Thursday, November 1, 2012

The Meaning of Life

Time for another break from The West Wind. 25,768 words since 10/22/2012.

Albert Camus once said, “The struggle itself towards the heights is enough to fill a man's heart. One must imagine Sisyphus happy.” I can only imagine that Sisyphus took things a step beyond happiness. Forced to roll his boulder up and watch it roll down, I find myself imagining him dubbing the boulder Wilson, (How many centuries he waited for the perfect name!), and making it not his burden, but his fast friend. Like a snowboarder who spends two hours hiking a snow covered peak for the thrill and freedom of a 15 minute ride back down, I picture this supposedly tragic character rolling his stone to its peak then turning and racing it down. Trying to climb on top and ride it to the bottom. What would the gods care, having judged him and left him to his doom? Indeed, would he be any less lost without Wilson than Tom Hanks was in Cast Away? Without his burden, no matter how absurd his struggle, without it he is not Sisyphus. Without Sisyphus, the boulder is inert, nothing worthy of a story. Without the boulder, Sisyphus would be just another cruel king forgotten on the tides of time.

Camus called life, “absurd.” I would argue that perhaps intrinsic is better diction. Life is it’s own meaning. We are defined by whatever Wilson our own has shaped for us, and our Wilson defines us. The logic is circular because most things in our lives are. Western minds have difficulty accepting this; they want stories to have a beginning and an end.

Science has shown us that the intrinsic values of our experiences are the only ones that lead to a sense of well-being and fulfillment. We must first come to terms and gain the means to deal with our burden. We first climb through Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs until we are satisfied that yes, we can roll the boulder up the hill. We claim food and shelter, then reach for the next level. Once there, it has been proven that human beings function and perform below par when their motivations are not intrinsic. In particular this refers to any form of creativity, which encompasses anything from coding an original iPad app to writing a symphony.

It is not so far-fetched then, that existence could be it’s own purpose. Life is not absurd because it lacks meaning. It’s intrinsic, because it is it’s own meaning. Where Western thought has difficulty with this is because it’s been educated to expect a great purpose for all things rather than taught to accept that all things have their purpose. Yet we reach more and more as a population for Eastern philosophies and practices. The popularity of yoga, the advent of Positive Psychology that so closely mirrors Eastern wisdom in its teachings, a generation of adults who are realizing that money never bought them happiness and a generation of young adults who don’t want to go into the corporate work force because they want their lives to have a greater purpose. As a civilization, many of us are seeking meaning, without realizing we already have it.

I propose that Camus was right. Sisyphus must be happy. Not because existence has no meaning, but because he found meaning in the simplest place he could: his own existence.

This is not the answer to the meaning of life. That’s 42. This is just a few thoughts on the subject. Don’t bother to ask what the question is. The Earth will be destroyed before we figure that out. Pack a towel.

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