Is there a point to life? Having a point appears to be different from having an explanation about the point.
I used to think that the point of life was to get really good at living – having good relationships with people and being able to support oneself and family. I spent countless hours honing the right skills, looking for the right jobs, investing in my family, and sustaining friendships. Few things were easy, and the rest were hard. I persevered.
I also saw life as something very mysterious and I wanted to understand as much of it as I could grasp. The mystery was something that I couldn’t quite name or point out. Like most, I started with religion, metaphysics, and philosophy to learn what others have said. I imagined that the mystery could ultimately be explained if I just see the right words on a page, and I tirelessly searched for the “explanation” of life’s point and my part in it all.
Then, I looked at the world with more interest, and Life appeared to have no universal script for happy-making conditions. There are different cultures that define a “good” life in different ways. People experience extreme hardships and losses on mass scales that are beyond anyone’s control – many are just trying to make it from day to day. It is all too easy to get caught up in looking at life through the lens of one specific culture, language, and individual values – and then to assume that there is something universal about one’s perspective on what’s working or what’s wrong.
Life behaves as if she has all the time she could possibly want. Eon after eon, she freely explores every variation and adjusts her routes creatively. It seems that the only true point is to live our lives whether life makes any sense to us or not.
In my early teens, I wondered about a “utopian” life for all – where everyone has what they need to live happy, fulfilling lives. I thought our goal in life was to fix the things that were problematic so that everyone could finally be happy. People are hungry? Let’s make sure they have food. Thirsty? Let’s build wells. Jobless? Let’s make jobs. Uninformed? Let’s find ways to make knowledge acessible to everyone? Sick? Let’s help them be healthy. Lonely? Let’s create support systems and communities. Overwhelmed? Let’s help them to simplify. In fact, let’s do it on a mass scale – empower every single person.
However, it was a rude awakening for me to learn that the majority of people did not seem to think that an ideal life for all was possible. In other words, the Universal Book to Life’s Answers did not – and could not – exist. While we may learn a few things about what people learned before, all answers dry up as soon as it’s time to just be ourselves.
I was called “idealistic” and got frequently slapped with sarcasm. At the time, I hadn’t yet understood that idealism was synonymous with oversimplification and painting with strokes too broad for nuance. The message that kept coming up was that people wanted to live their lives their own way, whether that way fit the norm or not. Everyone had something that was extremely important to them, and – whether or not they had articulated it – they lived for that.
There was no point in debating about who lived in a way that was the most conducive to happiness – because there did not appear to be one or even several ways. In fact, we each do it slightly differently. When I interact with people now, I often find myself wondering- What is important to you right now? Seeing others is all that matters to me in our interaction, whether or not others can or wish to see me.
To make matters even more confusing for me, many people seemed to be happy while suffering. They even packaged suffering as “lessons” and life as a “school.” I could not help but think that these “students” were just finding a way to cope with an unpredictable existence by viewing every challenge as some significant and highly personal lesson. Doesn’t shit just happen sometimes? How often is a “cigar just a cigar”?
I look back at my journey of wanting to “fix” what’s broken for as many people as possible. When wiser people told me that fixing wasn’t the point, I frankly thought they were ignorant, jaded, and weak. I see now that life is not a problem to be “fixed” because I had a biased and a naive view on what may be broken! We do not have one way to define what seems to be the problem at any given time in history or at any specific place on the globe. I don’t even think that seeing life as a problem to be solved is all that helpful.
By reflecting on our lives and the lives around us, we unfold. But even then, that reflection is not going to be anything prescriptive or universal. Pop culture in any culture is engrossed in trends and moves along from one thing “viral” to another. We’ve wasted too much time, perhaps, trying to package ourselves for mass consumption. There is magic in being oneself – an individual – for oneself.
What seems to stand out as important to life is the difference between repetition and creativity. While most of what we do may be repetitive, there can be a few simple moments here and there to explore who we are in relationship to Life, which is a creative process. Instead of looking for an answer or an explanation, we can just immerse ourselves in being living awareness. Something like this cannot be explained. One cannot live another’s life for them.
While an individual’s lifetime is a fraction of a moment when compared to Life’s grand timescales, we do just like she does. We are the rivers that dance and bifurcate under gravity’s pull. We create “wisdom” and write it down in hopes of making sense of it all. We hope to move more gracefully because we have already tried everything we knew. We want to know the difference between what we don’t need and what is essential to us, and then we try let go of all that is unnecessary.
Once seen and recognized, the endless exploration that is Life looks like utter chaos in eternal flux. Perhaps the need to make “sense” of things is not as necessary as we always thought. What if we haven’t yet given life enough of our undivided attention to see what aware living has to offer?
The human race talks of an idyllic “happily ever after” in primary colors and straight lines, even as all shades in existence push against this illusory bubble. Surprisingly, being human offers us the potential to embrace even that which we consider to be outside the scope of the human experience. We have this incredible capacity to move into previously uncharted paths and color outside the lines. While our cultural norms and scientific laws are great for organizing closets, they are insufficiently detailed or flexible to allow us to love and be happy unconditionally. Have we been successful at taming what is wild, or have we simply misunderstood our freedom?
The societal pressures to aim for a certain coveted quality of life has bullied many of us into submission to nonstop thinking and doing, as well as into quiet rage and even depression. Perhaps we can just relax and be aware of our lives without worrying that we are missing something important. Perhaps we can welcome and let go of people and situations with openness. Instead of just showing up for our birthdays and funeral, why not be there for the rest of our lives too?