There comes a time in life when our routines and the things others have told us about what is important in life and what we should strive for are thrown into question. In this moment, we face a purposeless, meaningless void. What do we do?
One option is to ignore the void, to escape it by turning to our previous routines, received messages, or escaping into our various favourite escapes, be they drugs, alcohol, sex, fantasy, MMORPGs, or purposeless shopping. But this strategy proves self-defeating; the time comes when we face the void again. The problem remains. Ignoring it proves unsatisfactory.
Another option is to despair, to believe that everything we have done and human life itself has no meaning or purpose and can have no meaning or purpose. If we choose this option, though, we cut off the very possibility that we might be wrong, that there might be some way of giving our life purpose and finding fulfillment after all.
A third option is not to run or fall, but stand and face the void head on. We can even go further than this; we can walk right into it and confront its most extreme implications and suggestions for our life. Then we can reflect. We can think about what we want and why we want out of life. We can think about what we enjoy and why we enjoy it, what is truly important in life and why it is so. We can think of actions and lifestyles and consider their benefits and disadvantages. We can think about the problem of suffering itself and its roots in craving, aversion and ignorance. We can think about alternatives open to us; is this idea of a life based on trying to “win” or endlessly acquire things really worthwhile? We can think about alternatives and we can experiment.
If the void comes up again, we can face it again in light of our new knowledge and experience. Addressed in this way, the void that could destroy us becomes our teacher, our strengthening fire, our test of authenticity.
We should not face the void of meaninglessness once and for all, but square on each time it arises to confront us. The work of reflection is never through, but it is not a mere cycle; we build on previous insights, actions, understandings and experience as we move forward. Reflection deepens itself and moves us beyond shallowness and superficiality into something truly meaningful and purposeful– a fulfilling life.