What is the meaning of life?
Humans are basically dogs with thumbs. And canines – like humans – are opportunists: trundling along the path, looking for anything odd that we could possibly eat.
The ‘odd’ thing: That’s the ticket. Opportunist species look for things that are out of their normal pattern: A strange paw print, a unique smell, a new plant that we could somehow manipulate into making edible.
Finding the disruption in the patterns is how we (soft, slow and hairless) found our niche in this wide, wonderful, terrifying world. Once we figured out how to make horrific things edible (acorns, wheat, saber-toothed tigers), we settled down and used our big brains to look for this ‘discernible regularity’ in everything, from the stars, to the rhythms of the drum, to the spray of wildflowers on a hillside, to the distribution of huts in our village.
In short, natural, chaotic evolution set us up with the tools to discover patterns, and consciousness life warped that into things having MEANING.
And while many things do, life itself does not.
Ask your fellow opportunist, the shaggy one who is now at your elbow looking adorable because you have leftover pizza.
To a dog the nice things in life are warmth, companionship, trundling along a path looking for interrupted patterns – and digging up a months-old mouse carcass, eating it, and then wanting to share this amazing discovery with you, nose to nose.
There is no intrinsic meaning to a dogs life. Like the great masters of the Tao, they just are. We could learn something from our canine companions, because there is no universal meaning to our lives either.
Whatever figurines are on your cosmic altar, be they Thundering Goddesses or Nurturing Hippie Men, ya gotta admit that as a set, the gods have been pretty hands-off with regards to us, their little experiment with linear time and 3-D space.
If the percentage of prayers answered were calculated like a batting average, Then God has long ago been sent down to the minors, released, retired and is now selling aluminum siding in Des Moines.
Deity play a large part in my personal practice, but I’m not relying on them to furnish me with an all-encompassing blanket Theme for our time here. I believe human existence is too varied, too precious, too awful, to CONTEXTUAL to be able to sum it up in a bumper sticker, a Hallmark card, or the eyeball-snaring title to an essay (ahem!).
There are many, many essays on the Meaning of Life. And they all seem to boil down to:
- A list of the things that make the author happy
- A finger wagging ‘tut-tut’ on what we should be doing
- Sunny (but incredibly vague) affirmations
I have a problem with these Hallmark Card essays that earnestly speak for the entire human condition. I think they white-wash the catastricopia of our varied and harried and scaried lives, and I will choose not to speak for people and cultures around our precious Earth that I have no affinity for, nor personal connection with.
Life has no intrinsic meaning! It is whatever each of us makes of it, from the sickest sadist to the most selfless saint. To define life would be to universalize it, but the human experience has always been too deliciously random to be able to sum it up. Yay!
The Meaning of Life won’t fit on a bumper sticker, unless you let all 7 billion of us make our own – and even then they would have to be dry erase.
Should there be meaning in your life? I would certainly hope that for you – and for all of us. But that would be your meaning, for your life. See, its all contextual.
The Meaning of Life is different for every single one of us wide, wonderful and terrifying humans, and I thank goodness that this is so, because Diversity leads to innovation, which leads to betterment.
Let’s reemphasize that hoary cliché. “The Meaning of Life” puts the stress on the ‘meaning’ part, because stressing for meaning is what made us successful opportunists long, long ago, (when we looked exactly as we do now).
Here’s how I would put it. Not “the MEANING of life”, but rather “the meaning of LIFE”, because my goodness, just look at all we have to ponder, and investigate, and hide from, and create and make love with and wander through and escape from and stuff with cheese and march for and poop out and spray and flay and sauté and betray and may day and – pray.
Life! Precious lotto-winning life that we have been granted by blind chance is an Adventure. Because we don’t know our limits. We don’t know how much beauty and joy and sex and terror and leftover pizza we can stand.
We don’t know our outcome. Spoiler alert! There is no spoiler alert. We don’t know our ending, let alone tomorrow.
I might live to be 1,000 and chair the United Federation of Planets. Or, I might choke on this leftover piece of pizza.
All 7 billion of us are ‘in progress’. And that’s glorious. But it also means that it is thigh-slappingly impossible to sum up all the wide, wonderful and terrifying shit that we’re up to – and then stamp some boy-howdy “Meaning” on this mess.
As for me, I am constantly changing and progressing and evolving, and any meanings I would choose to label myself with would quickly fly right out of the window of my headlong flight of existence.
Just be you – however you find yourself that day. And I will continue to be the me that I continually discover. And maybe we can both find warmth and companionship and good smells in this delicious leftover pizza.
P.S. Try not to be a dick.
~Angus McMahan is a carbon-based, bipedal, ape-descended life form who has evolved his thumb-laden hands into two specialties: Writing funny stuff, and whapping on things in a rhythmical manner. You should choose to support him on Patreon.com/angusmcmahan
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