A Meaningless Life

“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.

7 Comments on “A Meaningless Life

  1. I like this, and think of death as just another part of life. I’m not sure “meaningless” is how I would describe it, though. We are all such small parts of the whole that we can’t see the big picture of how our little life adds to the big tapestry of the entirety of it all. And we will probably never know or realize how our small ripples together will eventually create waves and tides and move oceans. But that’s OK! It is all beautiful in its own way, even if we don’t understand it.

  2. You’ve offered some interesting insights. I definitely think we put way too much pressure on ourselves to be “successful”. Success means different things to different people. But specifically Ecclesiastes is written most likely by Solomon or one of King David’s other sons. Written to the people of God and read during the Feast of the Tabernacles. It was written for a very happy and celebratory time to remind God’s people that “without” God life is meaningless. Grave dangers threaten the people of God at the point of separation. I hope this provides some insight for you. We are “fearfully and wonderfully made” Psalm 139:14.

  3. Wow… that’s not how I remember Ecclesiastes from my bible-reading days. It’s not that life is meaningless; it’s the things and positions people strive for that can be meaningless. Life is short, Don’t take yourself too seriously — I think that’s the IG/Twitter/FB version of Ecclesiastes. Maybe I’m wrong, though. 🙂

    • I think we all take ourselves too seriously. I’m re-reading the first 11 verses. That’s pretty much what it says, “everything is meaningless”.

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