Hello again. It’s been a while. Just over a year to be exactly imprecise. I was a little ambitious and optimistic in my first post, insinuating that I would continue writing regularly. That’s a common motif in my life though. Dream big, burn bright, but then sputter out through suffocation by boredom. I’m working on it. I’m going to be able to dream big, burn bright, and follow through to the end. It’ll just take some practice. This post is partially inspired by my lack of commitment, and partially by some of the experiences I’ve recently had traveling around Thailand.
What’s the meaning of life? A question that’s been asked since beings could first talk. A question that’s been thought since beings could first think. A questions that’s built empires as often as it’s toppled them. Genghis Khan believed his god-given-right and the meaning of his life was to have the Mongol Empire rule the whole world. The Bolsheviks believed fighting for revolution and living in a classless, Utopian society was the meaning of their lives. Were either right or wrong? Depends on who you ask.
I was raised as a Russian Orthodox Christian. I went to church at least every Sunday (Saturday nights and holidays were frequently church filled too). Being an alter boy is among my first memories. Back then church was relatively fun. It was a social event, where I got to hangout with my friends and usually eat good food (Sunday post-service potlucks were godly). It also gave me the security of knowing what life was all about. I had a soul that was eternal, and as long as I prayed, consistently repented for all my sins, and partook in consuming the body and blood of Christ, I was gucci. I could live looking forward to dying and going to heaven.
I’m not exactly sure when I began to think that maybe the whole religion thing isn’t actually what life is all about. It was probably around the time we moved from the tightly knit community of Russians in San Francisco to the xenophobic Gemeinden of Switzerland. Although the move itself was a part of it, I think the substantial increase in traveling to other countries played the largest role. In the US, bigger is always better. In France, the subtleties of food are lost in excess. These are of course generalizations, and there are exceptions, but I’m just using them to illustrate that traveling exposes you to different cultures and alternative perspectives on what people should be doing or worrying about. And although the majority of the sites we visited were churches or cathedrals, they didn’t make me marvel at God’s ability to inspire people to build such magnificent structures. Instead I realized that it was all just human. People built these sacred places. People judged what was considered beautiful and holy. People interpreted the accounts of what a man said, and wrote their interpretations down spawning vast religious movements.
The transformation wasn’t instantaneous. I had these thoughts and some more, and began playing with the idea of agnosticism. It was comforting to believe in some higher power. It gives you a reason to believe that good things will happen to you. Or if it’s bad, that as long as you keep believing, the omnipotent being will fix it all up for you. It’s a mental safety net that allows you to jump away from responsibility. At some point I stopped believing in that too.
I realized that I’m the only one responsible for myself. I adopted an internal locus of control as psychologists would say. I became responsible for myself. To the point that I became responsible for the meaning of my own life. I think ultimately life is meaningless, but that just means I can give it my own meaning. But how do you go about doing that?
Well I was quite fortunate. A lot of the things I have in my life are because of someone giving without asking for something in return. As a result of that, I now think it’s very important for me to give back more than I take. Although there is no absolute purpose to my existence, the purpose I’ve given myself is to depart from this world with a positive balance sheet. I’ve found that having such a general, but tangible goal actually helps a lot with living. Sometimes you find yourself stuck between two decisions, or falling down one of the inevitable troughs between two peaks in life, and at a time like that, being able to remember what you’re striving towards helps instill confidence and put you back on course.
Like a sailor on the ocean of life, you need something to look up to, something bigger than yourself to guide your way. It doesn’t matter if it’s an incomprehensibly large ball of burning gas, a deity, or some ultimate goal, as long as it reminds you of how small you and the insignificant problems you’re facing are.