I’ll be honest, geeks. I’m writing this more for myself than anyone else, but if someone gets something from it… all the better. I wish I knew the answer to the question “Why are we here?” – but does anyone, really? If you accept that science is valid and real, you know that your life and existence is a consequence of a chain of events that stretches back beyond time and human comprehension, and that every being in the universe that has ever lived is just a minuscule dot in the time-space continuum. All of human history, philosophy, science, love, hate, life, death, every meal ever cooked, every kiss given, every crushing defeat, every exhilarating victory, doesn’t really mean shit on a cosmic scale.
But maybe that doesn’t matter. What’s the purpose of life? Mu. Not moo, though I do think cows are better at being zen than humans are. Mu: as in, maybe that’s the wrong question. Maybe life is the answer to its own question. To exist, to have form and consciousness out of all the potential across all of time in the entire cosmos, WE GOT TO BE HERE. That’s fucking amazing, so why do we have such a hard time appreciating it?
If you think about what makes life different from the rest of the gunk floating around the universe, it’s hard to describe what life is but pretty easy to know when you see it. (At least, it has been for most terrestrial life.) But no matter your definition, there is something about the sheer tenacity of life that’s undeniable. Whatever drives it – DNA, chi, spirit, aetheric energy – life is self-perpetuating in a way that’s actually pretty spooky. Since life evolved, it’s managed to survive pretty much every disaster thrown at it: ice ages, meteorites, war, famine, disease, flooding, ecological collapse. For some reason, that little string of molecular code we call DNA (or RNA or whatever other genetic-y things I’m not learned enough to know about) has been slowly but surely insinuating itself into every nook and cranny it can manage. And the scariest part? It’s really really good at it. Like, we can’t even come close yet to replicating DNA’s evolutionary dynamism and self-motivation towards continual progress. But progress towards what? Again, mu. As products of DNA’s tireless pursuit, we may never understand how or why it came to be, or even if there IS a why. I don’t want go too far down the deterministic versus chaotic rabbit hole, but that’s ultimately where these types of questions go. Is there a reason that life, not just my life or your life, but life exists? Maybe the pursuit of that question is another reason life exists, to ask itself these questions.
Then why am I bothering to write about questions that no one has answers to? Because we all have moments when not knowing is painful. Like soul-gasping, don’t-know-if-I-can-manage-this-life-shit pain. I find myself thinking about this a lot lately – what meaning does my life have? Does it have a meaning outside what I artificially impose upon it? Would it matter if I had never existed? Mu. I DO exist, I have existed, and nothing will ever change that. Everything that has ever existed in our universe, from the first hydrogen atom to the In-and-Out burger you shouldn’t have eaten last week, was given form and substance and reality. It doesn’t even really matter if some higher power willed it into existence or not; the fact is, being given existence and especially a sentient consciousness to understand and (hopefully) appreciate our existence is a gift. The Gift of the Universe. So yeah, we do matter because we ARE matter. A single life does change the course of the universe, just as one hydrogen atom fusing with another can ignite a star, because we are part of the universe already.
So does all this help me deal with feeling like my own life can be pointless and meaningless? Maybe a little, but I think it’s ultimately all about context. My life may not matter thousands of years from now, but it sure as hell matters to me and to a lot of the people that know me. In the Zen Buddhist tradition, the exploration of the concept of mu comes from a student asking a Zen Master: “does a dog have a Buddha nature?” The teacher answers, “mu,” which is actually a mental test, telling the student he needs to rethink his assumptions. Perhaps I need a Zen Master to tell me, when I ask “is this all there is to my life?” – mu.