Life as a game of chasing carrots.
Imagine life as a game. The aim of the game is to catch the carrot that dangles in front of your nose.
Imagine you as a participant in this game. You are hungry, driven, a real go-getter. Since the carrot is just out of your reach, you chase after it, trying to snatch it.
Sometimes you catch it, sometimes you don’t.
Occasionally, if you run fast enough and with some luck, you catch the carrot. You eat the damn carrot. It tastes delicious and it briefly satisfies your hunger. But before you finish eating, another carrot appears before your nose so you begin to chase after that one. This time, you run a little faster because this carrot seems a little bigger and looks more delicious than the last. You run and run until you are exhausted. The carrot disappears. Bummer. No matter though, because another carrot appears in front of your nose and with some persistence and luck, you manage to catch this one. There is a party in your mouth. While eating, another carrot appears before your nose, this one slightly bigger than the last…
Life is empty and meaningless.
Life is but a series of attempts (successes and failures) to catch the carrots that dangle in front of your nose. Often, you are tossing up between chasing after one carrot or the other, but you do not pause to think about why you are chasing after the carrots in the first place. Society whispers in your ear from the moment that you were born that carrot-catching is a worthwhile and fruitful exercise. And so you begin to chase after them. Besides, everyone else is busy chasing carrots so you don’t want to miss out. You spend your entire life chasing carrots until the day you die.
Sooner or later, you too, will be forgotten.
Thereupon, all the carrots that you caught, ate or collected, will soon be forgotten by the carrot-catchers that came after you. Maybe one year from now, if you were a particularly pathetic carrot-catcher. Nobody commemorates the terrible one’s.
But what about the greatest of all carrot-catchers? You ask. Surely everyone will remember them? But they too, will be forgotten. Maybe 100 years from now, maybe 1,000 years from now. Sooner or later, even the greatest of the great will be erased from the history books, a speck of dust disappearing in to the grand cosmos.
If life is empty and meaningless, then why bother doing anything at all?
“If all will eventually be forgotten, then why bother doing anything at all?” I asked my mentor. “Why don’t we all just sit like monks and do nothing until the day we die? Sure, it sounds a bit depressing but it’s logical, no?”
It is empty and meaningless that it is empty and meaningless.
To which she replied, “So go sit and do nothing, and see how it feels.”
Then, she taught me something profound. She said, “I didn’t say that life is meaningless and sad. I said life is empty and meaningless. And it is empty and meaningless that it is empty and meaningless.”
In that moment, it sunk in. I understood. It is neither good nor bad that our lives are without meaning. What I initially understood “life is empty and meaningless” to mean is that life is not worth living. I do nothing anymore because nothing is worthwhile, because nothing will satisfy and we are all useless specks of dusk in the universe. But of course, that is but one possible interpretation of “life is empty and meaningless”. An alternative interpretation could be that life is extraordinary because from this space of emptiness, you can create any meaning for yourself and the people around you!
From this place of emptiness, comes power and freedom.
Humans are meaning-generating machines. We can’t help but attribute meaning to anything and everything. A life without meaning is near impossible to imagine. It can be a hard pill to swallow that ultimately our lives amount to no great purpose. We are not special and we were not put on earth to fulfil some monumental mission. But, the sooner we can own up to that, the sooner we can be free. There is tremendous freedom and joy to be found in this fountain of emptiness, anything is possible and you can do anything. Free to be. Free to act.
What do I make of all this non-sense?
The moment I realised what my mentor was trying to say, I understood two things.
First, there is no reason to give ourselves an enormous amount of importance. The meaninglessness of it all acts as a reminder to not take life too seriously. I am neither that important nor much happens when I’m not doing the things I feel I ought to be doing. The world carries on just fine. In fact, purposefully wasting time is an absurdly wonderful thing to do to remind ourselves to not take ourselves too seriously.
Second, if life has no grand purpose, the question naturally turns to “what do I do and how should I spend my time?” Out of all the carrots, which one’s do I really want to chase after? Do I want to chase after carrots in the first place? The more I thought about it, the more the answer gravitated towards: do more of the things you love, do more of what makes you happy and to seek experiences and share them with people. It’s not about nothingness. It’s not about worthlessness. It’s about doing, then being able to reflect and be happy about the things you’ve done and the way that you’ve spent your time.
What is the meaning of life? It is not our question to ask. It is we who are being asked of the question. It’s our lives that are the answer. From this place of emptiness with no meaning, lies the power to do anything. So the only question is, what do you want to do?