Friday, June 26, 2009

"Nothing Matters"

A fellow traveler writes:

"At first, when you really get that nothing matters at all it's very depressing. It's extremely melancholy to realize that nothing has any intrinsic meaning, that life is essentially meaningless.

It's very disillusioning to get that no matter what one might accomplish, it disappears like smoke in the air; that no matter what service one might attempt to perform, it's like an insignificant grain of sand upon an infinite beach.

Are you feeding the poor? Are you Shakespeare? Doesn't matter. It's all insignificant in the end. If not today, then tomorrow. If not in a thousand years, then in a million billion. The whirling clusters of galaxies don't even notice.

Not only that, but the fact that everything is insignificant and nothing has any intrinsic meaning doesn't mean anything either.

All the meaning is supplied by us human beings. We supply the value judgments—this is good, that's bad, this should happen, that shouldn't happen. Existence has no value judgments about itself; it has no meaning, it doesn't need or want any, to speak metaphorically. All the "good," "bad," "right," "wrong," etc. is supplied by us humans.

Existence not only doesn't care about any of that, it's not even aware of it. Whatever you or I might ever do to make a difference in the world or our little corner of it is like a drop in an infinite sea—meaningless, empty. In fact, all is emptiness, completely empty—like empty characters in a video game, or like a robot in a machine factory pondering what its meaning is.

When I really got all this I walked around in a complete daze. Because life had no intrinsic meaning, because nothing really mattered at all, everything seemed forlorn, empty, drained, bleached. Everywhere I looked, everyone I looked upon, including myself—there was just emptiness, nothing, meaninglessness.

If nothing mattered, then my life and efforts didn't matter, and neither did anything else. Perhaps the best word for it was "bleak."

And then something happened. After I had dwelled miserably in this state for awhile, feeling this bitter reality of emptiness like a freezing wind upon my face, the whole thing suddenly "flipped" one day.

The very thing, the all-pervading emptiness and lack of meaning and insignificance that had depressed me so much suddenly became a source of great joy. So much so that I burst out laughing—I couldn't stop—and then began crying tears of joy.

Lest I be declared a candidate for the looney bin (which probably wouldn't be a bad idea), let me try to explain. It's something like this: The fact that nothing matters is actually a source of great liberation. It's very freeing to realize that nothing matters at all, because that whole weight of trying to make life "make sense" or "go the right way" or "look like this" drops away.

In its place is just reality, exactly as it is, with no meaning at all in the usual sense and yet incredibly pristine, beautiful, shimmering in its "emptiness," forever shining like the lovely moon upon the sea.

When everything becomes completely empty, paradoxically, it also becomes extremely full. In effect, the "emptiness of emptiness" becomes the doorway to the "fullness of emptiness."

The brujo Don Juan understood this very well. He said that you realize that everything is empty and meaningless and yet you act as if it had meaning. In his words, even though you're perfectly aware of the emptiness of all things, of all phenomena, you "act as an impeccable warrior" just the same.

And of course he didn't mean "war" in the usual sense. We usually think of fighting something or kicking ass as being a great warrior. But simply carrying a project through to completion is being a much more mature kind of warrior. Just accomplishing any task at all is being a true warrior.

So we do our service work or we drive our beer truck or we turn out papers at the office or we do whatever we do, but without the stress and strain of trying to make everything make sense or somehow acquire the correct "meaning." This most assuredly includes "our own" life.

Not that stress and strain disappear from life. As far as I can tell, stress and strain are an inevitable part of life, just as relaxation and peace are also a part of it. But beneath the stress and strain, when it appears, is a light heart, dancing with that stress and strain, knowing that it's an indissoluble part of this precious existence.

Paradoxically, when we see clearly the emptiness and meaninglessness and insignificance of everything, including our own life, after passing through the "emptiness of emptiness" there comes a light heart, which contains both a smile and a tear.

The smile comes precisely from the seeing that nothing matters. Isn't that strange? If nothing matters, we're free not to take it all so seriously. It's not serious at all, none of it. Not one bit.

Yet at the same time there's a tear, a tear of compassion for this precious world and its suffering. The pain that we sometimes feel in life is not illusory; it hurts. And the laws of physics and biochemistry, etc. are not suspended just because we realize something.

If we jump off a building we're still going to go splat, no matter what we may or may not have realized. If we stub our toe, it's still going to hurt. If we eat a lot of fat, we're still likely to develop heart disease or cancer. The laws of life are not repealed.

So nothing changes at all. And yet everything changes, because we see that the very preciousness of life arises from its essential emptiness. The grateful heart arises precisely from the recognition of life's ephemeral, fleeting, meaningless quality.

That very meaninglessness, stripped of all fantasies and dreams, becomes the hidden meaning itself. That very fleetingness of all things becomes the very thing that makes them precious.

That literally "nothing matters" becomes the very thing that transforms into thankfulness, bubbling up in surrendered gratitude for this precious life and all its appearances, like a compassionate, mysterious and effervescent spring bubbling up from the meaningless nowhere of nothing.

—jim sloman"


  1. thank you, I really liked this article.

  2. I have thought this way for a long time. But it seems like every time I try to say what I'm thinking people don't understand what I am saying. When I said this they thought I was suicidal. But it is so peaceful to know that nothing I do has any real meaning. That means I can't mess anything up.

    1. The Biggest 'Copout' Ever!

  3. Ah, the easy was out. Well done, you've found it yet again.

  4. The sad part is when the liberation becomes mundane or rather starts depressing you. The rebellion from the meaninglessness dies at a point. How much can u enjoy that freedom? Even a person serving 12 yrs in jail, savors the freedom for few months then its all the same. I guess that's the problem even Camus realized, but he was just against suicide hence he focused more on rebellion and happy death.
    How do you see your rebellion after few years?

  5. He's missing the fact that the pleasure he feels is what is providing the meaning. Pleasure is what allows meaning to exist. It's real and it matters to us. The experiential universe is as real as the physical universe.