“Read Ecclesiastes,” my friend said. “or as much of it as you can take. The message: Everything is meaningless. For me, that’s it. Full Stop.”
So I read Ecclesiastes – or as much as I could take. I didn’t remember this chapter from my early Bible studies, or maybe I just didn’t understand what meaningless meant in the context of a life. In my younger years I would have seen it as a hopeless slant on all the work and bluster we need to bring to an illustrious career, an epic romance and a life full of adventure. “Malarky,” I would have said. “My life won’t be meaningless.”
Ironically, it feels a bit comforting to understand that life is meaningless. Like a pebble on the shore of Lake Michigan, I will be washed back into the sea one day. I will not be remembered nor will there be much left of my existence that will endure.
I’m reading a book called The Dalai Lama‘s Cat. It is an exquisite tale of a Himalayan cat who lives with His Holiness. This salty feline learns new lessons from Buddhist philosophy in each chapter. I don’t know why it’s hitting me in such a beautiful way, but it’s encouraging me to get out of the daily rumble and reflect on my thoughts and actions. Snow Lion listened as one of the teachers discussed the brevity of a life and how, in the context of the many lives we reincarnate, this life is just a small piece of a larger whole.
I try to be objective about the times we live in now, but I find it really painful. I don’t like the arguing and the division. I see that as meaningless and a waste of time. Don’t we have other problems we need to be working on? Anger begets more anger, and this emotion is not productive when applied to each other instead of the issues at hand. I’ve never seen an argument change the world or even one person’s mind. Much like Snow Lion’s experience, a mind is only changed in an environment of support and acceptance of one’s self and others. And, mostly, we change a little at a time.
In response to a listener’s question, Dan Harris (from the 10% Happier Podcast) suggested a meditation to contemplate death. Many cultures find ways to contemplate death so that the proper perspective is put on life. I have been practicing this meditation and even bringing it in to my daily life. I bring up a face of a deceased person that I loved and meditate on the fact that they are gone. I imagine the face of someone I know now, and remind myself that they will die. I then remind myself that I will die, too. I imagine the world going on without me. It will, you know? I am only here a brief moment in time.
Morbid, you think? That’s not the results I’m getting. I feel comforted realizing I don’t have to do anything world-changing to be successful. In fact, I don’t have to be successful at all. I just have to be. All pressure is removed. When I talk to others, a little voice now reminds me, “They are going to die.” Compassion bubbles up. Being present with this person becomes more interesting than driving an agenda.
When did meaninglessness become a bad thing? If life is meaningless, maybe it’s okay to enjoy it. Perhaps messing up or not living up to someone’s expectations is perfectly fine. It could also be okay to be wildly successful and famous if I just remember it’s only for a moment. On the other hand, if this is one life in a series of lives, then I’m just setting up my next lesson in my next life. There is plenty of time to evolve.
So, the next time I see you please note that I’m thinking of your death. But I’m also thinking of mine. What could the world be like if we all interacted on that level of truth? I would like to experience that.
Now, I must go because my boss actually doesn’t see my success as meaningless. I haven’t quite won her over to this philosophy, and I do have to eat or my meaningless life will be over much more quickly than anticipated.