Death and Existence (Reflection)

Imagine all the countless people before us, billions upon billions of people who have already died. I wonder how each of them lived. Who were they? What were their stories? Will their experiences, like ours, be forever lost, destined to merely fade away into nothingness, to wander this vast expanse of space and time like grains of sand tumbling idly across the billowing dunes of the Sahara?

I ponder the notion that during the time we weren’t here, we lacked both awareness and consciousness. It was pure nonexistence for all of us. However, seemingly by chance, 13.1 billion years later we somehow popped into existence and started navigating the tides of life, not on inter-dimensional spaceships but on rowboats that splintered our behinds.

Despite this rare opportunity to exist, none of us have the absolute freedom to choose how we’d like to go about spending our short lives. Most of us are forced to live in accordance with the conditions and expectations set forth by those already here. Thus we unwillingly drudge on, living each day on the basis of survival, trying to fill each moment with superficial things that bring us only fleeting moments of so-called happiness.

I am compelled by this simple truth to deeply question whether I am personally using my own time wisely. I have already lived a significant portion of my life, and with whatever time I have left, I’m wondering what I should be doing with it.

Some things that I already know are a waste of time:

  1. Pointless work
  2. Frivolous arguments
  3. Anger-induced grudges
  4. Negative people 
  5. Dead-end jobs
  6. Endless pursuit of wealth
  7. Needless worrying, especially about the future
  8. Sad or depressed thoughts (e.g., about having such a limited existence)
  9. Career politicians whom very, very few will remember
  10. Hopeless inaction, doing nothing

Imagine being asked beforehand how you’d like to spend your 79 years on earth.

  • Would you want to spend the first half toiling away inside a classroom?
  • Would you want to spend the middle half in a dead-end, unappreciative job that will only help you retire at 65?
  • Would you want to spend the final half in a nursing home filled with employees neglecting you and secretly hoping you’ll die in your sleep?

Of course, I understand that the world we live in today is due to the efforts of those before us. It is because they forfeited a portion of their lives doing pointless work–well, “pointless” in comparison to the grand scheme of things–that a larger percentage of us can enjoy the amenities of today.

They sacrificed their limited existence to further develop humankind. I suppose if some of us are willing to make that sacrifice (whether knowingly or not), then that’s perfectly fine. It is, after all, your life, the only one you’ve ever had in the last 13.8 billion years. So how you choose to spend it is up to you.

However, I assert that I’m one of the many who won’t make any grand, grand, grand contributions. So, again, I ask myself: How should I be spending my limited time on earth?

There’s no one-size-fits-all answer. I am simply contemplating the facets of my existence. And based on my reflections so far, I’ve realized that memory and perception play significant roles in determining one’s daily and long-term attitudes toward reality.  Memories link us to the past, and perceptions shape our outlook for the future. Without memories, we can’t formulate perceptions; without perceptions, we can’t interpret our memories. Both of which allow us to reevaluate our lives now in relation to how they might turn out later. Difficult to do considering the relativistic nature of time. 

Arguably, putting pressure on oneself to find meaning in something that inherently has no meaning is a byproduct of our human intelligence. Unlike every other creature on this planet, we appear to be the only species with extraordinary imaginations, an ability so profound that we can glimpse at the farthest boundaries of our universe while meticulously unraveling the underlying framework of reality. For humans, it’s possible for us to transcend the basic instinct of survival and thus peer deeper into the void of existence, excavating the expanse for a speck of purpose/meaning.

Maybe that’s why emptiness is so unsettling for some of us. Perhaps our primal physical functions have not caught up to the potential of our collective intellect and individual intellect. That’s why there’s an apparent contradiction between what we already know about existence and how we’re actually living out our short lifespans. 

When we wonder why we feel devoid of any purpose/meaning, perhaps it’s because we’re allowing our intellect to run wild. When we wonder why we don’t feel “happy,” perhaps it’s because we’re indulging too much in the physicality of human existence; that is, we allow ourselves to drown in porn, engage with multiple sex partners, and so on. All of which might reflect a desperate attempt by us to subside the “pain” that our intellect has discerned from the void of existence, a pain which has been further exacerbated by the added realization of our inevitable return to the abyss.

Indeed, both aspects of our humanity (i.e., the physical and the intellectual) require a great deal of self-control. On the other hand, I sometimes ask myself what kind of existence do I prefer? Would I prefer an existence that’s 10 percent intellect and 90 percent physical (e.g., sex, drugs), or would I prefer it to be the other way around?

I already know that sex isn’t a permanent solution. In my opinion, to live one’s life based on sex is … quintessentially meaningless. It’s not wrong; it’s just meaningless. Knowing that, it would seem as if intellect is the ideal route. 

I know that money, prestige, jealously, violence, and anger aren’t good options either.

A simple life is fine; however, living my only chance at existence in solitude, in the middle of nowhere, drinking lemonade on some porch, and just waiting for death to come knocking at my door also doesn’t sound too enticing. Becoming a monk in some far off temple reciting mantras is tempting but equally dubious. 

What do I want? What to do? How do I best maximize my one chance at existence? …

I suppose doing nothing but drink lemonade or recite mantras would be okay, that is, as long as I didn’t have to die someday.

It’s interesting, though, that death is what drives this urgency to do something while we’re still alive. If we could only live forever, then this intellectual problem wouldn’t be so difficult. Unfortunately, it’ll be awhile before humanity is able to cure aging, a relentless disease that progressively damages our bodies over time.  

Since negative feelings are pointless, perhaps for now I should simply be content with everything that I do. In a cosmos as vast as ours, there are no right and wrong answers.