I worked out the meaning of life over my holidays.
It was a Sunday, which some might consider appropriate, depending on their religious bent. I was laying on the couch, playing a game on the PS2, when it – the meaning of life, that is – occurred to me.
I should make it clear this wasn’t a religious awakening. Angels didn’t appear. Nor God. Or aliens. Or anything like that. In fact, it wasn’t an earth-shattering moment at all. If anything, I guess it was the sum of my experiences, of all my knowledge (as spare as that is) assimilating and fitting together like a jigsaw to produce – briefly – a vivid picture.
Still, this was quite an accomplishment. Up until about five years ago, my method of handling life’s problems was to bang my head against them and hope I’d obliterate them, or that they’d get tired of me and go away.
They would, too. For a little while at least.
Unfortunately, that wasn’t much long-term help. Over the last 20 years, I’ve suffered occasionally from depression, anxiety, and other conditions related to neurosis. Most of the time I’m okay, but every now and again those issues spike.
Medication, when I’d used it, had done its thing. And when that failed to work adequately, the answer was to medicate some more. This is what some idiot public hospital psychiatrist had taught me 20 years ago when I was young and impressionable and wayward.
But medication didn’t solve the problem itself. It helped the symptom, but the problem continued to exist. Medication should’ve been a crutch – support until I gained the strength to put myself in a position to stand on my own two feet. Unfortunately, crutches can be pretty supportive, and the longer you use them, the longer you rely on them, and the quicker you forget to walk on your own two feet at all.
I forgot that.
A lot of people do, I think. Not just those who suffer from neurosis, as I do, but people in everyday life. There are all sorts of crutches: medications, alcohol, over-eating, gambling, and the list goes on. People find all sorts of ways, and it’s not to cope, but to tolerate. They find ways to tolerate what they’re going through. Coping’s a privilege, anything more a luxury.
Several years ago, I got tired of the cyclical nature of this crap and decided to try handling my issues differently. This involved a lot of self-talk, regular exercise, and a change of diet – commonsense stuff. Maybe that’s why I’d never considered it before. But it worked for me. Not that it was a miracle panacea. It was – and is – an ongoing battle. Like waging a war for geography up a hill. You make some ground, you lose some, and there’s always a fear of a slide.
But it’s a solution.
Which is the same with life, because what occurred to me as I was playing the PS2 is that life itself is like a game. Along the way, you’re presented with puzzles – problems, designed to stop you, to hinder you, to sidetrack you, to simply disallow you from moving forward. Indeed, if they can, they’ll try to set you back, if not right back to square one.
Now you can beat your head into these problems, you can detour around them, you can ignore them, and that’s what most of us do. That is everyday life (if you can call it life; you might prefer to consider it everyday existence). But these actions (read: inactions) leave those problems unconquered. Inevitably, they return – sometimes bigger, stronger, as if they’ve intensified to compel you to deal with them.
So, what’s the alternative?
Face them down and, like a puzzle in a game, you solve them, and then go onto the next one. Oh, it goes without saying that there will be another one. That’s life. Like any computer game, there’s always another level. In life, there’s always another problem. But each success empowers you, sees you grow, become wiser, more capable, and even more content with yourself.
That’s what solving these problems does.
But life isn’t just about our own problems. Sure, some days – if not weeks, months, and years – it might seem that way. It might seem there’s nothing else. And it’s fine to deal with our own problems, to fixate on them, to try to unravel them at the expense of the community we live in, to the oblivion of everybody and everything else around us.
At the expense of the world we live in.
Except we can’t do that forever.
Because, as I said, those problems come back bigger and stronger.
Consider this: the world itself is the greatest puzzle of them all. It’s filled with diseases, famine, poverty, crime, and war – problems which are global and affect not only every one of us but our futures, and all that is contained therein.
It’s almost like the world was presented to us with the implicit challenge: here is the puzzle – work it out. Make it better for yourselves. Evolve.
For the most part, however, we haven’t done that. Sure, we can point to technological evolution as advancement of us as a race, but have we really grown wiser, maturer, or more altruistic? Given the increase of issues such as depression, etc., it would seem not. It would seem we are, for the most part, more selfish and petty and material than ever.
We are unhappy.
The world is unhappy.
Consequently, all those global problems – those puzzles we were given to solve – continue to run rampant, to increase, and to amplify. Instead of concentrating our energies as a people on fixing them, we seem to be concentrating our energies on exacerbating them, consciously or not.
From solving problems we grow, and take the next step in our evolution. Some of it is about individual growth; some about growth intended for us as a people, a growth which transcends borders, cultures, and religions – because that’s the only way we’ll solve the world’s puzzles, if we can transcend these markers.
So that’s the meaning which occurred to me: it’s about evolution. That can mean anything you want it to mean to yourself – spiritually, intellectually, emotionally, or whatever the case might be. But we evolve, take the next step in our development, and become better for it.
As a race.
As a world.
Maybe I’m being idealistic.
But this is what occurred to me one Sunday afternoon.
Les Zig is a Melbourne-based freelance writer/editor. He is the chief editor of the bi-annual anthology of fiction, called [untitled], and has had stories and articles appear in various publications.
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