Every now and then, I catch myself in deep thought about life, pondering endlessly about how, as a conscious being, I’m able to be conscious. This paradigm of “thinking-about-thinking” is mentally onerous, and it’s what separates us from every other species, but people often opt out of questioning such uncharted thought-territories. Humans, being sentient and inquisitive, are afraid of not knowing what’s to come, or rather, what’s to come when we cease to exist. Life, transient as it is, has an expiration date to which we all generally turn a blind eye. Life happens, through the grace of non-random chance bestowed upon us ever since the explosion of the Big Bang some 13.8 billion years ago. In the eyes of the cosmos, we’re of no more consequence to existence than a sand grain is to the Sahara desert. But, remarkably, we find significance in the small things that keep us motivated and striving. Truth is: billions of humans have perished—it’s inevitable, but that doesn’t make life any less meaningful; it makes it more meaningful because you have only one shot to make the best of it. The hackneyed axiom,“You only live once” is rightly accurate and we must endure the fact that none of this lasts forever.
The more we try to wonder about the great questions of life, the less accepting we become of the most undesirable outcome. But humans seem to be the only species that can fathom such philosophical scenarios, which, of course, is why we dominate the planet. Possessing the ability to understand the true nature of our position in the forest of planets makes us that more special. Some things we will never know and the unknown is not only mystifying, but also terrifying. Obtaining profound answers is our prerogative to keep us on track. We are pattern-seeking animals who got this way through our ancestors’ mode of survival in the past, but sometimes we invoke imaginary things as the cause of such nonsensical patterns because we want consequential meaning for what we do; continuing on devoid of it makes life a bit worthless and unappetizing. In terms of thinking, we are confined to our brain, which is constantly being tampered with by pernicious toxins. The more battered our brain gets, the more we try to fill gaps for answers without thinking logically and open-mindedly. Eschewing arcane questions leads to less worrying, but ultimately it may delay our chances of enriching our lives.
One of the things that make us stand out, as an essentially newborn species, is what they call “intentionality”: being able to reflect on one’s own state of mind and desires. These intentions have orders and increase with expansive thought processes. Leonard Mlodinow writes in his brilliant book Subliminal,“…I want a bite of my mother’s pot roast– is called “first-order intentional.” Most mammals fit in that category. But knowing about yourself is a far different skill than knowing about someone else. A second-order intentional organism is one that can form a belief about someone else’s state of mind, as in I believe my son wants a bite of my pot roast…third-order intentionality takes you a step further, reasoning about what a person thinks a second person thinks, as in I believe my mom thinks that my son wants a bite of her pot roast.” This is how we’re more advanced than all other animals on earth, and I’ve noticed that the further you go in the route of intentionality, the better you are socially.
Death is grim. The bleak mystery that most of us are left with after a loved one is gone creates a sense of unprecedented anxiety; bewildered with a blinkered view of where they may be as a soul or a reincarnate body. This is why I think it’s crucial to remind ourselves daily about the rarity of existence: Life itself happened to find its way out of the debris of the universe and here you are, thinking–whether rationally or irrationally, you can still muster up the audacity to question and deduce most things. Although our minds may sometimes trick us, we can honestly say that we’ve come a long way since single-celled organisms. When bereaved families are left, seemingly hopeless and in despair, it’s hard to assuage grief without thinking the deceased has gone onto a better place. Sorrow and anguish are just as painful as physical torment, so it’s understandable why people would mollify these dreadful feelings by providing tenuous succor. In my estimation, after we die we simply drift back to the abyss of nothingness, just as we were before we were born. I know it sounds too simple, and distasteful, but there’s no sort of evidence or reason to convince me otherwise. But still, no one really knows what happens when the curtains close. That’s why, day in and day out, I take it upon myself to recognize the grandiosity of our brief existence. People are entitled to their own opinions about the afterlife, but your view should propel you to relish every living second in this dimension. Waiting for “the next life” to redeem yourself is unjustifiable, futile, and inhumane to yourself.
In the end, our brief moment in the sun has profound ramifications. We leave behind noble examples and emboldening ways to strengthen those we had any effect on. We exist for but a blink of an eye, but our impact can last for eons. When you’re overwhelmed with deep, pensive thoughts, just sit back and be grateful for being able to actually be grateful. There are billions of people who will never get the chance to exist; I find this pertinent and uplifting. It creates awareness and exuberance throughout life; happily skipping through every endeavor rather than gingerly tip-toeing through the unknown. We’re comprised of a multitude of emotions with love being the most salient of those emotions, and anything that makes us feel better, we will willingly seek out. It can be truly transformative to step outside of your body for a second and witness what’s happening in all places around you. Our insignificance makes us significant, what else would it do…?