LOG CABIN CHRONICLES

Bound for glory?

Posted 10.08.14
FRED RYAN

SHAWVILLE, QUEBEC | The philosopher Hannah Arendt observed that most people believe their lives must have a meaning. It is here she finds humanity's support for religion -- and for totalitarian regimes. Both dictate meaning to us. Whether these sources of meaning are true or not is not her point; do we agree that we all believe our lives must have "meaning?"

Robin Williams obviously did believe this, or perhaps felt he had no control over the meaning of his life and career. If that's true, he must have hit an awfully hard wall. Why aren't the rest of us hitting such walls?

We each, on average, have a little more than 1000 months of life to live. That's how much time we have to discover -- or create -- meaning in our lives.

We sleep about a third of that time, and then we spend over a third more attending to daily life's chores -- from sweeping the floor to caring for kids, doing taxes, and planning a new bathroom. Add the time we spend earning our livelihoods, and this daily-chores section of our lives grows hugely.

We're then left with much less than a third of our lives, only a few hundred months, to find or create the meaning of our lives.

Maybe realizing life's real brevity was what pushed Robin Williams into his despair (not to ignore his personal and health problems). Why hasn't it pushed more of us there?

Maybe it has. Apparently anti-depressants are the widest prescribed medications today. Doesn't that say despair is everywhere? Add to that our dependence upon coffee and other stimulants -- or our dependence on the deadening drugs of alcohol and downers. And those who don't take care of their health -- smoking, over-eating, etc. -- aren't they showing a disinterest in life?

There's also the distractions of modern life -- aren't they avoidance-tools to ease us past any sense of absent meaning in our lives? When we watch TV for an hour, that's an hour in which we do feel alive and yet an hour in which we have no space to question meaning in our lives. Television's just the tip -- how many other distractions do we use to avoid facing questions about our life's meaning?

Such distractions range from raising a family, repairing a porch, hiking a mountain, mowing the lawn again, chatting with a neighbour, assisting endangered species, taking a "holiday" (from self-examination?), and so on.

From another perspective, we mostly all know that at the centre of our galaxy is a massive black hole. It is estimated to be four million times as large as our sun's mass. "Four million times" is impossible to visualize. Humanity's future is circling this giant black hole as it sucks our galaxy ever closer, as if we are all circling a cosmic drain.

Scientists have estimated that some black holes are active, others not. Ours, apparently, has not been "ignited." At the moment we are circling, falling into, this passive black hole, but once ignited it will suck us in, faster. How is it turned on? No one knows, although ours is said to be ripe for re-ignition.

That black hole is related to our sense of meaning. There's something "ultimate" about both. And shouldn't we be wondering what will ignite both -- what will ignite our sense of meaning, so that we do not follow Robin Williams into a personal dark hole? Will distractions do it? More sleeping? More daily-life chores? More not-thinking about any of the meaning we believe our circling lives should have?

john@johnmahoney.com




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