Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Tension Between Meaninglessness and Meaningfulness

These two birds that I came across in the YanCheng Safari Park looked a bit bedraggled from their journey together.  They remind me a lot of my experience of China so far.  Looking at them, I see how couples here cling together for survival, carving out a small space simply in order to continue the process of life.  They don't know the "why" for their life.  All they know is that they live and that they will do their part for the continuation of life to follow - all practical stuff, instinctual stuff.

This instinctual stuff that lies within our unconscious is not only invested in life, it is invested in death.  As Hollis puts it,
"We hunger for meaning, for God, for love, for connection.  Simultaneously we hurtle toward extinction in seeking sleep, death, the arms of the beloved - all through the great darkness in which we walk."  (Hollis, Mythologems, p. 8)
This is heavy stuff.  As I read these words, I heard echoes in myself and I also wondered about how this plays out on the collective level.  Almost as soon as I wondered, I knew that there is no difference between the individual and the collective.

I know as an individual I want my life to have meaning.  Without meaning, for me, life is pointless.  If there was no meaning other than to be born, to reproduce and then fertilize the earth with my body, then there is no point in being good, in producing art, in music and song.  On the collective level, it seems that all cultures invest in life having meaning.  The rise of religions, the founding of universities, the protection of the arts through wars and all manner of catastrophes speak loudly of the knowledge at an unconscious level that there is meaning.

Yet for all of this desire for meaning, I spend much, if not most of my life in meaningless activity.  I simply fill hours in the day.  It is as though I resist as much as I am pulled to meaningfulness.


  1. Powerful words.

    The tension between existence, oblivion and meaning can be creative as well as nihilistic, however.

    It led you to write this entry, for example, which will encourage others to think. That is something worth considering; even our displacement activity when faced with the conflict between our death-wish and desire for immortality, can result in meaning.

  2. Yes, it did lead me to write this. Thanks.