The big hairy audacious question.
There comes a fork in the road, when everyone finds themselves asking this question. It could arise from age, from things not going per plan, from having exhausted the plan, from loss, from having lots to do, from having nothing to do and yet the only thing common to existence is the birth of this question at some stage.
Its birthplace rarely matters for when this question rears its fangs, they prick us all the same. So when my time came, I did the only thing I know to do — turn to books.
I read up everything I could lay my hands on to, at the cross-section of Neuroscience, Psychology, Quantum Mechanics, Metaphysics and Philosophy.
Because we read to know we’re not alone.
No, just kidding, because what you eat is what you become and what you read is how you think.
Marcus Aurelius and Seneca’s meditations soothed, Nietzsche opened up the wounds again, Carlo Rovelli and Stephen Hawking widened my horizons (and my eyes!) to the nature of reality, Carl Sagan expanded my thinking and Nick Bostrom scared me!
It took a good year or so to get to any sense of closure if it can be called that. But I am a lot closer to the answer than I was ever before. Here’s what I have got in my arsenal for anyone fighting the same monsters!
The universe doesn’t give meaning to you, You give the meaning to the Universe.
In physics, there is a concept of observer’s paradox which refers to a situation in which the phenomenon being observed is unwittingly influenced by the presence of the observer/investigator. Now, let’s sprinkle in some quantum mechanics to make things spicier. The double-split experiment further proved the wave-particle duality and ignited many interpretations including the many-worlds interpretation which asserts all possible alternative histories and futures are possible and so are many universes — one in which I am the JK Rowling and also one in which you grew up to be Harry Potter.
Coming back to this universe, when you craned your neck to look up at that clear night sky and saw a gazillion stars above you, recall that feeling of beauty and wonder.
Now remove yourself from the equation.
All these amazing galaxies and stars, black holes and supernova, would continue to spin aimlessly in space, were it not for us to be wondrous at them in the first place.
“It is not the universe that gives you the meaning, it is you who gives the meaning to the universe.”
There is no discovery without the act of exploration. The exploration begins within.
We look for ‘purpose’ like a 5-year-old searching for a unicorn in the jungle.
There is a more hopeful prospect of materializing the same unicorn if we drew it on a paper and coloured it with all things fancy.
Same with purpose. We need to create it. On the canvass of our lives. With the colours of our actions.
And the point where it all starts is somewhere inside of us. Not outside. And, it is NOT obvious.
If there is God, I am convinced S/he is within us. And many enlightened souls travel thousands of miles to reveal that the most important journey to be undertake is that of inwards.
Whether we choose to lessen the suffering of others, increase our learning or just be a better version of ourselves. It is up to the one within us. There is no appointed person somewhere in the universe bestowing a ‘purpose’ on us. To think any other way is an exercise in grandiosity. To put it in perspective, human beings arrived somewhere near midnight of 31st Dec if the universe’s age was to be squeezed into our calendar. To think humanity is of any consequence is being naive in both space and time.
And yet, each one of us is so precious that there is no one just like you in the next billions and billions of galaxies away. So your purpose is your own story, your own creation in your own universe.
Sure genetics and evolution have a role to play but so does our own thinking and reason.
“Would you have a great empire? Rule over yourself.”
— Publius Syrus
Acceptance and Change are not mutually exclusive.
Acceptance, in fact, is the first step to radical change.
Amor Fati, the Latin phrase meaning ‘love of fate’ has been invoked time and again by several masters. I love this one by Fredrick Nietzsche
“My formula for greatness in a human being is Amor fati: that one wants nothing to be different, not forward, not backward, not in all eternity. Not merely bear what is necessary, still less conceal it… but love it.”
Once we accept what is, truly sincerely with every atom of our being, only then can we stop dwelling on the past and re-imagine the future.
And then act on it.
Looking after the Tribe
Whether it is our country, state, municipality, company or at the most granular level — our family; homo sapiens are a ‘tribal’ species.
What however sets us apart from other animals like say gorilla with stronger arms, more flexibility, better claws and teeth are our abilities to perform collectively.
Language, Trust (Money), Democracy, Capitalism, Religion are the pillars we have erected to weave the collective fabric that binds us together, for good or worse.
The most intelligent man on the earth can no make a simple mouse you hold in your hand entirely on his own. How will he mine the plastic, and where will he forge the tools?
“Human achievements are always and everywhere collective. Every object and service you use is the product of different minds working together to invent or manage something that is way beyond the capacity of any individual mind. This is why central planning does not work. Ten million people eat lunch in London most days; how the heck they get what they want and when and where, given that a lot of them decide at the last minute, is baffling. Were there a London lunch commissioner to organise it, he would fail badly. Individual decisions integrated by price signals work, and work very well indeed.” — Matt Ridley, author Rational Optimist
Beyond all abstraction and philosophy, we have the power as an employee, as a writer, as a parent, to influence and be the architect of futures other than our own. We have that responsibility and doing that justly could be a life well lived.
“To know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded.”
— Ralph Waldo Emerson
I hope that this inspires you just enough to take the time to accept where you are and then travel a little inwards. I hope that journey is rewarding enough to make some changes and propel you to architect a better future, for yourself and for others in a universe that you want to shape.