In an atheistic world, many ask: what’s the point? What is the purpose of living if there’s no judgment, no afterlife to be attained, no cosmic plan or purpose?
I can’t tell you what is meaningful in your life. Perhaps it’s your art, or your family: being the best parent (or grandparent, or aunt or uncle) you can be. Perhaps it’s the sacred calling of a career of service to the Earth, or to fellow humans. Perhaps it is simply to enjoy the pleasures of this abundant world.
It could be a lot of things.
I’ve written on a subject related to this previously: we are Atheopagans to live in the fullness of life, and to serve a happier, more sustainable, more just and equitable world.
But beyond that: what is to be striven for?
And despite the prejudices of my culture, the answer to me is not money, not material accumulation—that never-ending pursuit is a dead end to true contentment, beyond what is just needed to live. Chasing the dollar is addiction, not development.
But surely something? Surely we must strive to amass, to develop, to accumulate in some way?
And it’s something you can’t buy, can’t inherit, can’t gain except by living and paying attention and taking regular and both ruthless and compassionate looks at yourself, your world and your life.
It is wisdom.
Wisdom is what helps older people to be less angsty than younger people. It is what enables us to breathe instead of fighting when a fight is pointless. It is what gives us the strength to live through loss, and the perspective to understand that a setback is temporary, and could actually work out well in the long run.
Wisdom is the root of respect by others. It is the means to functioning relationships. It is that which we (hopefully) gain as compensation for the deterioration of our bodies as we age.
And—I say, as a man who once had a profound relationship with a woman considerably older than I—it can’t be rushed. No matter how ahead of things you may think you are, at 25 you only have the perspective of a 25-year-old, and it is not the perspective of a 40-year old. Nothing can make it so but experience.
That said, our contemplative, meditative and ritual practices can give us a huge leg up on the development of wisdom. We can heal our wounds, find perspective on our trials, come to grips with the challenges of being a human in our times, in this world.
If we are paying attention, and willing to confront ourselves and our issues, we grow. We become wise.
It is a great gift, that this comes even as we begin to fail physically. Otherwise, there might not be a lot of point in being an older person, particularly for those of us who have elected not to have children.
Wisdom is that which enables us to live in a manner consistent with contentment and joy. It is that (combined with communication skills) which allows us to live in healthy relationships. It is what we have to reflect on as we become older.
I am only the age I am. I have only had the experiences I have had. But I have worked very hard to wade through damage and suffering to find the nuggets of gold in my life, the hard-won truths. And I no longer ask, “what is the point of it all?”
The point is to become wise, and to interact with others out of that wisdom. To spread love and healthy boundaries and perspective and maybe, just a little, to do as Richard Alpert (“Ram Dass”) once said: to walk one another home.