Trying to find meaning? Perhaps try harder, or not at all.

Meaning is not something that you can search for. It’s not a player of hide and seek, disguised under wraps somewhere, waiting to be unturned. It is not a location or an unmarked corner of the globe. It will not greet you as you disembark from a plane in a city four thousand miles away, or appear miraculously as you engage in something new. Meaning is not derived from singular events, and no matter how you may wish it so, meaning is not located behind door number two.

If we accept this as fact, and determine that meaning cannot be “discovered” like an island or a treasure map, we are left to wonder whether “searching” for meaning is, itself, a futile endeavor. Whether it is a waste of precious time to look for something that can’t actually be found. It’s a question certainly worth asking, for if we consider our greatest pursuit in life to be that of chasing an unanswerable question, we might conclude it wise to change course. However, abandoning our forever quest—”quitting” our mission in life—would be an uncomfortable and difficult task.

It would be unlike me to give up so easily on a journey that I, myself, have put a great deal of time and energy into understanding. While my school of thought around meaning and purpose has shifted, I have done anything but give up. I ask the same questions I always have (how can I best live a meaningful life?), but pursue the “answers” differently. I have loosened the reigns, and relinquished control. Instead of searching for meaning and waiting for epiphanies, I patiently accept that the whole story—from front to back—cannot be accurately interpreted through the reading of a few select chapters.

Like any good novel, the point of a book isn’t necessarily grasped by reading until the final word. Often, it’s only through time and reflection that we come to derive any meaning at all from a story. This does not mean that the story is unhelpful or ineffective in its presentation—to the contrary, it suggests that the story provided us with an unparalleled sense of depth and richness. The kind of richness that tastes delicious as it’s consumed, and requires time to fully digest.

I do not pretend to have all the answers, nor am I an expert on Understanding Life. I can only offer ideas for things I feel and know to be true. From my personal experience, I have come to recognize that meaning is derived from my commitments to people, places and things around me. This is vague, certainly, but intentionally so. Meaning, as I’ve come to understand, is multi-faceted, dynamic, evolving and strange. It is not squarely defined, nor can it be taught by way of bullet point-type advice. It is an open door, not a locked secret. “Finding” meaning is good, honest work, and such work requires patience and time.

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Why Not Being Liked On Facebook Doesn’t Necessarily Mean You’re Hated In Real Life.

In a recent study conducted by the Department of Psychological Affairs, it was determined that the amount of Facebook likes one receives in a day is inversely correlated to one’s real-life likability.

The study polled 3,000 Facebook users- all from varying socioeconomic statuses, ethnic and religious backgrounds– and found that the more popular the users were online, the more they were disliked in the real world.

Susan Sullivan of Plainview, New Hampshire, found this news particularly uplifting, as she has been liked a total of two times since opening her Facebook account some six years ago. “In all the years that I’ve had Facebook, I’ve been liked only twice. And those likes were mine.” She said that despite posting on a near regular basis things which she deemed ‘of cultural or intellectual interest,’ she never received any feedback. This lack of positive reinforcement began to take a toll on her a couple months back, as she noticed her self-esteem plummeting. She was considering therapy just days before the Department’s article was released.

“I feel such relief now, knowing that my popularity is not based on Facebook acceptance. It has opened up a world of opportunities for me, and I now feel so transformed. My self-worth is immeasurable!”

Unfortunately, the news comes as a deep blow to others. After reading the article, Kylie Devoe of Long Beach, California went into hiding. A tall, beautiful blonde known for her vivaciousness and voluptuousness, Kylie was never a stranger to Facebook likes. In fact, Kylie said that on average, she receives 112 likes for every single Facebook post.

When asked what her posts typically consist of, Kylie said she likes to share “whatever comes to mind,” namely, pictures of babies, boobs and small animals. Her popularity was so evident online, she was never given a reason to suspect that in the real world, people had a different perception of her.

As it turns out, in real life, people find Kylie to be terrible. When her colleagues/neighbors/former roommates/best friend/Mother were interviewed for this article, the consensus among them was astounding. “Kylie is the worst,” quoted Kylie’s Mother. “She is seriously terrible,” she went on to say.

After learning that Kylie was disliked in real life, Kylie has gone silent. She still posts on Facebook , but she no longer makes conversation in real life. When we contacted her for further comment, she refused to answer our calls.

Since having published the article, the Department of Psychological Affairs has seen an outcry of both support and condemnation from readers. While the disliked Facebookers are able to celebrate their victory as having ‘made it’ in the real world, popular Facebook ‘celebrities’ are crying about this highly publicized blow to their ego.

Just Another Fork In The Road

 

Two paths diverged in the woods. Luckily, I showed up early, and was able to walk down both. 

 

Finding Your Path 

 

Each day, we blindly follow through with familiar routines. We approach daily tasks and chores with an unquestioned obedience. We, the programmed collective, do as we’re told; all the more often, we simply do as we know.

We repeat familiar tasks tirelessly, and lay our heads down on fresh pillows after exhausting days. It’s only when we uproot ourselves from such familiar scenes that we discover life’s alternatives. That other ways of living are not only possible, but also plentiful.

The question is, where do you start? How do you even begin the process of choosing which kind of life you want to live? What kind of person you want to be? With any number of options available, the process of narrowing them down can feel overwhelming. But have no fear: you got this.

You start by making mistakes. You pursue your passions with a reckless obsession, and you don’t give up until you’ve failed. Twice. Maybe even a few times. You become a master of your own universe, and you begin each day by staring yourself in the mirror, proclaiming, “I’m a superstar!And you remind yourself that it’s not just your mom who thinks so.

You spend sufficient time learning what doesn’t work for you-what feels forced, unnatural, or coerced- and you cross those things/people/places/jobs off the list. You trust in your gut, and your gut guides you.

Over time, you begin to develop a groove. You find yourself naturally drifting in a particular direction, signaling that your focus is being born. Sometimes, the current of mental adjustment is slow, causing what can feel like a meandering way forward. Other times, though, the current pulls you hard and fast in a specific direction. If this pull is consistent and strong, allow yourself to surrender to its pulls. This is your instinct guiding you in the right direction for you.

 

Simply Speaking

 

Yes You Can

 

You should be a yes person. You should try things, repeatedly, and note down your reactions. Put yourself in sweaty, trying environments-soak in the sticky tub of discomfort-and struggle. Once you’ve successfully pushed your own boundaries, pat yourself on the back for a job well done. Perhaps even shout, “Holy shit! Yes!” at the tippy top of your lungs, just because you can. Feel proud that your ordinary self (Mistress of Mediocre; Captain of Clumsy) survived the seemingly impossible.

 

Like So

 

I keep returning back to the Fijian proverb: “Life is like this: Sometimes sun, sometimes rain.” The saying is so true; it hurts. Power exists within succinct dichotomies, which suggest that the world’s blessed wonders and horrific hellholes can often be understood in astonishingly simple ways. One day might be terrific while the next day is terrible. The trick to tackling life is to stay afloat. Even if all you’ve got is a dollar store life raft. As they say, “Make the most of what you’ve got.”

Small Town Syndrome

 

The Everyone Knows Everything Syndrome is in full summer swing. Can’t go anywhere without someone mentioning a thing they heard, (word of mouth), or worse, a thing they saw, (Facebook post), and want to know if you have heard or seen the same. You have, of course, because even you- Tiny House Builder & Anti-Tech Advocate!- can’t avoid the social media garden your neighbors continuously choose to water.

 

So, you most regrettably find yourself in the uncomfortable position of saying, “Yes, I know exactly what you’re referring to,” which is precisely the response to further validate their concerns and perpetuate links on their gossip chain.

 

Of course, you don’t want to participate in such mentally draining dialogue, but what other choice do you have? Chances are, your neighbor is entirely uninterested in stoking your intellectual fires, and probably finds your ‘highbrow’ tastes largely hypocritical. After all, you, too, are a Facebook user and reality TV watcher. Nevertheless, it’s clear you would never take her opinion to heart. No way. Not a chance.

 

You indulge each other’s narratives in nearly identical ways. You wax lyrical about the town’s teen pregnancy problem- it’s a damn shame- and the brand new theater that’s coming soon-stadium seating and unlimited buttered popcorn!- knowing that each word exchanged is more excruciating than the next. The conversation is tough, yes, but it’s like an addiction; as you remain guarded behind polite, calm expressions, you keep coming back for more.

Volunteering Could Save Your Life. It Could Also Kill You.

My Near Death Experience With An Environmentalist.

The novelty is no longer. It now feels like old news.

The kangaroos, once affectionately nicknamed ’roos,’ are now strictly referred to as pests. And scoundrels.

The flies, having once sailed through the air like careful whispers, have since morphed into horrible and irritating insects. May the entire species of fly be eradicated at once!

I want to find joy in playing with barbed wire, but I simply can’t. I beg myself to look at the bright side-  appreciate the experience for experience sake– but my adult mind refuses to be tricked by child-like coercion. My task for the afternoon is two-fold: remove rusty staples from termite-infested posts, and then roll up sheets of barbed wire into something that resembles the world’s most treacherous sleeping bag. No matter how you spin it, today is going to suck.

I find that when I’m most eager for a day’s end, my eye keeps a close watch on the time. We’re given permission to break for lunch around 1:00 PM, but I couldn’t be less excited to eat. I’ve packed myself a fried egg and iceberg sandwich for lunch, along with a side of expired string cheese. I didn’t buy the groceries, but you can be sure I’m going to have a word with whomever did.

I’m surprised by the slight shift in my attitude post-lunch. I’m feeling mildly refreshed! The group and I head back to the worksite, and I begin free-styling about bush fires (a very real threat in Australia, to be clear). I’m mid-verse when I spot what appears to be a slithering black hose near my left foot.

My mind races back to outback orientation, to the time when I was taught the importance of staying clam in emergency situations. I think about this lesson, but when I open my  mouth to say ‘nobody move,’ I accidentally scream instead.

“Snake!!!” I yell, my voice piercing through the park.

The group looks over at me, startled. Suddenly, not one but seven girls are screaming and running for their lives.

Rick, our conservation leader (and resident wildlife expert) sees us frantically losing our shit, and pleads with us to calm down.

“Ladies!” Rick yells, “Please. Nobody move. Everybody keep your voices down. The snake is frightened of you, so you just need to keep still and he’ll go away.”

We calm down a bit, and tiptoe away for the cheeky bugger. I provide particularly helpful commentary by noting that the snake was ‘really huge’ and ‘seriously so close to my leg.’ Rick tells us that what we just spotted was a red-bellied black snake, one of Australia’s most poisonous.

“Hooray!” I shout, as I walk timidly back to the barbed wire. This day might actually be my last.

To Declare, Or Not To Declare: A Customs Conundrum

This is a true story about one girl’s heroic attempt to save a banana from the Australian government.

Herded like duty-free cattle through a queue, we await the frown-faced customs official who will decide our fate. Grant us permission to explore the beauty of the outback, dive the splendorous Great Barrier Reef, road trip along the west coast, or…send us back to where we came from.

As I weave my way through roped off corridors, the fear within me intensifies. I’m scared of the upcoming interrogation. I’m nervous for the questions I’ll be asked, and for those I’m unable to answer. I fear that they’ll search my bag’s contents, and discover the ripened truth that lies inside.  I’m terrified they’ll find my banana.

I cannot bear to face the consequences! What if after such a tiresome journey, I am turned back and sent away? I contemplate the conversation in my head. Consider just how I’ll choose to defend my potassium-rich produce. I want to promise that the fresh fruit will not taint Australia- that it remains untouched by chemicals and/or terrorist threats- but I’m uncertain that my words will truly be heard or trusted. After all, just look at me. I’m a backpacker, disheveled in appearance and overdue for a shower. I can’t be trusted.

Finally, it’s my turn. I approach the customs counter, trying my best to keep composed. Eyes darting between my passport photo and me, the official keeps a close watch- she’s desperate for discrepancies. For a moment, she stares silently at my photo, doubting that twenty-year-old “college” me could be the same girl who stands before her now. After a few minutes, she confirms the facts. She concludes that while I’m slightly less hippie than the days of yore, my eyes are still hazel, and I haven’t grown an inch. She believes that I’m me! Excellent. I might be safe after all.  

She begins scanning the back of my customs form. For each good that is listed, I’ve declared a bold and emphatic no. She reaches the bottom of the form, and a check in the wrong box catches her eye. Honestly and foolishly, I’ve declared a single good.

“What fruit are you declaring?” she asks, intrigued.

“One banana,” I stammer, “Just one.”

I don’t know why I’ve quantified the banana. In doing so, I appear all the more devious. She is concerned not with the amount of bananas I harbor, but with banana-harboring, itself.

“Anything else?” she asks, eyeing my tattered backpack.

I ponder this question. If I tell someone a partial truth, does that make me an honest person?

It’s true that I have a banana in my bag, but that’s not exactly the full story. Actually, I have an assortment of goodies, including (but not limited to): two granola bars, one bag of grapes, and half a kilo of dried fruits and nuts.

In everyday life, food items would not embarrass me. Ordinarily, such on-the-go healthy eats are commendable, but here- in this peculiar customs world-such items are criminal. Next time, should I consider chips?!

“Ma’am?” she asks, interrupting my train of thought, “Do you have anything else you’d like to declare?”

I take a deep breath and shriek, “I said just one banana!!”

She gives me a look that resembles that of a disappointed parent, and proceeds to stamp my form. I. Am. Cleared.

At this point, one might suspect that I’m celebrating. I should be high-fiving myself for not spending twenty bucks at the airport on “survival snacks,” but instead, I’m left feeling uneasy. My partial truth feels like a downright lie, and I contemplate my being a terrible person.

I spend the next ninety seconds sulking in a corner of cry. I shed some tears before remembering something that cheers me up- I have snacks! Oblivious to my place and proximity to the customs queue, I pull out my bag of undeclared deliciousness, and munch away furiously and excitedly. Mmm. That’s better.