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There Is No Secret Ingredient

“The meaning of life is to give life meaning.”
Viktor Frankl.

In 1946, Viktor Frankl—a Holocaust survivor and an Austrian neurologist and psychiatrist—wrote his seminal book, “Man’s Search for Meaning.” Frankl wrote the book over the course of nine consecutive days, with the original intention of publishing it anonymously, but upon his friends’ insistent advice, he added his name in the last minute. In the introduction to the 1992 edition, in reflecting upon the millions of copies sold in the half-century since the original publication, Frankl pointed out:
In the first place I do not at all see in the bestseller status of my book an achievement and accomplishment on my part but rather an expression of the misery of our time: if hundreds of thousands of people reach out for a book whose very title promises to deal with the question of a meaning to life, it must be a question that burns under their fingernails.”

If hundreds of thousands of people are looking for an answer, the question must be one that…burns under our fingernails.
So…
What’s the secret ingredient?

Have you ever made Kool-Aid? It’s pretty straightforward, add the Kool-Aid mix to water and stir. But what makes Kool-Aid Kool-Aid, and not the generic stuff? Can you taste the difference between the two? What does that mean if you can? What does that mean if you can’t?
What makes the Kool-Aid Man, the Kool-Aid Man?

kool aid

Some of you have seen this photo circulating the internet recently. And from a philosophical standpoint, this is actually a great and simple introduction to the differences between physicalism (or materialism): that is, he’s “the jar”; spiritualism (essentialism, essence): he’s “the liquid”; or dualism: he’s both.

What about you. What are you?
Is that the same as asking, “Who are you?”

Think about yourself presently. What thought occurs? A description? Perhaps you’re thinking of your reflection in a mirror.
Is the thing that you are thinking about called “myself [yourself]” limited? That is, a limited form? Or is it boundless?
Is it stable? Or unstable?
Ordered? Or chaotic?

Is there completion? Or infinite possibility?

When you look in a mirror, is that you?

More than that, does your mirror image of “you” portray anything of the you beyond the reflection? Your thoughts, your hopes, your emotions? Do all the words you currently know do justice to describing the thing that is “you”? Or is the gap between your linguistic description of “you” and the “you” you truly are, something that seems…nontranscendable?

You see, the image in the mirror is—by necessity—far more one dimensional than the entity that beholds it (you!).

Jacques Lacan came to the conclusion that we cannot—truly, nor fully—describe us, describe ourselves; both personally and collectively. However this is not a personal failing, but an existential truth.

You are so much more than you could ever describe, or be described.

…So why are we so obsessed and consumed with figuring it all out?
Why do we need an answer?

Why does life so often just feel like one big, neverending quest for answers?

Who am I?
What’s my purpose?
What does it all mean?
Can I figure it out?
Maybe because we think that if we can find the answer, we can give it meaning.
And in turn, we ourselves can have meaning.

What if you were given a scroll and told that it contains all the answers you need to become who you are, who you’re truly meant to be. And you open it, and it’s blank. Empty.
What if you’ve spent your entire life in search of that scroll, struggled and toiled for it, suffered for it, been ridiculed for it, doubted it yourself even, and then you find it. And you open it, and it’s blank.

Empty.

There’s no answer.

What then.

Who are you then. In that moment?

Or what if it’s an answer you don’t understand?
If it were as easy as googling “the answer. To life, the universe, everything,” would you do it?

google search

But again, what if the result is an answer you don’t understand.

google search result

This of course, is a reference to Douglas Adam’s Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. In which a species very similar to our own built a giant computer called Deep Thought, to workout the meaning of life, the universe, and everything. (Something similar to what we’re after as well.) After millions of years, Deep Thought had reached an answer. And responded with, “Alright. The answer to the ultimate question of life, the universe, and everything is 42.”

And since then, people have been figuring out just what 42 means.

One of my favorite interpretations comes from computer coders, in reference to American Standard Code for Information Interchange (or ASCII), which is that 42 is the designation for an asterisk. And an asterisk is computer code as a sort of “whatever you want it to be” symbol. A wildcard. Whatever you need it to be. It’s a fill in the blank.
Deep Thought, a giant computer, was asked what the true meaning of life, the universe, and everything is. It answered as a computer would.

Anything you want it to be.

The meaning of life is to give life meaning.

That’s a great answer. Even if you may not fully comprehend what it means.

Except…that’s NOT why Douglas Adams picked 42 as the answer to “the ultimate question.” In interviews, Adams said he was thinking of a boring number, a funny sounding, boring number, and came to “42.”
So even here, there’s no meaning. No clever reason. Just a number. A silly, ordinary number. With no hidden meaning behind it’s selection.

So WHERE is the MEANING?!
Confused travolta GIFs - Get the best GIF on GIPHY

Well, for Adams, Deep Thought responds after giving “42” as THE answer by saying, “It would’ve been simpler, of course, to know what the actual question was.
What’s “the ultimate question?” IS the question.

Frederick Nietzsche said “He who has a why to live for can bear almost any how.”

I think we all too often confuse the questions “how” and “why,” or think the two are synonymous.
I disagree. I think “how” is an answer. “Why” is a question. (Perhaps even “the ultimate question.”) And I think we want answers more than questions. We want resolution rather than longing. We go through life wanting to sort out the How. This is the difference between knowledge and wisdom. One has “answers.” Like a “how-to” book.
How do I do x?
How do I “succeed”?

See, we don’t actually want meaning. We want dance steps. We want a formula. A recipe.

We want a secret ingredient that explains everything.

But just like in Kung Fu Panda, there is no secret ingredient.
It’s just you.

There is no “how.” There’s only “why.” And why is not a question anyone can answer. Why is a question you have to come to yourself.
“Hows” are very specific. But “Whys”? Why is a universal question we ask. Or at least we’re all capable of asking. Not everyone can follow a “how.” But all can ask, “why?”

If hundreds of thousands of people are looking for an answer, the question must be one that…burns under our fingernails.

Answers are everywhere. But questions? They’re only discovered inside you.
There is no secret ingredient.

It’s just you.

To make something special, you just have to believe it’s special.”

So what do you believe in? Do you believe you exist?
WHY…are you here?

See, in Man’s Search for Meaning, Frankl outlines three areas for one to find meaning in life:

– Experiencing reality by interacting authentically with the environment and with others.
– Giving something back to the world through creativity and self-expression.
– Changing our attitude when faced with a situation or circumstance that we cannot change.

All of these have a common thread: YOU. The greatest mystery of all isn’t life, the universe, and everything, it’s yourself. Or rather perhaps, the mystery of life, the universe, and everything is contained within yourself.

YOU ARE THE ULTIMATE QUESTION.

Abraham Maslow once said, “What a man can be, he must be.

So what can you be? And don’t you think it’s worth finding out? More than that, don’t you think it’s worth being?
You see, I don’t believe that most people are actually afraid of dying, or of death. Death has a sense of finality to it. It’s an end. It’s an answer.
No. Most people aren’t living and afraid of death. Most people are dead and afraid of (the) Life—for living is the death of death.

When Viktor Frankl wrote “Man’s Search for Meaning,” that wasn’t the original title. The book’s original title (in German) was “…trotzdem Ja zum Leben sagen” which roughly translates to English as “…Nevertheless saying ‘Yes’ to Life”.

Nevertheless.
Saying ‘YES’ to Life.

Life, the universe, and everything is the ultimate question, the ultimate mystery, because you are the ultimate question, you are the ultimate mystery.

And you may not have an answer. Because YOU are the “why?” And you are so worth asking. You have FAR more worth than you could ever possibly imagine. And your life matters far beyond what you could ever possibly know.

Nevertheless.

Will you say ‘YES’ to Life?

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