Being human is a pretty impossible task.
You could say it’s absurd.
On the one hand, we have got to act like what we do matters. If, that is, we are going to maintain any semblance of sanity.
On the other, we need to hold in our awareness the exact opposite: that our actions – our whole lives – do not really matter at all.Absurdism is the belief that all human experience is absurd. Your thoughts; your actions. All of it Click To Tweet
Absurdism is the belief that all human experience is absurd, regardless of what any human being does. None of our actions or thoughts prevent human experience from being absurd.
This post is about why regularly contemplating that fact is a good thing to do.
Why believing that everything is pointless is in fact, very sane
Perhaps you never feel that your life, work, or the way you spend time is pointless. Cool. Good for you.
Let’s peer into a day in the life of a professional who you could say is at the forefront of experiencing the futility of life: a physician that practices critical care medicine (an intensivist):
As an intensivist I live in the present. I try to get my critically ill patients through the day. I formulate treatment plans with foresight, but I know that setbacks occur in the care of such patients.
At the end of the day I hope that things have gone better than the day before. In effect, an intensivist cannot live anywhere but in the present, and in this ‘present’ I contemplate the effectiveness of my efforts, and at times the futility of these efforts that I struggle with on behalf of my patients and their families.
Perhaps you can see that without on some level a nod to the meaninglessness of his work, the physician would struggle indeed to be present.
He could flat out deny it (the meaninglessness), which would certainly entail a non-engagement with reality.
But if he is to be compassionate with himself and his existence, then there can be no option but to acknowledge the absurdity of his daily plight, and find a way to derive meaning anyway.
Wait – are you calling me absurd?
I’m not calling you absurd. That’d be rude.
We are absurd when we try to apply rules to an irrational universe, when we’d be better off accepting its inherent irrationality, and doing what we do regardless.It's not that humans are inherently absurd. It is our attempt to find meaning from the Universe Click To Tweet
The universe does what it wants, when it wants. Quantum theory has demonstrated this time and time again.
How is it useful to contemplate absurdity?
Just as there are benefits to contemplating your own mortality, dancing with absurdity:
- reduces stress. It is difficult to become too distressed about that lost case or unfortunate outcome of vote when we realize that we have no control over anything anyway.
- makes you easier to be around. For yourself, most importantly. Acknowledging absurdity fosters an upbeat, ‘can do’, ‘why not!’, kind of attitude.
- makes life more meaningful. Sounds counter-intuitive I know. I’ll explain more below.
- enables you to be present in the moment. Because you are spending less time feeling stressed and anxious.
- (according to Tim Ferris) helps you to be creative. This is probably due to channeling that low seriousness needed for play and creative pursuits.
- helps you to be more courageous and bold. Just ’cause you aren’t taking yourself too seriously.
How to actually contemplate absurdity
It is a practice. You will have already had fleeting moments of it. Perhaps you were driving in your car to work, or catching the bus, and you realized how ridiculous it all was!
Start small.Contemplating absurdity should reduce your stress levels and give you an immediate sense of release Click To Tweet
What about your day are you very serious about? Can you take a moment to appreciate the futility of it? Can you connect with that feeling while you’re doing it and go about it with a smile anyway?
You should feel an immediate sense of relief.
Okay, so it’s absurd to try to derive meaning from life – now what?
The grand-daddy of absurdism theory, Albert Camus, said that in response to the absurd, we have four options: escape, denial, engagement, and confrontation.
- Escape is suicide. If life is meaningless, why bother living? (This clearly isn’t an option).
- Denial entails denying the human condition through a life based on ‘having’: owning, possessing, manipulating, and controlling people. Through having, we grasp at security and certainty in an otherwise uncertain world. This clearly, is absurd.
- Engagement is where you engage the human condition through being: by our creations, our personal relationships, our spirituality, our sense of community, and our stand towards pain, suffering, and death. This is alright. But it is another form of escapism, really.
- That leaves us with rebellion. We confront the human condition and peacefully rebel against separation, meaninglessness, powerlessness, and death.
Just in case that wasn’t clear, rebellion is really the only palatable option.
How do we peacefully rebel against absurdism?
Rebellion, according to Camus, is to confront the human condition head on, to ‘face down’ separation, meaninglessness, powerlessness, and death.We must peacefully rebel against life absurdity; we need to face it off Click To Tweet
The rebel “confronts an order of things which oppresses him with the insistence on a kind of right not to be oppressed beyond the limit he can tolerate. It is those who know how to rebel at the appropriate moment, against history who really advance its interests.”
“Being aware of one’s life, one’s revolt, one’s freedom is living,” but “the point is to live.”
Camus proposed a three step process for revolting against the absurdity and meaninglessness of life.
First we have to acknowledge absurdity. Second, we need to accept the absurdity of the world. Third, we need to accomplish the revolt internally, because we cannot change the external circumstances of our fate.
In other words: we must change our minds. It is an act of rebellion (and heroism) to be happy while enduring your punishment.
Is it actually possible to live life from the absurd?
Can we accept a life without purpose and meaning and continue our existence?
It is less of an intellectual quagmire than you might think.
For me, since I started rolling with the idea that life is empty and meaningless, I have derived more meaning not less.
That is because I truly get to appreciate the power of the choice I make at the mind level in all of my actions.
I can chose my own experience, in every single minute.
Summary – absurdism just might change your life
In a nutshell, to experience moments of insignificance and absurdity liberates us from insidious life seriousness, and takes away the burden of accomplishing things we might not be able to accomplish.Experiencing moments of absurdity liberates us from life-seriousness Click To Tweet
Living out of the absurd is probably one of our best bets for avoiding stress and burnout.
And actually enjoying this crazy thing called life.