There has been an interesting discussion about the meaning of life in Geminispace. It all started with acdw’s post, two days ago: “I’m having a hard time finding meaning in my life of late. I want to make money but I really don’t want to do a job all day. Like, any job.” Yesterday, maleza wrote a reply and said, “Today I can only find meaning into feeding kefir, baking sour dough bread, taking care of crops, hugging my family…”
I talked it over with my wife over breakfast on our balcony, with some self-made bread, the sun shining, a cool breeze, bees and bumblebees visiting the flowers in our pots, drinking some white tea. Such a beautiful day.
An important of this is part time work. After two years of work, I was ready to quit. But then I got the opportunity to teach for two winter semesters for one day per week and during the summer semesters I took Fridays off. When I left the position, I decided to stay at 80%. A few years later, when the company said they wouldn’t give me a raise but was there anything else they could do for me, I said I wanted to work less. I try to take all this unpaid time and my holidays in a big block in summer. A seventeen week summer break, and a few days around the holiday season.
It costs thousands of dollars in lost opportunity costs, in the capitalist mindset, but fuck that shit. You can’t take money to the next life, and your kids aren’t going to love you more when you’re dead and left them more money. Then again, I have no kids, so what do I know.
One the whole, this arrangement has been very good for me. It also leads to a big yearly mood and activity cycle, though. We already have the cycle of seasons: eight hours of sunlight in winter vs. 16 hours of sunlight in summer, warm with temperatures between 20°C and 30°C in summer and temperatures around 0°C in winter, endless grey skies and rain in autumn, glaring sunlight in spring. And now my work cycle goes along with that.
In winter I feel down, stretched thin, trampled over by Moloch and Mammon. In spring I start to take notes, start making plans. In summer, holidays begin and I fall into a hole, what am I going to do? After one or two weeks, my soul starts to blossom, unfold its leaves, make contact with the sun, drink from the fountain of life, I want to make music, paint, code, do all the things. In autumn, the sky darkens and the shadow of work comes back. Time to shrink, to fit into that box, to live in those precious hours around dinner. And so it goes.
Sure, work can be fun. I laugh and joke, I work, drink coffee, have lunch, do meetings, write code, I like my coworkers, I usually like our clients. I want to help them all, I love it when plans come together. I also hate it when I feel that we’re being treated unfairly, I hate the open plan offices and the lousy excuses we’re being offered, the need for headphones. I hate all the unfairness about salaries, dividends, unpaid overtime, even if I feel I’m doing fine. I think the problem is that it doesn’t feel real. It’s an elaborate game I need to play. I wear my mask, I play that role, and it sucks my energy. I get home and I’m tired.
I try to walk to work and back. It takes me about forty minutes. That’s because I appreciate the opportunity to slowly change into and back out of my role. I used to joke that my soul travels about as fast as I can walk. If I take the train or the tram, I come home and need half an hour of quiet time on the sofa to change. Work is draining.
I love programming as a hobby but not my job. I do my job for the money and managed to find a niche where I can work part time, but we also live in a small flat, we have no house, we have no kids, we have no car. And yet, all time off also allows me to still pursue programming as a hobby. I hardly know anybody at the office programming in their time off. Sometimes I get the feeling that I’m the only one at work enthusiastic about programming to actually do it for the love of it. And yet, this is the game: the expectation is that we all tell each other how we love the job. It’s true, I’m not quitting. I like my coworkers and my clients. But I do it for the money. Without the money, I wouldn’t be doing it. Isn’t that proof enough? If we do it for the money, then it’s not love.
So, coming back to the question of meaning. I think it should be obvious by now that the meaning of life cannot be found in the work we do. I suspect that even if you’re working for doctors without borders, you think your life has meaning, and you do the thing, but you’re also haunted by the terror of life on earth, the injustice of it all, the randomness of fate, the never ending charnel house of the reality we’ve created for ourselves, humans all.
What is it, then? Does the question have an answer? I say it does not. But you’re a human, and humans are equipped with a body optimised for a monkey life, and therefore the things we enjoy are the things our monkey nature enjoys, and we can lose ourselves in life. When we do, the question has no meaning. Who cares if it has meaning if you’re in the flow? Yeah, this is where all the words turn out to say the same thing maleza said in the pithy words quoted in the first paragraph. To live your life making food, growing food, with friends and family, making and building things, talking and laughing, playing and looking, seeing other humans, seeing the world, the mountains and flowers, the forest, the ground, to simply focus on our senses, the smells, the sights. This is why I love to run in the forests and mountains.
In a way, it’s that endless texture of life that captivates me. The world of forests and branches and leaves and light falling through and dancing on the floor, needles, mushrooms, pebbles, grass, flowers, bushes, the wind in our face, the air we breathe, our partners, if you’re in the flow it is intoxicating and the question of meaning simply disappears. It has been answered by the life you live, not by the words you say.
Oh well, I guess I’ve been writing about this for a long time.