My Solution to the Meaning of Life

death heritage meaning of life

puzzleI promised last week to explain the epiphany that led me to make peace with my fear of death. It was based on the realization that I am connected to all of my ancestors. This is going to get deep, so bear with me.

So here's the explanation. Zooming out from my personal experience of life, I'm just one iteration of a genetic lineage. In fact, from a particular perspective, the real agent of this experience of existence is not me, Khaled, a human individual alive here and now, but rather the series of individual organisms connected by a genetic history. My self is simply the expression of a larger idea, the concept of lifeforms.

The metaphor that works well for me is that I'm just the crest of a wave. As time passes, the wave subsides and another crest mounts, but it never really ceases to exist.

Expanding on that, my genetic lineage is itself an expression of an even bigger idea: the universe. Since DNA is composed of the organization of chemicals which arise out of inanimate matter, if I look back far enough, I'm related to the rocks and the sun. So, zooming out a lot, I'm the manifestation in a particular time-space moment of the larger universe, a few notes in its epic symphony, but very much A PART of it.

Now, this may seem really abstract and difficult to see in an everyday context, except I was lucky enough to have some very visceral experiences demonstrating the reality of the connection I'm talking about. The first was my experience of instinctual trail running, which was the catalyst for this epiphany in the first place. The next took place when I was out on a barefoot walk with a friend who was talking about how we can sense so much about the forest without consciously realizing it, and how it's like a giant organism that we're a part of (this is Boulder, remember). Suddenly, that concept clicked with my newfound awareness of my instinctual heritage and I realized that, while my ego is an ephemeral thought bubble of the being that is life, my true self is much bigger and deeper than I have any conscious concept of, and is, in a very real sense, eternal.

Since then, I've had a few other concrete demonstrations that I'm not really an isolated self, but rather a part of something much bigger. A simple example was a few nights ago. I was lying in bed listening to crickets chirping, and I suddenly felt that a part of me was creating that insect song. In the same way your hand knows instinctively where the rest of your body is and can touch any part without you needing to see it, I was aware of the activities of the larger organism I'm a part of and could feel it singing.

It wasn't a transcendental experience. It was just a simple awareness: oh, the crickets-part-of-me/us are singing, or rather, I/we-that-are-expressed-as-crickets is singing.

This view has the ring of truth to me: complex, hard-to-grasp truth, but no less valid for being difficult to wrap my head around. So, based on that, I will continue to explore it's meaning for me personally.

Since then, I've had my fear return occasionally, but only as an echo of what it used to be, like a habit of fear rather than real fear. My mind goes to the place that brought on the terror, and so it reflexively convulses because it has in the past, but now I've seen behind the curtain and know what makes the illusion work, robbing it of its power.

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Photo credit: Tim RT on Flickr