Personal Online Journal

Wednesday, July 01, 2015

Is life meaningless?

"Life is empty and meaningless and it is empty and meaningless that it is empty and meaningless." "Meaning" here refers to invented meaning, this is not an ultimate philosophical or religious declaration but a "distinction," a tool. (Landmark Education/Abd/Glossary)
This is the shortest explanation I have read about the phrase that is a major punch line of the Landmark Forum. I don't think that they are trying to knock organized religion or philosophy. The point is that humans are made to find meaning in everything, sometimes to our detriment.

Here is a pretty good explanation from what seems like a Landmark Forum leader, Jane Wright. What is lacking in her explanation is a concrete example.

I have four brothers, two older and two younger. They all wrestled in high school. The summer after my 7th or 8th grade, I went to a couple of weeks of a wrestling camp. We did exercises in a heated room in the gym. Going for 2-3 minutes wrestling is about the hardest physical thing I have ever done. It is incredibly intense, painful and exhausting. At some point in the camp, I remember deciding that I did not want to wrestle.

Now there are many things I could have made that mean for me. That I was (or am) weak. That I am not a man. To me, the camp reminded me of the many times my older brother practiced wrestling on me. I did not enjoy it. He was always bigger than me and would always win. It is fun to win. It makes sense that he would want to practice what he learned. It didn't make sense to practice on our oldest brother, since he would always win. So, I became his guinea pig. Often I became a possum so he would stop. Later I learned to be a wolverine and cause pain or threaten pain by any means available to me.

There are two parts of my story, what happened and what I took from what happened. I could have created many other variations of meaning for me, both healthy and unhealthy. This is what I think Landmark is trying to help its participants to get. Now, the irony of me trying to assign meaning to this distinction blares in my face.

It was a hard discovery for me. Rationally, I could see this pattern in my own history and of others. On the other hand, I have dear spiritual beliefs that are very satisfying to me. They have helped me create meaning in my life. I believe them to be independent of my experience. That they exists whether or not I believe them.

Again, the irony that I believe that my meanings are the true ones is not lost on me. I have learned some humility in my beliefs. There are fewer things that I know for sure. And, to be honest, even the things I hold onto dearly I am not as sure of as I used to be. That is OK with me, because I believe that I will eventually know all that actually is.

I believe that life is supposed to be uncertain. That it allows us the chance to live according to the morals (or ethics) we have learned to be good and true. That we are able to choose our own set of values to live by. And that this choice is part of what we create for ourselves not only in this life but later and forever. Again the irony of the meaning I have created for myself is not lost on me.

What was taught to me after the "life is meaningless and empty" was soothing to me. It is how I can create anything I want in that emptiness. I choose to believe because I choose to believe. I see good from my beliefs. I choose to believe them because I see positive results from having them in my life and my family and friends.

So you can assign whatever meaning you want to from the Landmark assertion, "Life is empty and meaningless and it is empty and meaningless that it is empty and meaningless." Humans cannot help giving meaning. This is what it means for me, today.

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