Monday, August 8, 2011
The Meaning Of Life
“There are some kind of men who are so busy worrying about the next life, they’ve never learned to live in this one.”
–Harper Lee, writer
When I start to think about my life, my existence, my waking consciousness, I get a little weak in the knees. That’s because my view of how all this came to be and what it means is based upon science and knowledge and reality, not religious dogma or superstition or spiritual voodoo. Of course, there are many people who would simply shake their heads and feel sorry for me because I haven’t ‘found God’, their be-all end-all answer to the great questions about The Meaning Of Life.
That being said, I totally understand why so many humans have made the decision to accept their religious teaching of choice, I really do. Life can be so complex, so venal, so cruel… sometimes only the gentle poetry of religious belief will salve a wounded soul, shredded and bleeding from the slings and arrows of daily life. I’ve always understood that our ancestors knew so little of the world they lived in, it was natural for them to create a spiritual context in which they could place themselves at the center, with everything else revolving around them. It’s the curse of being human, using that self-awareness to torture ourselves with.
Let me explain.
I’ve often shared my firmly-held belief that, as modern science (YAY!) has quantified, we humans and our Terran roomies live and die on an astral dust speck in the vastness of the Universe. Heck, it’s not even a dust speck… our Earth is an atom of a molecule of a dust speck that floats among the hundreds of billions of other dust specks that reside in the celestial ‘hood. Our puny little solar system, a galactic sweet spot that allows us to survive and plunder each other, is so spectacularly tiny as to be inconsequential in the grand scheme of things. Are there millions, perhaps hundreds of millions of other molecular dust specks like ours where ‘life’ of some sort also thrives? Of course there are, but we’ll never have the chance to find out since we’ll probably kill each other off before then.
When I think about the amazing fortune that I/you/we have living here, sitting pretty with an oxygen-rich atmosphere, I am gobsmacked to realize how incredibly lucky we are to survive at all. The odds are against us, what with gamma rays and radiation and meteor missles and all the astral nasties that are out there, waiting to bring us to a fiery end. But no… here we are, having sex and shooting each other and poisoning that very life-giving atmosphere, seemingly oblivious to the oblivion that awaits us just outside that skinny little band o’ goodness we breathe. When I think of my existence within that context, I feel giddy and powerful and infinitesimal and obscure and terribly, terribly small.
And yet… we survive, by some weird and wonderful stroke of luck. It is invigorating to ponder how it worked out in our favor, and doing so makes me feel more alive, more grateful, more human than any dogma or doctrine could possibly provide. It makes me laugh out loud when those of the religious persuasion try and place themselves and their deity in the center of that vastness, as if their religious belief can somehow overcome and negate the powerful physical universe. Humans have used that same hubris for thousands of years, and yet they still persist, ignoring science and knowledge and wisdom, all in an effort to confirm their certainty. I say more power to them… but it is a fruitless, pointless task that only we humans waste our energy on. It’s that self-awareness thing again.
Think about our atmosphere… the life-giving, radiation-reflecting, moisture-bearing oxygen ocean that we live in every day of our conscious being. Using that most-excellent scientific method, it has been determined that the thickness of our atmosphere in relation to the size of Earth is the same as the thickness of the skin that covers an apple. Yep… THAT thin. So little is really known about how and why this skinny band of life stays glued to Earth’s surface, it’s a bit humbling to realize how tenuous our lives are, bathed in that apple skin-thin oxygen ocean, breathing in, breathing out.
And that’s just the start of it. The oceans of coalesced water molecules that cover our planet are made up of the same ones that existed at the very beginning of Earth’s transition from a ball of molten rock to a beautiful garden of habitation. Same for the resulting breathable atmosphere, recycled millions of millions (billions?) of times through the gills and lungs and mitochondria of myriad species. All the water and all the oxygen we’ve ever had is what we still have, reused, recycled, restored into the stew of life on which we all thrive. We ain’t getting any more from the black vacuum, that’s for sure. All we have is all we have.
Think about that for a moment. We breathe the same air as the dinosaurs did so very long ago. We sup from the same pool of water that a Brontosaurus peed in while grazing on swamp grass, somewhere on Pangea, perhaps in a vast wetland that we now know as Kansas. This isn’t supposition or theory. We KNOW the dinos existed, we KNOW where they lived, we KNOW what they et. Only those humans who deny an ancient Earth could muster an argument against these facts, and yet… some humans do. I am more than amused at recent attempts of high-viz religious folk who want to twist scientific history to fit their faith.
And so it goes… the chemical merry-go-round that supports our lives on this planet, all with little or no help from us humans, with the notable exception of our insatiable desire to pollute and deforest and deface and deplete. Maybe, just maybe, if more people considered our incredibly finite natural resources and apple skin-thin atmosphere, they’d think differently. But no, we humans don’t like to go there, because it allows our self-awareness to consider our own mortality, and we dinna like that not one bit, NO SIR, NO MA’AM.
For me, it’s different… WAY different. See, I have come to grips with my life, my pending and unavoidable death, and my place in the whole grand Circus Maximus we call civilization. In my world, devoid of religious fables or dogmatic belief, we each have only one life to live, our conscious life. We are borne by other humans, created via the tried-and-true method of sexual procreation, and we live this conscious life until our bodies are no longer able to regenerate skin and bone and infection-fighting white blood cells. When I die, and I surely WILL die, my conscious life ends and… well, that’s the end of my conscious life. There is no ‘afterlife’ to speak of, there is no heavenly paradise awaiting me or anyone else. I be dead and gone, and nothing can or will change that fact. Others might disagree, but they simply cannot prove what their belief systems tell them, because they have ‘faith’ that tells them what to believe. How human, how self-possessed, how self-aggrandizing that is.
However, in my world, the incredible energy that pumped my heart and powered my brain and allowed the wondrous capability for me to actually live… that energy will not be wasted, oh no. That energy, just like all the water and all the air… that energy will be recycled into the amazing ephemeral grid that powers our atmosphere, allowing it to cling to this small Blue Earth with a tenacious grip. My life’s force will be absorbed and reused in some other way that matters not a whit to me, because I’ll be DEAD, because my conscious life will have ended. Mixing with the filtered radiation and sunlight and oxygen and water molecules, that invisible ocean in which we live… that’s where my energy will survive and thrive. I dinna care if it’s used to sustain a human or a tree or a rabid wolverine or (shudder!) a Republican or a patch of kelp floating off the Cali coast. I couldn’t care less how my life’s energy force will be utilized, but I know it will be, and it will not leave this Earth.
We are surrounded and infused by the energy, the life force, the primal motivation of every living thing that has ever lived and died on this Earth. The unseen ocean of atmosphere is chock-full of goody, filling our lungs and eyes and ears and hearts, a steamy and fragrant cocktail that we all sip on, every second of our conscious lives. And when we finally take the dirt nap, we unwillingly donate our energy essence to those we leave behind, those not yet born, to drink deeply from our collective pool of chemical funk. Yum!
Does any of this make you uncomfortable? Have you ever given even the smallest amount of time thinking about this type of spectral philosophy? Does your religion of choice prevent and/or discourage musing on alternate views of birth and death?
I reckon my philosophy could be construed as being based on reincarnation or Buddhist teachings, but I don’t see it that way. This Earth, this planet, this massive object hurtling through space… it is a living thing, and it feeds off of the teeming bacterium of life that covers the land, fills the oceans and spews crap into the atmosphere. We live, we die, we live, we die, we live, we die… and our Terra is the best recycler there is, at least in this tiny corner of the galaxy. It takes all we can give it, and when we have finally dessicated the surface and used up the resources and destroyed the ozone… when the surface of our world can no longer support ‘human’ life (and we haven’t blown it to bits with our self-aware bullshit), it will regenerate another type of life that can and will survive in the crappy environs we’ve left behind.
I rather enjoy the idea of that. Of course, it won't matter to me, because my energy… OUR energy... will power whatever life forms that survive and thrive in the hellscape we self-aware humans created.
Soooo… The Meaning Of Life. I could be trite and say it’s ‘to love one another’ or something insipid like that. Nope, ain’t gonna do it, I want to be honest here. For me, TMOL is simply to live every moment, every second, every day with verve and vigor and purpose and conviction, because no matter what you might think or believe, we only get one shot at a conscious existence. Anything that happens before or after this conscious life is of no consequence, because none of it… NONE OF IT… can be proven or established as fact. Doesn’t matter how grand or banal your life and times may be, the important thing is to derive all the maximum mental, emotional and philosophical joy you can.
Do you dread having to go grocery shopping? Not me… I love to walk the aisles, picking and choosing the items that will make me a happy wolverine come mealtime. Talking with strangers who need help figuring out how to tell if a cantaloupe is ripe. Shagging a cart that some miscreant left in the middle of a handicapped parking space. Checking out the Hot Wheels display, looking for that vintage Corvette Stingray to add to my collection. It is ALL GOOD.
Hate cleaning the bathroom? OMFG… you need to read my last essay titled ‘You’re Soaking In It’ to know how much enjoyment can be had with a sponge and some Comet.
Unhappy with how your life has turned out, even though you've tried to fix it? THEN CHANGE IT. Holy crap, our time is so short on this planet. Change your job, find a new mate, tell your kids to suck off someone else's money teat for a change, move somehwere else... just DO IT. Do what you need to do to make yourself happy, even if it hurts, even if it is hard, even if it costs you everything you own.
"So many people walk around with a meaningless life. They seem half-asleep, even when they're busy doing things they think are important. This is because they're chasing the wrong things. The way you get meaning into your life is to devote yourself to loving others, devote yourself to your community around you, and devote yourself to creating something that gives you purpose and meaning." -- from Mitch Albom’s ‘Tuesdays with Morrie'.
You get the picture.
Like the song says, “Love this life… don’t wait until the next one comes.” Breathe in deeply, walk in the rain, grab your honey’s butt just because you can, do a good deed daily. Make every second count, even the ones spent without reason or direction. Wake up in the morning and be glad a meteor didn’t take us all out overnight, that the atmosphere is still so clingy, that the coffee you make doesn’t taste like Stegosaurus pee (or does it?). Our waking and conscious lives are chock-full of amazing and wonderful things to eat/drink/taste/touch/feel/hear/smell… don’t waste a second of it being a typical self-aware humanoid. Be like the birds overhead, the descendants of those peeing dinosaurs, flying and spinning and chirping and jumping and living in the moment, living the life they live, without fear of the unknown. Because in the end, it is all unknown, all undeciphered, all uncontrollable. We are just Bozos on this celestial bus, squeaking each other’s noses as hard as we can.
"Life's journey is not to arrive safely at the grave in a well preserved body, but rather to skid in sideways, totally worn out, shouting ‘Holy Shit... What a ride!" – Mavis Leyrer
TMOL lead image Gracias de sapientology.com; Quicksilver Messenger Service 'Fresh Air' and Crowded House 'Love This Life' videos, Muchismas Gracias de YouTube.