An absurd pastime
“Running, one might say, is an absurd pastime upon which to be exhausting ourselves. But if you can find meaning in the kind of running required of you to stay on this team, perhaps you’ll find meaning in another absurd pastime: life.”
(Coach Bill Bowerman, ‘Without Limits’)
An absurd pastime that life is, it makes sense to spend your time well. Have you ever had to contend with a loss of perspective? A loss, as it were, of the stories we tell ourselves to keep us going? A loss of your favourite illusions? A loss, of meaning? I have. It happens sometimes, and I usually go listen to the sea when it happens, for amidst the breeze and the sand, the song of the sea keeps one from going insane. And when I say ‘meaning’, I refer to a sense of what your life is all about, if you know what I mean. There’s a silver lining I have to show you here.
‘Meaning’ is not a given
Often one tends to assume that there is some unique God-given ‘meaning’ to one’s life and it is only a matter of time before one ‘finds’ it. It seems a pointless assumption, its explanatory and predictive power being zero. For even if it were true there’s no way you can check that, especially because of something that we intuitively take for granted — free will. Moreover, it sounds like an abdication of responsibility towards yourself. There’s no meaning out there waiting to be ‘found’. The meaning you give to life is very much a product of your own conscious efforts, the choices you make, and the chances you take, apart from extraneous considerations.So to suffer a loss of ‘meaning’ is perhaps just a clue that you need to revise, refresh, or renew the meaning you once gave to life.
Making it count
Whatever meaning one might give to life, the important thing is to make it count. I’ve kept the phrase ‘make it count’ deliberately vague. It’s up to you to decide what counts, and what doesn’t. There’s a familiar whine you and I have heard, and sometimes even indulged in. It’s the ‘whine of insufficiency’. In general terms, it consists of a complaint that things are just not right for one to really do what one wants to. Or maybe one needs more resources to get things done. That may be true. But the important question is: Given what I have, am I making it count? Making it count is a good habit to cultivate, and a worthy ideal to strive for.
A fundamentally new experience
Much of the joy of life lies in discovering fundamentally new experiences – physical, emotional, or intellectual. The first time you smelt a flower, or walked in rains, or made a paperboat, or a doodle, the first time you cooked, or the first time you fell in love – all of these are new experiences when they first happen to you. Although most of one’s routine life is often a repeat of old experiences in one form or the other, one should be constantly on the lookout for fundamentally new experiences – ones which are not a mere modification of earlier ones but rather ones that have never been experienced before.
One fundamentally new experience a day, and you will have made life that much more meaningful.
The ultimate constraint
Time is the ultimate constraint on one’s life, perhaps the only real one. Every other constraint is artificial — a product of your fancy, others’ prejudice, or just circumstantial. You can, in principle, get rid of the other constraints but you cannot get rid of the fact that you have limited time to live out your life — unless, of course, we find ways to be immortal. They say ‘time changes things’. I beg to differ. Time doesn’t change things. People do things. Or sometimes they don’t do things. Time just passes, passively. Our limited time, though, is an invaluable constraint, for it pushes us to live our lives intensely, even if briefly. To live forever, and not to have lived intensely for even a moment, would be a tragedy indeed.
Your dreams might be unlimited, but your time isn’t. It helps to keep this constraint in mind while trying to maximize the intensity of life per unit of the time elapsed.
Why you don’t have to be who you think you are
Everyone has a certain perception of oneself, of what one thinks one is capable of, of who one is, and so on and so forth. This is a bunch of boundaries one has defined for oneself as characterizing one’s personality. These boundaries can often become so ingrained and so much a part of you that you take certain things about you as immutable truths, which is hardly the case if one considers the innate human capacity to learn and grow and adapt to new situations. These boundaries in your head can stop you from trying out new things just because you assume you are a certain kind of person who cannot do those things.
If you’re forever stuck with who you think you are, you will never know who you are, or who you can be. It makes more sense to let go of who you think you are, and just be.
The silver lining?
Maybe the silver lining is in the very fact that life is, after all, an absurd pastime. And we can choose to make it count.