For a long time, I have felt a void in my life, a lack of purpose. These past few years, I’ve gone on a journey to understand myself and to explore what could fill that hole.
I guess everyone comes to this existential place sometime in their lives when they ask what is the point of it all? Most shy away and dive back into the distracting busyness of life. Others stop all else and probe, picking at the wound and making it bigger and bigger until they find their answer or fall into deep despair. Probably neither is a healthy approach to take.
Why do I need to figure out the point of it all? Why do I need to figure out my purpose? I think it is an inherent drive to arrive at meaning. A very human need to search for a meaning or reason to be alive… and as a side effect, happiness. All questions eventually end up at this lonely shore, to die or to evolve.
Many minds have explored this question of meaning from ancient times to the present. Great men and women have dug into it and some have come up with their own answers. The answers seem to span two extremes, embracing faith or denial. Embracing the metaphysical or nihilism. I don’t know which approach is correct; they may both be right or both be wrong.
Faith is the belief in something greater than ourselves that knows the purpose of our lives. It is a trust in something metaphysical with powers, abilities, and knowledge beyond our own. Faith can be directed externally or internally.
When you’ve discovered that you cannot come up with the answer yourself, you need to go elsewhere. That elsewhere is usually outside yourself. God. The Universe. Angels. Destiny. Dharma. Religion. They know your purpose. They hold your meaning. You have but to trust and have faith in them.
Or it could be inside yourself. Your eternal soul. Your north star. Your guiding light. The inner pilot that you have to trust knows the way because you don’t. New age gurus espouse this type of belief and faith.
At the opposite end is denial, which is really another form of faith. Faith that there is no purpose and no higher reason for existence. No higher being, inside or outside. Nihilism. Atheism. Belief that we live, we die, and there is nothing that remains of us. No meaning to our lives at all.
I can’t choose one over the other because I can’t know which is the truth. I’m incapable of faith in the one or the other; I want to know for sure. But faith and the metaphysical are beyond my knowing. So, I’m stuck between all purpose and no purpose. A very exposed place to be.
There is a third solution, one that is no solution at all. It is to stop at the precipice between the two faiths, without jumping to either side. It is to exist with not knowing. To hold both possibilities, that there is nothing and that there is everything, as possible. To accept that we ourselves cannot know our purpose. To let go of having to have faith.
I think this may be what the Buddha meant by the middle path. There is no dualism. He had to use extreme non-binary language, that everything is transient, to combat the instinctive human drive towards the permanent. But really, everything is transient and everything is eternal. Which answers nothing at all.
At some point in our lives, we ask the question, what is the meaning of it all? Maybe that is the wrong question to ask. Perhaps we should reverse it. Instead of asking what the meaning of my life is (expecting life to tell me), ask what meaning I can give to my life? What does life expect from me? What does life expect from us all? Perhaps the purpose of our lives is to find meaning for life itself.
Until I know (which may be never), I will force myself to live in that uncertain space between the two faiths. To dwell in the void. To let go of knowing my purpose. To be uncomfortable, unsure, blind to my fate. And yet to strive, to try the best I can, knowing that there may be no reward, no paradise, and no heaven. Hoping maybe that there is something so much better than all that.
Uncertainty colors my life. Unknowing is my core. Nothing is permanent. Nothing is temporary. I have no ground to stand on, I am falling.