Cosmic Insignificance Therapy: Why It Matters NOT to Matter
I've spent most of my life thinking about how to make the most of my life.
I think that's normal for all of us right?
Between parental pressure and societal pressure to "make something" of ourselves, trying to find ways to stand out - to matter - seems to be something we all think about to a certain extent.
But lately I've realized that the quest to be special - to not be ordinary - has actually kept me trapped. Instead of living the life I want and following my curiosities, I've been too focused on things I could do to ensure success.
Letting go of the need to matter frees up so much emotional space to live life as you want; when you no longer have any need to be important to anyone other than those you love, you are free to live life more authentically.
Authenticity for the win - always.
|Image Credit: Scott Neigh|
Cosmic insignificance therapy is an invitation to face the truth about your irrelevance in the grand scheme of things... Truly doing justice to the astonishing gift of a few thousand weeks isn’t a matter of resolving to “do something remarkable” with them. In fact, it entails precisely the opposite: refusing to hold them to an abstract and over-demanding standard of remarkableness, against which they can only ever be found wanting, and taking them instead on their own terms, dropping back down from godlike fantasies of cosmic significance into the experience of life as it concretely, finitely—and often enough, marvellously—really is...
The hazard in any...discussion of “what matters most” in life, though, is that it tends to give rise to a kind of paralyzing grandiosity. It starts to feel as though it’s your duty to find something truly consequential to do with your time...
Among New Age types, this same grandiosity takes the form of the belief that each of us has some cosmically significant Life Purpose, which the universe is longing for us to uncover and then to fulfill.
Which is why it’s useful to begin...with a blunt but unexpectedly liberating truth: that what you do with your life doesn’t matter all that much—and when it comes to how you’re using your finite time, the universe absolutely could not care less.
It’s natural to find such thoughts terrifying. To contemplate “the massive indifference of the universe”...can feel “as disorienting as being lost in a dense wood..." But there’s another angle from which it’s oddly consoling. You might think of it as “cosmic insignificance therapy”: When things all seem too much, what better solace than a reminder that they are...indistinguishable from nothing at all? ...To remember how little you matter, on a cosmic timescale, can feel like putting down a heavy burden that most of us didn’t realize we were carrying in the first place.
This sense of relief is worth examining a little more closely, though, because it draws attention to the fact that the rest of the time, most of us do go around thinking of ourselves as fairly central to the unfolding of the universe; if we didn’t, it wouldn’t be any relief to be reminded that in reality this isn’t the case. Nor is this a phenomenon confined to megalomaniacs or pathological narcissists, but something much more fundamental to being human: it’s the understandable tendency to judge everything from the perspective you occupy...
...this overvaluing of your existence gives rise to an unrealistic definition of what it would mean to use your finite time well. It sets the bar much too high. It suggests that in order to count as having been “well spent,” your life needs to involve deeply impressive accomplishments, or that it should have a lasting impact on future generations—or at the very least that it must...“transcend the common and the mundane.” Clearly, it can’t just be ordinary...
This is the mindset of the Silicon Valley tycoon determined to “put a dent in the universe"... Less obviously, though, it is also the implicit outlook of those who glumly conclude that their life is ultimately meaningless, and that they’d better stop expecting it to feel otherwise. What they really mean is that they’ve adopted a standard of meaningfulness to which virtually nobody could ever measure up... it is...“implausible, for almost all people, to demand of themselves that they be a Michelangelo, a Mozart, or an Einstein…there have only been a few dozen such people in the entire history of humanity.” In other words, you almost certainly won’t put a dent in the universe...
No wonder it comes as a relief to be reminded of your insignificance: it’s the feeling of realizing that you’d been holding yourself, all this time, to standards you couldn’t reasonably be expected to meet. And this realization isn’t merely calming but liberating, because once you’re no longer burdened by such an unrealistic definition of a “life well spent,” you’re freed to consider the possibility that a far wider variety of things might qualify as meaningful ways to use your finite time. You’re freed, too, to consider the possibility that many of the things you’re already doing with it are more meaningful than you’d supposed—and that until now, you’d subconsciously been devaluing them, on the grounds that they weren’t “significant” enough.
Or that virtually any career might be a worthwhile way to spend a working life, if it makes things slightly better for those it serves.
|Image Credit: Lina Trochez on Unsplash|
*I love sharing the words of people whose ideas might cause the needle to scratch on the record of your mind (a.k.a. cause an instant shift in perception). I quote them directly as a way to promote their work, and because I couldn't have said it better myself. I do not benefit in any way from said promotion; I promote what I love because I love it.
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