the meaning of life

My father took the train down from Vancouver to visit me last week. We spent a few days in Portland and a few days here in Eugene, including a spectacular trip to Honeyman State Park on the last balmy day in September.

We walked across the dunes to the ocean and back, talked a lot and swam in a perfect, sandy-bottomed blue lake. What an amazing day. I can’t believe I’ve been living so close to the dunes all summer and hadn’t been! Thanks for visiting, Papa.

At the end of this month, Nathen and I will be packing up, renting a trailer and moving down to Joshua Tree to live near our new nephew and the Lesters. Here’s some of the things I’m excited about:

• Making our first home together and figuring out what our lives are going to be like
• Fixing up a 70s Kenskill travel trailer to live in
• Spending lots of time with the baby
• Being a mere two hours drive from the textile stores in the LA garment district (!!!)
• Finding a place to have our wedding and starting to plan
• Outdoor movie nights with the projector
• Rock climbing in the park
• Fresh goats milk
• Sunshine

Existential psychotherapist (and the author of Lying on the Couch, When Nietzsche Wept, and The Schopenhauer Cure) Irvin Yalom suggests that humans face five existential factors that play a large role in our lives and in the success of psychotherapy. This is how he describes them in The Theory and Practice of Group Psychotherapy, on page 98:

1. Recognizing that life is at times unfair and unjust

2. Recognizing that ultimately there is no escape from some of life’s  pain or from death

3. Recognizing that no matter how close I get to other people, I must still face life alone

4. Facing the basic issues of my life and eath, and thus living my life more honestly and being less caught up in trivialities

5. Learning that I must take ultimate responsibility for the way I live my life no matter how much guidance and support I get from others

My favorite answer to the question, “What is the meaning of life?” came from my friend, Taber Shadburne seven or eight years ago. He said that it’s a misleading question because we think of meaning as existing in language, so we imagine that the meaning of life will have a narrative, a set of values, a statement about the nature of reality. We expect mental games to do something that they just can’t do. The meaning of life, he said, is more like the meaning of skiing. If you ask yourself, “What is the meaning of skiing?” you see that you can’t answer that question with language. Instead, the meaning of skiing is something like this: He jumped up on a nearby bench, crouched into a skier stance with a delighted, slightly terrified look on his face, and shouted “Woohoo!”

The meaning of life is kind of like that.

Here’s Taber playing one of his songs: