I’ve been toying with nihilism quite a bit as of late. Ecclesiastes’ author has become my friend. I start with everything is meaningless and then build from there my own sets of meaning that I hold to by faith. This can be freeing, but at the same time isolating. What is more lonely than only finding meaningful what you have deemed for yourself as meaningful, and everything else meaningless? Despair comes when you believe in your own beliefs of meaning and meaninglessness to be the only legitimate way you derive meaning.
I haven’t stayed too long or gone to deep into nihilism precisely because of how depressing it is, and I don’t know what to do with depression. It isn’t a state of mind I’m very familiar with, and I tend to be quite the optimist. So while I’ve been able to recognize the likely meaninglessness of everything, it never comes without the equally plausible reality that everything is meaningful. And if everything is meaningful, then there is endless opportunity and growth in uncovering and discovering this meaning.
Even terms like meaning and meaninglessness may not always be helpful, but I cannot deny the deep resonance that I have with what they imply. I cannot stare at mountains and waterfalls and sunsets and babies and oceans and friends and animals and stars and call the world void. I am drawn into beauty and mystery and love and it humbles me to accept that I would be foolish to dismiss all of life to the limits of my understanding.
James Shelley wrote this a few days ago, and it beautifully articulates my journey from nihilism back into wonder.
Only an eye so foolish to claim that it has seen everything can claim there is nothing worth being seen.
Despair is certainty. Absolute certainty. Certainty that you have apprehended the universe in its entirety and found existence wanting.
Despair is a destructive self-delusion — the foolish conclusion that you have perceived the whole of everything. Hopelessness is the inability to see any possibility beyond the horizon, yes, but who are you to project your own blindness onto the cosmos? Who are you, ant, to profess such omniscience?
How did you reach this all-encompassing certitude? When did you decide that your knowledge reckoned and beheld the totality of all things? Congratulations on your laughable achievement.
When, my mind, did you assert your claim to infinity?
Depression, a disease — yes! The disease of certainty; a malignant growth of self-assured confidence. There is nothing for you, you say? Ah, tell me about this time you gazed upon the sum of omneity and justified your declaration!
What is hope, if not the conscious, humble acknowledgement that everything you perceive and contemplate is but a sliver of what is? How foolish, indeed, to project your fractional perspective onto everything you have yet to see and examine.
If despair be the disease, curiosity be the cure. Doubt, self-doubt, is the antidote. Be suspicious, mind, of your despair: for only an eye so foolish to claim that it has seen everything can claim that there is nothing worth being seen.