Well I've searched and I've searched
To find the perfect life-
A brand new car and a brand new suit
I even got me a little wife-
But wherever I have gone
I was sure to find myself there-
You can run all your life
But not go anywhere
-- Social Distortion, Ball and Chain
We have been on vacation the past couple of weeks (although as we pointed out last year at this time, the concept of "vacation" is a bit of a misnomer to the absurd man), part of which included a visit with an uncle who is a devotee of "mindfulness," the Buddhist tradition that encourages adherents to live in each moment, neither regretting the past nor worrying about the future. Clearly this is a philosophy that has much in common with the absurd (with the rather notable difference that Buddhism assumes an interconnectedness of all things--a kind of universal consciousness, if you will), and we have discussed it in the past in this blog.
We were surprised, therefore, when our uncle, in the midst of a discussion of such matters, mentioned that his life at the moment was well-nigh perfect, and he wished he could freeze things as they were. (For context, he is in his mid-60s, lives quite comfortably in Northern California, and has three children in their 30s who have recently married, two of whom have small children.) We were taken aback, to say the least--isn't the whole point of living in each moment to avoid the impact of such externalities? We were further surprised when he attributed our own sense of contentment to our relatively secure job and family.
This, to us, is one of the more frustrating aspects of the absurd--individuals who come right to the brink of understanding...but can't follow through. It is mystifying to us how such people can understand so much, yet not see the contradiction they ultimately embrace. It truly is an all or nothing proposition - either everything matters...or nothing does. If one's family matters (the reason why we harp on family, by the way, is because it seems the one area where seemingly rational people come to a brick wall), then so does everyone else's family, and everything they do, and everything that caused them to exist in the first place, ad infinitum.
This is why we have devoted so much time and space on this blog to the chimera of "personal meaning," which many see as an out to what they view as the bleakness of the absurd. In short, the universe may be meaningless, but that doesn't mean I can't create my own little island of meaningfulness while I'm here. This sounds incredibly seductive and logical, particularly for those who view the absurd as bleak. (As an aside, perhaps we should not have been too surprised by our uncle's comments, since a few months ago he responded to a note we sent about the absurd by saying: "Existential angst!!--Yikes, can't get through a day feeling too much of that.")
But as we have noted, we view the absurd as anything but bleak. Rather, it is the most liberating feeling imaginable. Imagine...this "I" we have been carrying around since early childhood, which wants, and needs, and never seems sated...is nothing more than a fantastic illusion! We can be as content sitting on a park bench staring into space (as our old nemesis Jack Sparrow once mocked us) as living the high life of a billionaire.
But there is another reason for highlighting our uncle's comments here, and that is their "wolf in sheep's clothing" nature. For despite their seeming banality, such attitudes open the door to all sorts of unpleasant realities. To begin with, while our uncle professes to be happy because he lives in the moment, he is in fact happy only because his current circumstances conform to what he views as "good." Thus, he is vulnerable to the "slings and arrows of outrageous fortune" to which we are all subject.
Further, this attitude that his family is important by necessity means others must be viewed as less so. Consider what he would choose if given the option to end the life of one grandchild...or 1000 African children. Is such a scenario ridiculous? Of course. And we don't pretend that we wouldn't have similar misgivings were one of our family members involved. The difference is...we know the misgivings are all part of the illusion, while he thinks they are real. He honestly believes his family is "more" valuable than others, even while he preaches the virtues of mindfulness. Think about that...