All maps of meaning are essentially meaningless. They hold no objective value. Their only value is what people decide inside their own minds… or that people have shared across multiple minds (i.e. culture).
All narratives, all thoughts, all feelings – they mean nothing… unless you decide they do.
When you collapse all meaning to nothing (like knocking down a house of cards), what’s left is a big black empty void. Nothing exists there, nothing has meaning, nothing has value.
Philosophically, lots of people reach this point… and get stuck. This is nihilism. And it’s fucking bleak and depressing.
If you inhabit Nihilism Land for too long, you risk becoming bitter, angry, resentful, seriously depressed… and for a very small number of people: murderous.
But there’s an interesting duality at the heart of this inner void.
Yes, on the one hand, it is the utter absence of anything meaningful.
But also, it is a great source of peace and comfort… Perhaps even the greatest source of peace.
When we are mindful, when we meditate, we are tapping in to the intrinsic peace in this great void. We become separate from our thoughts and feelings. We merely witness them from a distance, without engaging in them.
What a strange paradox! This void within the human soul can be the source of utter destruction, but also the source of ultimate peace!
Humans can’t live without meaning for long. Our minds are automatic meaning-creating machines, unless you suffer from certain types of brain damage.
So what’s the foundation of your maps of meaning? Is it religion? Spirituality? A commitment to your family?
A desire for material wealth or power?
A belief you are the centre of your universe (AKA narcissism)?
What I’ve realised is that there isn’t a right or wrong foundation for your maps of meaning. All of them can be collapsed to nothing at a moment’s notice, assuming one’s thinking is flexible enough.
Each of us is totally free to choose whatever foundation we want to build our lives on. There are consequences of course, both for ourselves and for the people around us. So the onus is on each of us to become aware of those consequences and decide if the price is worth paying or not.
Because we are conscious beings, we suffer. And to make the suffering worthwhile, we need a map of meaning which justifies the suffering.
Which map you choose to construct doesn’t really matter. In essence you’re finding positive delusions to give yourself which justify why you continue to live.
You build hope for yourself, even though part of you suspects you’re building on sand, and you acknowledge that this house of cards can be collapsed at any time.
Positive delusions are at the heart of being human.
We try to convince ourselves our lives have meaning, even though ultimately, there’s only a void. We dedicate ourselves to pursuing one or more of our core values: family; status; success; fame; wealth; relationships; religion; spirituality.
Most of us live our lives acting as though we’re never going to die. We do our best to bury our head in the sand. Any one of us could die within the next 24 hours, but we do our best to avoid thinking about that uncomfortable truth.
So we build our houses of cards, our maps of meaning, the foundations for our life… something to give us hope. Something to make the suffering worthwhile.
Is it possible to get comfortable with the void? Can we be mindful all the time (or at least the majority of the time)?
Can we collapse our maps of meaning down to almost nothing… and still survive, have peace, feel hopeful? Can we be mindful, focussing only on raw sensory input, and yet also manage to avoid nihilism?
Can we orbit around the event horizon of a black hole, without gravity sucking us in and destroying us?
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