What Does It All Mean?
The question ‘What does it all mean?’ pops up when given sources of meaning no longer feel relevant. For many the problem never arises, they remain content with the life purpose laid out for them by the society in which they find themselves. But for those who come to feel these mores are lacking the result is existential crisis.
Objectively speaking we can view this sort of existential crisis as a sign of growth and maturity, as an inner call to action to decide upon a life path that is personally meaningful rather than continuing to mechanically follow a life path that has been laid out by the various institutions of power. But those in the midst of questioning the meaning of their lives usually don’t see it this way, they feel desperate and lost. Painful feelings of existential anxiety skyrocket due to no longer having those anchors and guideposts that held them down and showed them the way.
It’s this existential anxiety that makes those in the ‘What does it all mean?’ state of mind particularly vulnerable to charlatans and power brokers of all kinds. They’re desperate for an answer, any answer, that will make that existential anxiety go away. It’s an ironic situation. Their predicament came about in the first place due to no longer being okay with external sources of meaning.
The key is to grow comfortable with the discomfiting feeling of existential anxiety, to view the current state of affairs as a good thing despite the uncertainty because like we said, from the existential point of view leaving behind cultural mores to find a personally meaningful path is a clear sign of growth, something to be encouraged, not stamped out through quickly latching on to some new external source of meaning.
Thich Nhat Hanh says, “A teacher cannot give you truth. The truth is already in you.” We would add that there is not necessarily one truth because people are unique, they need different sets of circumstances to make their truths come alive. Discovering the meaning of life is discovering and actualizing personal meaning. This necessarily means questioning all of the traditional sources of meaning and rejecting many of them.