Meaning and Meaninglessness

'Christ of the Abyss' statue, Pennekamp State Park, Key Largo, Florida, USA.

by Michael Maciel

It seems to me that there are two things that drive meaning in our lives: love and purpose. In the presence of love, even loving one’s cat, pushes the need for meaning to the side, if only momentarily. And with enough purpose, meaning is…well, self-evident.

But when either of these fail us, meaninglessness can swoop in like a dive bomber and blow us to pieces. Which raises the question: What, in the lack of love and purpose, can make our lives meaningful? And why is meaningfulness important at all? Is there ever a point where life just is, and can that be enough? Not just enough, but arrestingly enough, mind-stoppingly enough, where the only danger becomes death by astonishment?

I wouldn’t want to give up meaning or the quest for it. It makes everything so…interesting. But without that place beyond meaning, without the bedrock of the sheer amazement that comes when we encounter being itself, what is there to sustain us when love and meaning fail?

Is this, then, the thing we should seek before all else, the thing that, once acquired, would bring us to the place where everything matters, where if one thing were plucked away, the whole universe would tremble?

Or is it that meaning itself is meaningless and that that’s okay? Perhaps it’s when the heart is empty that it is at its fullest; and the will, when stripped of its banner, becomes the deadliest force on the battlefield of life?

No one wants to be reduced to the mere instinct to survive, but perhaps it’s that instinct, the urge to move forward at any cost, that is the pulse of God, the pounding of which can grind everything—even meaning—to powder.

Is this the place, the center of gravity of our being, which is empty and yet holds the promise of everything, the thing without which the most meaningful life will one day be catastrophically undone?

In the face of that—the absolute impoverishment of spirit—what might be revealed? And would we be able to bear it, knowing that to enter into its field would be the utter subsumption of us?

Perhaps the rawness of life is nothing less than terrifying, and that that’s why we pursue meaning and endlessly strive to keep it alive. Maybe it’s our flight away from the terror that keeps the details of our lives in their swirl and locks us into the never-ending quest for anything that will distract us from the sheer magnitude of our awakening.

(Just a few thoughts in the early hours of a new decade.)

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4 Responses to Meaning and Meaninglessness

  1. Ruth says:

    Thank you. I so enjoy your thoughts. A beautiful way to begin the new year, though this is the eternal Day. God Bless you, Michael. Please keep writing.

  2. Judy says:

    Love is of the heart – that knows creation to be perfect. Fear is of the head – which brings the element of imperfection because our thinkers comment (put meaning on and convert into beliefs, opinions, assumptions) everything that is already perfect. Stop, pause, rest, sabbath, meditate – to recognize this. Be still and know, you are God, you are in Paradise before, beyond & without the thinker. Spirit is abundant, never impoverished. Only the thinker makes these ideas so.

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