Manufacturing Meaning

Doubt yourself and everything else.

I tell myself everyday that I cannot do the things I want to do. Getting too invested in my own thoughts has always been a problem of mine as I’m sure it is for most people. Acknowledging my overthinking when it happens feels like a superpower. I’m not perfect and I never will be; but I will get better. Meditation and yoga seem to be the catalysts for the acknowledgement of my self-deprecation.

I started doing meditation on a whim while reading Tim Ferriss’ Tools of Titans. I’ve since practiced daily for almost two years. Trying out all kinds of apps recently became tiresome, and daily meditation was beginning to feel like a chore or habit. I would wake up, then turn on autopilot. I only realized this after revisiting my “beginner” guided meditations. I could no longer count my breaths or scan my body without getting distracted immediately. This led me back to where I started: Headspace and Calm. I’ve always liked the little animations Headspace shows and Andy Puddicombe’s voice puts me in the zone right off the bat. So I pulled the trigger and paid for a yearly subscription. Paying for the practice really made me care about it more. The free apps all seemed to be getting repetitive. I’ve been using the paid version of the app for a month and I just clocked in at 565 minutes meditated.

My yoga practice has been much less consistent, but equally beneficial. I tried it for the first time in high school on the same whim as meditation. I had no expectations but I kept an open mind. Using Beachbody, I’ve been able to practice at home daily with the freedom to take my exercise anywhere. I like it a lot. This is starting to sound like an ad, so let me get to the point.

Trying these meditative practices has helped me realize so many things about myself. I had no idea how disconnected my mind and body were. They were essentially completely separate entities fulfilling their own unique functions. As a human being, however, this does not work very well. The disconnect I felt was not uncommon. I, and most people, never took the time to slow down and reflect. This reflection can take so many forms, and it often occurs at the strangest times. I have a lot of epiphanies in the shower and on the bus.

Existing is reason enough to be alive.

Lately, I’ve been having more and more trouble trying to write, or do anything for that matter. My desire to get out of bed, meditate, exercise, see friends, study, read, watch TV, and even eat, has been almost non-existent. I can’t explain this phenomenon. Nonetheless, I do the things I have to do because I feel the need to do them, as a human being. Not doing them would be like giving up.

Being at that point–giving up on being a human being–creates a lot of dissonance between the mind and body. Connecting the two shook me to my core. It woke me up. Existing is reason enough to be alive.

Reading about Existentialism is part of the reason for my paralysis in the face of life. I was introduced to the ideas of the philosophy but I had not realized what being “free” meant. I’m not really sure what made it sink in. One day, it sunk; and from that point on I felt a nauseating desire to give up. What was the point of anything? Blah, blah, blah. You’ve heard this before. I knew I had heard this before too. I was wrong, and I knew it, but I could not overcome this feeling of helplessness. I could not comprehend the fact that despite the meaninglessness of life I was still supposed to live.

It took a lot of work, but I think I’ve made my way out of my existential crisis. After reading Sarah Bakewell’s At the Existentialist Cafe, I got a better grasp of what it meant to be a free individual living in society. I needed to take a step back and realize how naive I was being. I won’t go into the details of Sartre and Beauvoir’s beautiful philosophy today because there’s still lots I don’t understand about it. But, I’ve come to see the meaninglessness of life as something positive. That is my primary concern today. For a little primer on Existentialism, here is a poem by Emily Dickinson:

To be alive – is Power –

Existence – in itself –

Without a further function –

Omnipotence – Enough –

 

To be alive – and Will!

‘Tis able as a God –

The Maker – of ourselves – be what –

Such being Finitude!

Everything that human beings do or don’t do carries meaning. This meaning is not intrinsic to the actions being performed; it is created. All human sentiments rely upon the creation of meaning in one way or another.

Normally, we create meaning unconsciously. Our manufactured meanings determine the decisions we make. At a certain point, however, everything a person does may be dependent on the meaning they have associated with a certain action or thought. Like I said, the meaning is not necessarily conscious. This is really important to notice. I have been most unhappy when I think like others without taking the time to think about what I think. I adopt other people’s beliefs and desires because I do not take the time to think for myself. This creates dissonance, and I hate it.

No one can think for you, but others can control your thoughts.

In fact, thinking for yourself is probably the hardest thing an individual can do. Today, we are unceasingly drowned in information. This information carries weight that we don’t even notice 99.99% of the time. Nonetheless, the information we absorb guides our desires, thoughts and actions. You are what you pay attention to.

In short, meaning–yes, that incredibly broad term– determines how and why you live. Human beings are no longer in a position where survival necessarily dictates our actions and desires. Those primal instincts still remain, but they are not guiding us. What could possibly be more important than determining how and why you are living?

Accepting my meaninglessness led me to realize that I was constantly burying myself in useless thoughts. Wasting time on nihilistic reflections is pointless when I create meaning every second of my existence. I’ve come to think the only way for me to accomplish anything as a human being is by finding, creating, changing, exchanging and defining my own meaning.

I latch on to meaning wherever I can. So do you. The idea that everything each of us does on a daily basis, and thus throughout our entire lifetime, is meaningless is unbearable. At least it’s unbearable to me. I need reassurance that my life is meaningful. I am a human being.

It’s easy to forget that sometimes that’s all we are. We may want to actually become a God, but that is impossible. All that we make is ourselves. We are the creators of a world full of meaning that means nothing. In forgetting the meaninglessness behind meaning we make a great mistake: We get so attached to everything that we become incapable of change, growth and overcoming. We lock ourselves into human-made boxes and throw away the key.

But the boxes we make are not permanent; they are not prisons, but they can be. Meaning is manufactured. We can break down the walls, recycle them and create something brand new. Nothing determines our will when we are capable of thinking for ourselves. Being and Becoming must become One.

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