Garden District, New Orleans, LA
A few years ago I watched a video of the English philosopher A.C. Grayling talking about the doctrine of Humanism. The elevator pitch for humanism is “Do and believe whatever you want as long as you are not hurting anyone”. Grayling spoke about the value of living a “considered life”- one where you ask questions before accepting assumptions, where critical thought is paramount and having an open mind is considered virtuous. The result of living a considered life is knowing why you believe what you believe, because you chose to believe it, for reasons that you find personally satisfactory.
I walked away feeling inspired to question everything and consider all options. I was ready to start from the bottom and work my way up. I was excited.
It took about one week before I spiraled into an existential crisis that left me intellectually paralyzed and emotionally numb. It was as if I woke up from sleep, someone turned on the lights, and nothing was there. I was lost in ways I never knew were possible. When you go down this path, the big questions always come up first:
- Why am I here?
- Who am I?
- If it all means nothing, what is the point of doing anything?
- How the hell do those damn ships fit in those tiny bottles?
These questions do not land gently on the mind. It is more like being t-boned by the car you are driving. The idea that “life has no meaning” can sound very disappointing when you grow up believing it did. I suppose even if you did not grow up being told life has meaning, most of us desire some cosmic explanation, at some point in our lives. Why else is there a cure for the “meaningless life” around every corner? It is not because we are all so terribly content.
I did a lot of writing at that time. It was therapeutic. I had to lay out my thoughts and questions on paper just to get a clear idea of where I stood. Eventually, I came across some lectures and books by Viktor Frankl, an Austrian Neurologist whose book "Man's Search for Meaning" is a sought-after chill pill for anyone stuck staring into the void. Then I discovered Terence Mckenna. After that, Carl Jung’s study on High Sensitivity People made me feel human again. And finally, Alan Watts.
All of these men, great philosophers and writers of their time, were especially adept at articulating their perspective on the Universe, existence, and consciousness so that it was accessible to someone like me, who knows very little about philosophy. Or the Universe. Or…any of it. These philosophers in particular were known for translating and explaining Eastern philosophy very clearly.
It has been a journey, to say the least. Of course, not with any real destination. I eventually picked myself up and settled on the fairly thin idea that life’s only meaning is what you ascribe to it, because, as far as we have observed, we are simply a byproduct of an eternal nature. I say thin, because I would not say that this theory entirely satisfies me, but for the sake of having a reason to shave and leave the house, among other things, I’ll take it. For now.
Does this make me an atheist? I would not call myself an atheist, or agnostic. In fact, I would not call myself anything, and I see no need to. I do not condemn religion or science. I do not angrily research arguments against God to baffle Christians, nor do I sit cross-legged on my balcony and mediate on how loud the busses are on magazine street, even from a block away.
I suppose if I forego all assumptions, I can skip the debunking step. Because, frankly, it is quite exhausting. I am not interested in arguing whether or not Noah’s Ark was practical. Or why God is only mysterious when bad things happen, like genocide and cancer, but when you catch the last flight out before the weather hits, God’s watching out for you.
Those arguments are predicated on the existence (or not) of God. If one is proven over the other, one side’s arguments all become void. And the conversation is over- which it never will be.
I have no proof that God exists. I also have no proof that God does not exist. But the burden of proof rests with those making the claim, and that is not me. I have made no claims of any certainties of life, except that death is real, and it will come.
This journey has led me up and down and all over the place. A lot of understanding and knowledge has been gained from reading books, listening to lectures from those dead philosophers, and talking to wise people in my own life. But I would say an equal amount has been gained from simply living life, meditation, and seeking out and listening to other people’s personal philosophies. Balancing thinking about it, and not thinking about it, has been critical to making any progress. Over-thinking is like over-eating- it is not good for you.
So, where am I now? It is important to note that this journey is not entirely linear. There is no 12 step program or curriculum. I often focus on whichever area I am currently struggling with. Sometimes it is loneliness, sometimes it is motivation, sometimes I cannot stop worrying. Currently, I’m reading up on sanity. And insanity. pshh….what’s the difference, right?
Just as there is no curriculum for my journey, there is no structure for these posts. I write because it is therapeutic, and often it helps me realize what I am trying to understand through articulation and organization of my thoughts. I hope that through sharing my journey, whoever reads this will enjoy it.