I've spent most of my 58 years looking for the meaning of life. That was easy.
I've found lots of meanings in religion, family, friends, jobs, volunteer work, books, causes, charity, martial arts, television, nature, food, sex—you name it, I've probably found some sort of meaning in it.
But as I said before, and before that, I'm now on a quest for meaninglessness. That's tough. Everywhere I turn, there's meanings staring me in the face. And on one level I want them. I'm addicted to meaningfulness. It's what makes life, well, meaningful.
However, like James Park said in his intriguing, but not quite right on for me, cybersermon on "Looking for the Meaning of Life," there's a residual hollowness in all the meanings—even spiritual or religious—with which we desperately try to fill the perceived emptiness in our lives.
When we seek to make our own lives "meaningful", we might be struggling with two different sorts of meaninglessness. We can create many kinds of relative meanings within the assumed areas of meaningful life: money, achievement, love, marriage, children, enjoyment, & religion.
But even when we have fulfilled such meanings, we might still feel an ultimate hollowness, a spiritual or existential meaninglessness. This deeper meaninglessness is not overcome by any of the relative meanings we are able to create or achieve. Ultimate meaning comes only as a gift —independent of whatever relative meanings we can achieve.
Basically, I don't disagree. Park's endpoint, though, is "the removal of existential meaninglessness, not the attainment of any specific meanings." Myself, I'm drawn toward that very existential meaninglessness.
I guess you could call that my new meaning in life. Which, logically, sort of undermines the quest for meaninglessness.
But, hey, complete consistency isn't my goal. When you're trying to go beyond meanings, you've got to expect that some (or a lot) of paradox and confusion will pop up along the way.
Here's what isn't confusing to me: when you pull on an ultimate meaning thread, trying to figure out what the end is attached to, it always comes back loose in your hand.
This isn't true of relative meanings. They may be circular—this depends on that which depends on something else—but at least you have a sense of firm connectivity.
Yesterday my daughter gave birth to her first child, Evelyn Elizabeth Vos, reportedly the absolutely cutest baby that has ever existed in the history of Earth (I believe my daughter, even without having seen any photos yet).
I am the father of Celeste; she is the mother of Evelyn; and so the chain of meaningful relationships goes, without end (since anyone without a relationship to another human doesn't exist).
This is the sort of "emptiness" Buddhists speak of —an interdependence in which everything is connected.
There's another sort of emptiness though, the ultimate metaphysical, philosophical, scientific, spiritual, or mystical variety (ultimate truth-seeking comes in quite a few flavors).
Even when it seems that you've come to a pinnacle of understanding, a Mystery void lies beyond.
"God created the heavens and the earth." Who created God?
"Superstrings form the structure of time and space." What forms superstrings?
"It's possible to experience union with the oneness of existence." How would you ever know it?
Go ahead, try to imagine any meaningful statement about ultimate reality, or any meaningful experience of it, without someone (like me) being able to say, "And behind that is…what?"
The question mark points to the meaninglessness that lies just beyond the furthest extent of human meanings. It isn't to be feared. It's real. And it's not going away.
So why not embrace it? Of course, that's impossible. But we can turn in its direction, setting our compass heading for Meaningless Mystery, experiencing with wide-eyed interest the scenery along the way, knowing that the ultimate destination won't ever be reached.
It's funny. The past three posts now, I've started off intending to say something that I never get to. Maybe next time. Maybe not.
Really meaningful meaning, I seem to be learning, is always around the next bend. Since I never catch up to it, I'm more comfortable seeing it as "meaninglessness" now.
And that's become the most meaningful thing to me.