By Jerome Yi
“If you bring me to that holy mountain in India, sitting on the top of that mountain – in the lotus position with our eyes closed – will be no more holy then having a beer at the bar of a local hotel nearby. It’s so obvious and still a lot of seekers seem to refuse the idea. Oneness is everywhere. Is that clear? Everywhere is everywhere.”
“[N]early 40 years’ experience has shown me that a taste for beer and cowboy-stories is entirely consistent with a taste for perfect art and the highest intellectual exercises.”
“What, if some day or night a demon were to steal after you into your loneliest loneliness and say to you: ‘This life as you now live it and have lived it, you will have to live once more and innumerable times more’ … Would you not throw yourself down and gnash your teeth and curse the demon who spoke thus? Or have you once experienced a tremendous moment when you would have answered him: ‘You are a god and never have I heard anything more divine.’”
Bertrand Russell once said, “The time you enjoy wasting is not wasted time.” I submit a more radical proposition: that there is no such thing as wasted time.
That something (or someone) is a waste of time is a ubiquitous refrain. I should know. Even as a nihilist who doesn’t believe that there is inherent meaning or purpose to life, I always make a distinction between time that is wisely spent and time that is ill-spent, and I find myself constantly complaining about the latter.
This is explained by the fact that I am obsessed with making the most of my life, which for me means achieving as many of my goals as I possibly can.
In spite of this, I consistently fail to reach a level of productivity that I can be satisfied with. I attribute this to external distractions, poor planning, and, above all, a lack of self-discipline.
And yet, there are times when, almost mysteriously, the desperation to accomplish diminishes, and the accompanying urgency falls away.
Some months ago, I was sitting in my room late at night, playing Super Mario World. It was a world that I’d conquered long ago. I’d completed all of the stages and found all of the secrets. Other than perfecting my mechanics and attempting to set new records, there was hardly anything in that linear, static, 16-bit 2D world that I hadn’t done before. There were a hundred other things I could’ve done with my time, things that would’ve actually translated into something substantial outside of the television screen. Games are a dead end.
But life itself is a game.
More accurately, it’s a combination of games: activities that consist of man-made rules superimposed over natural laws–or, perhaps more accurately, natural laws disguised as man-made rules. You have the career game, which entails the acquisition of experience and connections, the building up reputation, and the accumulation of various items, mostly cash. You have the social game, which entails the acquisition of friends and the fulfillment of various obligations. The difference between “real life” games and virtual reality games is that the former cannot ever be completed, because there is no inherent goal, let alone an ultimate goal. Like Tetris and Pac-Man, life is a game that you are bound to lose sooner or later. The world is like a vast casino–at the end of the day, the house always wins.
All roads lead to Hades. You can’t save the world. You can’t even save individual people. Medicine, no matter how advanced, never saves lives–at best it delays the arrival of the Grim Reaper by a few decades. To truly save a life would mean to preserve it for all eternity.
Civilization is one gigantic, circular goal. Think about it: what could possibly be the end of all of that art, music, literature, and technology? Well, there’s otherworldly transcendence, but if you’re a naturalist, that’s pretty much off the table. None of this had to exist–the universe did just fine without any of this for billions of years. As far as I’m concerned, everything is a form of entertainment. Movies are entertainment. Books, essays, poetry, blog posts, and news articles are entertainment. Video games are entertainment. These things didn’t have to exist, yet they are here. We don’t have to enjoy them, but neither do we need to take them seriously.
This is not to spit on the efforts of idealists and physicians, and announce that the only thing worth doing in life is shopping and watching television. Neither is this meant to justify indolence and pretend that idlers are just as valuable to a society as active contributors. As moral philosopher Shelly Kagan once said, the fact that it’s going to be all the same in the far future doesn’t mean that it’s all the same in the present. The thing is that there is nothing to justify, nothing that needs to be justified. If the “purpose” of the universe is simply to be as it is, then, well, it’s a success–there is nothing wrong with it. As in a flawless painting, nothing in the world is out of place. As in a flawless play, nothing in life happens in vain.
As Jeff Foster says:
“How wonderful to see that life needs no purpose. That its purpose is its purposeless present appearance. Does music have a purpose? Does a sunset have a purpose? Does dancing have a purpose? Its purpose is in the listening, in the seeing, in the dancing. Life is at once meaningful and meaningless. It’s both and it’s neither.”
—An Extraordinary Absence
At the end of the day, there’s no such thing as “wasting” time. Life takes care of itself. It always has and always will. No activity is done in vain, whether it is doing tedious work at the office, balancing the checkbook, filling up the car at the gas station, sitting in a church or a temple, sitting in traffic, pursuing an education, writing a book, exploring a library or a bookstore, cleaning the room, washing the dishes, taking out the trash, rearranging the books in the bookshelves, reading poetry, drawing a picture, learning a language, practicing a musical instrument, listening to a favorite record for the thousandth time, watching a movie or a TV show, playing a video game, drinking a beer, arguing with family members, chatting with friends, shopping at malls and supermarkets, taking a walk around the neighborhood, eating dinner at a fast food restaurant, or lying awake in bed late at night. Perhaps we can learn to appreciate these things for what they are, not merely as means to some nebulous (and perhaps non-existent) end.
The world is but a glorified train station. Life is but a wait for the arrival of the train of death. There’s no need to worry about anything, including making the “most” of life.
Because it doesn’t matter how we pass the time. It is enough that it passes. No need to cry over spilt milk, because no milk is ever spilt.
Because there is no milk.