Saturday, February 19, 2011

Ennui

The fundamental problem of the human experience is that of satisfaction. It is in our nature to want things. But when our desires are satisfied, we always find ourselves desiring something else. It does not matter what the desire is; it could be a material object, or something more abstract like education or financial stability or a fulfilling relationship or political power. But each desire always seems to give way to a new one, and then we cannot be happy again until we have achieved our next desire.

It could be said that the ultimate human desire is to be freed from this seemingly inescapable cycle of desire, boredom, and desire. Religion, philosophy, and even consumerism are all attempts to find true happiness—to find release. But in every solution, the release is only temporary.

Perhaps what we call “spiritual experiences” are really only suspension of our desires and ennui. When we find ourselves in an altered state of mind, where we have no desires to be fulfilled or unfulfilled, no despair at the seeming futility of existence—this is our nirvana.

It is the lot of sentient beings to be aware of our own existence, and for the atheist, the inherent meaninglessness of existence. We’re born, we live, we die, and that’s all there is to it. This awareness causes us to reach for something more, because our unhappiness with the futility of existence is unsettling. It drives some to madness or suicide. So we lie to ourselves, tell ourselves that there is more to this life than there appears to be. That there is some part of us that does not depend upon the beating of our hearts and the breathing of our lungs. But this lie, although a comforting one, is still a lie. Our earnest desire for Something More does not mean that it exists.

Is it possible to find this release, fulfillment, nirvana, or whatever you’d like to call it—without relying on comforting lies and fairytales? I think so. I think that there’s something to meditation. I find release in music, in quiet evenings spent in reading and introspection, in conversation and laughter with friends. At these times, I find that although I am not pursuing any desire, I am happy. And, in the end, what more can I ask of life?

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