Sunday, August 23, 2009

On Meaningfulness

What makes something meaningful?

In essence, a meaningful life or a meaningful act goes beyond its vicinity. The here-and-now is implicit, it does not require any meaning to exist. Man is discontented with the here-and-now. A journey, or an arrow fired into the future, sustains the desire to live.

To "look forward to something" gives potency to the present moment to be meaningful. If something makes one "come alive", then it is an opportune moment to find out what nutrients does that something have.

The journey from discontent to contentment always begins by rejecting the given meanings of life and proceeding towards meaninglessness. The lack of meaning is frightful, and the apprehension of a meaningless life is painful, and that fear and pain keeps us tied to our hollow meanings, and we do all that we can to avoid contemplation of our so-called absurdity.

Krishnamurti was not wrong in that psychological time sustains "me", but his here-and-now was not of this world.

To be myself, as this body in this infinite universe, is ceasing to find pleasure in what I am not. It is not true that illusion is only pain, otherwise why would it be so alluring? To be sure, there is pleasure aplenty in illusion, as is there pain, and it is the ever changing flux of my inner world that sustains "my" existence.

To reject the pleasure of a known illusion is the mark of integrity. That man is not at fault who is not aware of his illusions, and who is blissful or sorrowful in his ignorance. It is the divided man who is at fault, who knows what he knows, but cannot act upon it. To be integrated is simply to refuse the charm of illusion once one has seen its true face.

The journey from illusion to fact goes through the valley of fear. It is infinitely easier to exchange one illusion for another than to exchange an illusion for a fact.

That is because illusions are meaningful, they are potent and nourishing, whereas facts are simply existent. In a way, facts are barren. They cannot sustain "me". "I" need "my" fix through my meanings and illusions. "I" am essentially an addict of illusion.

And it is wrong to say that it is directed efforts which sustain "me". They cannot fill a man's heart. Of a beast perhaps... ("The struggle enough to fill a man's heart. One must imagine Sisyphus happy." -Albert Camus) It is the meaning in the outcomes of those efforts which sustain "me". Sisyphus is not happy rolling the stone, but he is perhaps happy because he sees the direction in which he is rolling the stone. It is the illusion of a meaningful destination that keeps him happy.

Once you strip meaning from the direction, you also necessarily strip the passion for the destination.

But without direction, without passion, without a destination, without meaning, can a man live? The entire wisdom of humanity says No. And that pessimism is "mine". It is true that "I" cannot live without meaning.

To embrace meaninglessness without flinching is to perhaps come upon the magical. To find out that meaning is not essential, that existence is wondrous without a reason, that one need not look at the future to live in the present.


Surbhi said...

very well said and well taken.

But the photograph at the end is trying to invest meaning to the meaninglessness, which you have correctly pointed out is nether absurdity nor circular motion sans an ending.

How incessantly do we try to find meaning to escape uncertainty and stillness ( and find certainty and stability)? May i point out an experimental film made by Norman Mclaren titled Lines Horizontal. Most viewers try to /look/ for or even force a meaning to the 'lines' rather than merely enjoy the music and visuals. Here is the You tube link:

thanks for the lucid post.

Harmanjit Singh said...

The photograph at the end is the "magical" part. To fill one with awe and wonder, sans meaning.

Jarnail said...

Kierkagaard di vichardhara de antargat jidan ki unne Abraham atte Sisyphus de kissean v samjhon da yatan keeta hai jindgi which koi mainna na hundian hoi vi appan Sisyphus wangoo maine paida karke apne jeevan noon jeen joga bana sagde haan. Aidi koi nirashvadak hon di majboori vi najr nahin aoondi.

Susan said...

Based on one's understanding of the "meaning" of life and for the sake of the discussion, I classify people in two main catagories and multiple sub categories(although I believe that in absolute sense a person may fall under more than one category or sub category at the same time).
People falling under the first catagory are living in their illusionary world of pain and pleasure as mentioned in the article. In this scenario, Sisyphus is rolling the stone without having any realisation of it eventually falling down....he knows no other way other than rolling the stone (either enthusiastically...passionately or reluctantly..unhappily).
In the second category, "he knows what he knows". This awareness brings with it a variety of choices. Here he can choose not to roll the stone at all...and since the Gods have not given this option of living one's life in any way other than rolling the stone, this can be achieved only by putting an end to life itself.
He can still choose to roll the stone with the awareness of it's futility. He can either do it reluctantly with utter disinterest...This in my opinion is the most unfortunate situation to be in.
He can also choose to roll the stone with full enthusiasm being aware of it's meaninglessness. he may still want to make a choice on the shape and coulor of the stone based on his personal preferance. He assigns his own meaning to his action in the absence of an absolute meaning...He is happy not for the direction in which he is rolling the stone...infact he is happy because he has accepted the facts for what they are and still finds his action meaningful in that moment....This is what is my interpretation of Camus's Sisyiphus ("Sisyphus teaches the higher fidelity that negates the gods and raises rocks. He too concludes that all is well. This universe henceforth without a master seems to him neither sterile nor futile. Each atom of that stone, each mineral flake of that night-filled mountain, in itself forms a world. The struggle itself toward the heights is enough to fill a man's heart. One must imagine Sisyphus happy" - Camus)
There could be another scenario in which Sisyphus is aware of the futility of his task and is not ready to take up the meaniless task of rolling the stone....Yet he does not resolve this by ceasing to live. Instead he takes up the  job of questioning/arguing/fighting with Gods against this condemnation of rolling the stone. He challenges the decisions of the Gods and tries to amend it. At this point, God appears and smiles...In his act of defiance, is he not still rolling the stone...a different stone....but a stone all the same.

Harmanjit Singh said...

Hi Susan, well said.

To live life not as a chore is to relish each experience in itself, even if it does not have any ascribed significance. An eye looking for significance misses out on the so-called insignificant. To be joyed by simple things is congruent with coming back to one's senses. The sensorium is inherently wondrous, it is the "I" which seeks meaning to become immortal or to seek a higher purpose.

Anonymous said...

"At this point, God appears and smiles...In his act of defiance, is he not still rolling the stone...a different stone....but a stone all the same."

God never appears and smiles because their is no God but the one created by man's imagination and fear. 'defiance' against the decisions requires the Sisyphus to keep the stone rolling. It is not by living at the periphery that one can fight and defy but by being in the middle, and thank goodness, their is rationality in human beings!

Harmanjit Singh said...

Hi Anonymous,

I think Susan's comment about God smiling is a metaphor and is not to be taken literally.

dadi ma said...

Hi Harmanjit

I understand it is a metaphor; replace God in my comments with whatever you think Susan meant.

Godliness never comes down from its pedestal, it is relentlessly draconian. It does not have fellowship regard and that is how it maintains its hierarchical position. My objection , and a severe one, is at an attempt to romanticize it. their is no need to because Sisyphus has the confidence to do it which is available here and now, and not in the past or in the future. It is does not require any affirmation or acceptance ('god smiles').

May be humans have other frontiers to cross then: prescriptions, godliness and lack of confidence in admitting that there is no godliness but the one which is imagined and springs out of fear.

while appreciation for a comment is a good thing, that alone should not be a reason to not see its limitation. i appreciate Susan' effort in responding, but cannot help but notice the hollowness it end into just as most arguments: trying to defend the godliness in humans being ultimately or finding a place for it in life. It is understandably difficult to confront godliness in all its splendor and by that rule its ugliness; social conditioning has deeper roots than we are willing to concede.

another point: sisyphus cannot be referred to without its contemporary social and political context. Post-war desolation and disenchantment and burgeoning field of genetics and psychology. Europe was confronting larger issues about identity and man's role in shaping it. Hence to invoke Sysiphus in all and every condition would be a folly and one which many philosophers tend to commit. Since philosophy is a primer to science, many enquirer of science also fall into the trap.

so the philosophical and by that rule several "logical" ( scare quote intended) thought processes need to be questioned: difficult, if not out rightly painful!

dadi ma redux

Susan said...

hi dadi ma,

God's smile does not represent affirmation or acceptance.

In fact, God smiles at the fact that no matter what Sisyphus does, he still continues to roll the stone.

I "picked up" God from the Greek mythology about Sisyphus and the interpretations from an essay by Albert Camus. There is no reference to any kind of "Godliness" in my comment.

dadi ma said...

Hello Susan

It is the Gods who punish Sisyphus for defying them and put him to the task of rolling. If i understood the myth correctly, Godliness is the imposition of these Gods on Sisyphus, an absurdity from which, they proffer, he cannot escape. my implication to godliness comes from the God, without which it will cease to be: in a powerful position; condescending and affective.

'god smiles' is an attempt to win over the 'other' side where i propose their is no need as the confidence acquired through freedom obviates any desire for acceptance and affirmation.

God and godliness: well! can you separate the dancer from the dance? 'smile' is godliness.

I was trying to read between the lines! or rather that is how Myths are meant to be read, non?

As the blogger refuses to suffer my facetious remarks, in general, i cannot offer any humour to lighten up this conversation..suffice it to wishes.

Surbhi said...

Harmanjit: "The journey from illusion to fact goes through the valley of fear. It is infinitely easier to exchange one illusion for another than to exchange an illusion for a fact."

# The Valley of fear is so enormous and gigantic, that it takes every bit of grit to /even begin to cross it/ let alone complete the challenge. It is one of the most difficult task because it necessitates overturning everything and all things. That the flesh and body is safe is not enough to contain the sinking 'feeling' when one even begins to perform the task. Awe and wonder is here an now, ever present and I can access it easily, but to sustain it, to make it timeless is a huge challenge - something that can drive a human being to madness.

Thank you for posting it. The first time i read it, i did not understand it as much as I do now - that is the difference between intellectual and experiential understanding, perhaps.