Self as Meaning


In a public park in Changzhou, Jiangsu, China

Today’s photo was taken while I went on a walk to a rarely used canal side park here in Changzhou. There was a wildness to the area that seemed to invite me to undress and risk this photo, as well as a few others. Of course, this was a risky proposition as China is not exactly supportive of public nudity. So what does this say about me and my life at this time?

Life just “is.” Something inside me is always in search of meaning, personal meaning and meaning for the whole business of life as a species. I can’t buy into the thought system that there is no meaning, a thought system that holds that one breathes for a while and then there is nothing. This kind of thinking leads to the conclusion that there is no good or evil, no right or wrong – there is only being alive then not being alive and that is all.

“Both the diagnosis of the loss of meaning and the idea of the dire need of meaning (which come nicely together in Jung’s statement, we “cannot even get it into our heads that no myth will come to our aid although we have such urgent need of one” are nothing new. They had already been experienced and struggled with in different ways for at least one hundred years prior to Jung. The 19th century had not only discovered what was to become known under the catch-word “nihilism,” defined by Nietzsche as the lack of a goal, the lack of an answer to the “What for”; it had also desperately tried, in ever new utopian schemes, to provide a new, ultimate goal of life. (Giegerich, End of Meaning, page 1)

The loss of meaning seized me at an early age, while I was yet in high school, a junior student. Events in my home life, events that surrounded the issues of mother and father and family and relatedness to the world tilted my worldview to such an extent that I began to wander winter streets, lost. I was left with darkness and despair. I stood on a bridge looking over the dark flowing waters of a river and wondered what the point was of hanging around when everything I had held onto had turned into lies. Yet, in spite of the darkness and depression, something within me refused to quit so I walked on and began my own search for meaning. It was only days later, in the late winter morning when snow turns to slush, that I met a stranger who spoke one simple sentence before he disappeared into the crowds along the busy street -“You have to read Thus Spoke Zarathustra!” And so I turned to walk a different street in order to find this book in the library.

I then learned from Nietzsche and others that I was not alone with what I was thinking. This wasn’t about my being a dysfunctional person, some adolescent who slips into depression only to embrace suicide because there is nothing left that could or would anchor him in the world, something that would give meaning and purpose to staying. I knew that I was unique, especially in relation to those who I knew in the world, even though I was human and a young male, something not so unique. I knew that meaning for me would be, would have to be, something that came from within; not something that I would find somewhere “out there.”

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