“Is there something? Is there anything? Is there any evidence of something? Any signs that there’s more to life that the sum of its subatomic particles – some larger purpose, some deeper meaning, maybe even something that would qualify as “divine” in some sense of the word?”
– Robert Wright, The Evolution of God
Those are questions I rarely go a day without thinking about. My desk is littered with dozens of loose pages of questions, notes, and associated ideas. I feel as if life is just this huge, continually shifting paradigm that I can never quite wrap my head around; yet, I continually and passionately seek out answers I’m sure I’ll never find. It’s an exhausting rat race, but I simply can’t stop running. Continually contemplating life and maintaining a malleable perspective allows your life to sway and shift towards a fuller and deeper understanding of existence. The experiences will often oscillate between disconcerting and breathtakingly incredible. In the process, it’s easy to become disjointed, to develop a subtle sense of detachment from the world, meshed with a keen sense of intricate involvement.
The term “existential crisis” generally has a negative connotation, but that’s not necessarily right. Within this state, one becomes acutely aware of everything, from the tiniest of insects, the feeling the warmth generated by rubbing your fingers together, the crisp and seeping sound of water being absorbed into the soil, and an abounding awareness of the world around them. It’s the little things that make you feel alive, that have the power to draw out your curiosity as to what the “big picture” truly entails and where you fall into this cosmic masterpiece. Questioning existence grants one the opportunity to, at least momentarily, become a part of everything, to transform into an important element in the game of life.
However, along with the beauty of discovery and enlightenment, prying into life’s big questions can also have adverse effects. When noticing, dissecting, and rebuilding concepts, the smallest and most mundane experiences can sometimes trigger massively overly dramatic responses. There are so many ideas, ideals, and means of trudging through life; yet so many are at odds with one another, a constant clashing and convergence of contrasting ideas. How are you supposed to figure out which are right and which are going to hinder your progress?
We’ve invented this life that hangs on symbols and make-believe ideals. This hand-crafted social captivity hinges on misaligned clockwork, mechanical behaviors, and underwhelming apathy. A carefully plotted demise, to which we’re all blindly ignorant. It seems as if somewhere in the process, we’ve all lost the capacity to live, to achieve, to become. Some people don’t know and don’t care, while others tensely lie back staring at the ceiling wondering, “Is this it? Have I become complacent and hopeless? It is possible I’m falling short of my potential by unfathomable degrees?” The phenomena of being aware is simultaneously comforting and terrifying, a endless cycle of abuse and embrace. And it seems as if those who do try to swim against the current become trapped in the rip tide – fighting the natural flow of things will only carry you further from the shore and leave you breathless. In regards to understanding life, maybe ignorance is bliss.
As humans, and particularly in the case of deeply thoughtful individuals, we have tendencies towards disconcertingly fitful approaches to understanding, which often entail phases of stagnation and regression, as well as fits and starts of longing and passion. Outside these burst of humanity and progression, life is generally a tactical, pragmatic, and selfish game in which everyone is responsible for their own mere survival, and nothing more.
Life is full of perplexing ambiguities, astonishing realities that are hard to ignore. A successful journey should consist of consolidating and supplementing one’s understanding and beliefs, hopelessly striving to make sense of things. It’s a rigorous failure, a series of majestic leaps forward and anguishing backslides. Whether good or bad, these deep thoughts and active steps towards understanding are a form of sober intoxication, an inexorably beautiful effort toward something, however mysterious and obscure that something may be.
What is my higher purpose, and where do I fit into this cryptic and rapidly unfolding plan? As I inhale my last gasping breaths, what thoughts will cross my mind? What will have I discovered over the course of my lifetime? Will any of this have even mattered?
Maybe I think too much. Maybe I care too much. Or maybe I’m nothing more than a pretentious, angsty arm-chair philosopher. Regardless, I believe these are the thoughts that bring a fullness to life, the type of ideas that are futily amusing. Whether life has been divinely crafted, whether existence stems from resonating atoms and cosmic chemical reactions, or whether all of this is purely a figment of the creative imagination ultimately doesn’t matter. Life, in and of itself, independent of meaning and purpose, is pretty incredible.
An existential crisis doesn’t have to be some hopeless sense of celestial nothingness. Rather, it may instead be some deeply rooted appreciation of universality, existence, and the unknown, because maybe the mysteries of life are what truly make this life worth living.