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Escaping the Trap of Meaninglessness

young girl staring into nihilistic void
Daniel Conway @ArtofConway on X

Meaninglessness appears on both the philosophical and spiritual path, and—if we get stuck there—it can be devastating.

How we confront and escape this trap is an important question for anyone seriously on the journey of self-discovery and for our civilization in general. The philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche wrote that how humanity responds to the challenge of nihilism (i.e., meaninglessness) will determine the character of our species. And I believe he's right.

I think the most dangerous thing about nihilism is that most people don't even realize that that's what they're up against.

It is the sneaking suspicion that, no matter how much you do, how successful you are, or how high you climb, in the end it will all be for nothing in the end. This is not a misperception or a chemical imbalance in the brain. This is an accurate apprehension of the ground of being itself.

The knee-jerk reaction most of us have is to "fill the void:" become more wealthy, more famous, more amazing. This is the fundamental logic of our civilization today. And it works—temporarily. We can keep this up for a while, but at some point, we realize that the void is never filled. It's a hole with no bottom. And our despair and terror grow as the ego realizes that there is no way out of the trap.

At this point, there is a real risk of suicide as the ego sees no way out of the trap of existence. Even love, family, connection, accomplishing amazing things, meeting amazing people—if you try to hold on to any of it with any expectation of permanence, it will all slip away.

The only real response to this existential plight is letting go of our expectation for meaning, certainty, significance, or permanence. 

In other words, we must let go of everything.

This is what "waking up" to nonduality is about. And it is the only permanent response to nihilism. We stop trying to run from nothingness or deny it and instead, we let go and fall into it. In other words, we accept defeat.

This is the defeat of the ego and its impossible task of trying to hold onto a permanent meaning or identity in the face of eternity. And what emerges on the other side of the ego's "death" is the recognition that (lowercase) nothingness is actually (uppercase) Nothingness. The fact that no one thing has any more meaning than anything else transforms into: "everything is the most meaningful thing there could be." The fact that there's nothing right or wrong transforms into the great Freedom of existence.

As Adyashanti writes: "From an awakened point of view, to say there is no meaning and no purpose is tremendously positive. And it is positive because one has found something better than meaning and purpose. One has actually awakened as the very essence of existence itself. What could have more meaning than that? What could have more purpose than that?"

This "flip" as some people describe it, isn't a one-and-done. After it dies, the ego tries to reestablish itself, again and again. Often, this shows up when we try to use this newfound realization as a handhold for personal superiority: showing others that we are one-up on them because we have seen through the veil. But that is simply not true. There is nowhere to stand. Nothing to make us "better" or "worse" than anyone else. Not really.

The best we can do is allow our ego to serve its purpose lightly: help us navigate as a human animal in the human world, and the whole time being like a clean window: letting the sun shine through us to fill our home with light.

More Help:

If you're struggling with meaninglessness in your life, it is not an easy thing to face on your own. Often times, the best thing to do isn't to dive headlong into spiritual work but to address some of the basic foundations of our emotional and mental wellbeing: self-esteem, connection with others, good sleep and self-care.

If you're interested in getting help navigating either personal or deep spiritual emptiness, schedule a consult to learn how I can help: — Schedule a Consult.

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