I’m all about finding a variety of ways to help alleviate suffering and promote joy and clarity.

Buddhism has been the most suitable vehicle I’ve found for that so far, but there are many others; nihilism being one of them. Nihilism has been given a bad wrap over the years, and nihilists themselves are partly to blame for that.

In high school (a.k.a, a few centuries ago) an atheistic friend remarked while looking at the stars, “We’re so small and insignificant. The universe is long-lived and gigantic. We’re born, live and die in a few short years. It all seems so stupid, pointless, and insignificant.”

“Well that’s significant isn’t it?” I replied. “I mean, we’re so small and short-lived that we’re practically invisible in the grand scheme of things. It’s like we’re not even here at all. But, we are here. The fact that we’re alive and able to ponder such mind-boggling vastness is truly incredible, isn’t it?”

Her being 16 and feeling comfortable in her Everything Is Shit paradigm, she didn’t quite pick up what I was laying down. And that’s OK. Her getting it or not getting are equally inconsequential in the long run.

The only mistake she made was the same mistake everyone makes about nihilism: they don’t take it far enough, they don’t follow it to its surprisingly optimistic conclusion.

If nothing really matters, that means we’re free. Insignificance is quite a relief, isn’t it? Imagine Sisyphus pushing that boulder up the mountain over and over again for five thousand years and then someone saying to him, “Ya know, you don’t have to do that. It’s just gonna keep rolling back down, so why not let it be?”

We’re all pushing our own metaphorical boulders in life, we’re all reaching for that ever-elusive perfection in our jobs, relationships, and philosophies. This causes an astronomically ridiculous amount of suffering.

And for what? You’re just going to die and, in about a century or so, everything you did will be forgotten. Everyone who knew you, who survived you, will be dead and buried as well.

And those huge accomplishments or pivotal moments that have an irrevocable impact on the future? They’ll end someday as well. One day, the sun will swallow the earth and the universe will be devoured by super massive black holes. That’s one theory anyway. If it goes down like that, even the greatest achievements of humanity will slip into the void as well.

So why the fuck are you trying so hard?

Why not just take it easy and let things unfold naturally? When your greatest successes ultimately have the same value as your greatest failures, why get so frantically invested in the outcome?

It doesn’t matter if you win over that girl you’re infatuated with and spend the rest of your lives together; it doesn’t matter if that girl breaks your heart and airbrushes you out of her life. Time makes all things equal; space gives all things room to breathe.

Time and space are the Void. Time is change; that’s what the clock on the wall is measuring—the speed of impermanence. Time gives us everything we have—everything we are. If there were no such thing as time, then we could’ve never been born.

Time keeps us alive. Time saps the life out of beings and then we eat them to stay alive until, just like with our food, time takes our lives as well. Time changes depending on where you are in the universe and how fast you’re traveling. This means that even though everything’s impermanent, they aren’t impermanent in the same way.

If everything changed at the same rate, then it’d be impossible for us to even perceive things as changing at all. It’d be like two cars appearing motionless to each other as they move at the same speed in two different lanes.

Those lanes are important too, they’re the second half of the Void: space. Space gives us room to be, to roam and play. It gives us the ability to be ourselves. Space isn’t just Outer Space it’s, well, SPACE. There’s space everywhere; there’s space in around these words. There’s space around you right now, and space within you between your thoughts, feelings, breaths, and organs. There’s space in atoms.

The speed and mass of objects in space influence time, but space itself is uniform and unburdened by impermanence. Some theorists feel that, without matter, space-time itself would cease to exist. This is just utter nonsense.

If, prior to the Big Bang, there was no such thing as space-time, then how could the Big Bang have ever happened? There’d be no space for that infinitely dense singularity to erupt into, and there’d be no possibility for that singularity to change into the universe.

Space-time is the closest thing to a God that an atheist or agnostic could ever find.

It satisfies two of the three qualifications of monotheistic godhood: omnipotence and omnipresence. Space-time is present everywhere in, well, space. It’s omnipotent because it’s the fundamental source of all creation and destruction.

With all of this in mind, what’s so catastrophic about your problems? Sure, shit is shit and sometimes life takes a steaming dump on your chest, but who cares? You and that dump are equally insignificant. Isn’t that just a tiny bit relieving?

There’s a beauty to all of this, to this Void we find ourselves in, that we find ourselves part of. Even though we’ll never be perfect in any regard, the Void is perfect in that it’s infinite and eternal. By extension, everything that appears within it is also perfect just as it is—even when it’s not.

In a universe of constant change and limitless space, stagnancy is the only mortal sin.

Feet dug into the earth, eyes rooted in sky
Stars stretching out—pollen caught in sunbeams
When hopelessness grows reflective,
It radiates totality and shines that light
Into each benighted corner,
Until the darkness itself is aglow—
This is true joy.

 
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6 Comments

  1. The significance of life is personal. For every idea, circumstance and perception you can choose to seek some kind of pleasure or pain from it.
    It can be work trying to find something pleasant, and it can be work to make the effort to find something unpleasant. “The mind can make a heaven out of hell and a hell out of heaven!”, Paradise Lost
    People admire the rich and powerful and attribute their state to virtues. People despise the poor and the weak and blame them for their plight.
    If you write and your words are miserable, people won’t follow you let alone donate!

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    1. Smiling Nihilism is a column with a particular target audience in mind. No one message resonates with everyone, so I think it’s great to have a variety of views and approaches.

      Some people aren’t into positive thinking. Either their experiences or their biology prevents them from finding any appeal in uplifting affirmations. They’re realists, cynics, or materialists. I think that’s OK, who am I to turn them into people they aren’t? Clarity and joy are available on every path, I think – sometimes it just takes a little finangling.

      I don’t think there’s anything miserable about this post – or nihilism in general, really. It’s just about the facts of life. And just like you alluded to, it’s how we interpret those facts that matters. But unpleasantness does happen, even if that unpleasantness does depend on the mind’s interpretation of events. As a staunch nondualist, I don’t think it’s skillful to force that unpleasantness into something pleasant. Instead I advocate viewing unpleasant experiences from other angles, or taking the views formed from them a few steps further to their conclusion.

      As far as people admiring the rich and despising the poor, I’m not sure how that fits in with this post – must be your own train of thought wandering in from elsewhere.

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      1. Ah, gotcha. See the connection now. It took a little deliberation to decide whether to ask for donations or not, but I figured, “Why not?” My goal is to be able to write for a living, but I can’t sacrifice the things I’d like to write about to achieve that. If that means that goal is never actualized, then that’s fine too.

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