel the wind and the air, and hug my kids to be sure of it. Yep, I’m sure of it. To live is to breathe, the question is what to do with the breaths we have in this amazing universe of opportunity. Now. Today. For as long as we live. To come up with answers to life that feel strong, real, and let us sleep like rocks at night because, to paraphrase Socrates, we have examined our lives and tried to give good answers to the big question of what to do while alive. Yes, that’s the meaning of life give or take a hot fudge sundae with a kid on a summer afternoon.
~Will Gadd, athlete, speaker, prominent ice climber and paraglider pilot. He formerly held the paragliding world distance record.
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