[Editor’s note: Every week, New York City’s own Andrew W.K. takes your life questions and sets you safely down the right path to a solution, a purpose, or — no surprise here — a party.]
Dear Andrew W.K.,
I’m annoyed by life. I’m irritated by everyone. I feel a constant frustration and I don’t know why. I’ve tried looking inside myself to figure out what my problem is, but I just get more frustrated when I can’t find the answer. I basically feel on edge all the time and like I just can’t enjoy life. I want to know the meaning of life! I want to understand it!
I tried talking to my friends and family and they say things like, “Just relax” or “Get out more,” or basically tell me that everything’s fine and I should learn to “chill” and not get so wrapped up in these sorts of big questions. But what do you do when you don’t feel like you can just ignore these questions? What if everything’s not fine? It’s so hard to explain. Am I losing my mind?
Dear Help Me,
Everything is certainly not fine, and you’re completely in the right for picking up on it and reacting. The world has grown into an extremely complicated and frightening place, and no amount of “looking on the bright side” can fully distract one from the horrors and riddles of existence. However, despite how pressing our situation is, we seem to have grown very good at keeping ourselves busy and occupied with a myriad of inconsequential tasks, knowing deep down that we’re dodging something desperately important. We’re supported by so many others as we collectively put off thinking too much about life and our problems for another day.
What you are feeling is your own soul’s natural attraction to the core questions of life. Facing these primary tenets of existence is intense and exhausting but absolutely necessary. Your frustration comes from not just the difficulty of the task, but from a lack of adequate support from your surroundings. Acknowledging our situation and embracing the confusion that comes with life is a crucial step in our development and salvation, but we often shy away from it.
You’re not losing your mind — you’re finding your soul. You’re opening your eyes to the wonders and challenges of life and working to develop the strength to face it. This quest for understanding is extraordinarily difficult and a lifelong journey, but it’s also exactly what we’re here to do. It’s crucial we face the biggest questions of life, not just for our sanity, but for our very survival. We can’t just “deal with it later” or say, “Hey, some things just aren’t worth thinking about.” Really, these big questions are the only things worth thinking about.
A great deal of energy is spent on distracting us from contemplating life too deeply. We often seem to be so overwhelmed by life and its riddles that we almost prefer to not fully be alive. It seems some of us would rather float along in a sort of suspended state of semi-awareness, alive enough to function without thinking too deeply about anything or anyone, trying to stay as comfortable as possible while just getting by. But even in this delusional blur, there’s a quiet and persistent urging, somewhere deep within us, pushing and poking at us and desperately trying to get us to wake up and face life full-on. In the long run, it often takes more effort to ignore that impulse than to simply give in and heed its call to action. I commend you for not blocking it out. It’s not pleasant and it’s annoying, but it’s necessary that we listen to it.
Many individuals, institutions, and social systems have encouraged us to tune out that part of ourselves. We’ve been told not to concern ourselves too much with that inner sense of urgency. We’ve been endlessly and generously supported in our efforts to block out the overwhelming questions about life. “Those questions are too hard,” we’re told. “Don’t bother with them.” We’re rarely encouraged to ask, “What is really going on? What is life really all about?” Because of the staggering complexity and insurmountable vastness of the world, many of the biggest and most fundamental questions are simply ignored rather than pondered at all. And because many of these questions appear to have no easy answer, we prefer to work on things we can answer more easily. It’s highly possible no one knows the answer to the meaning of life, and if someone does, it may be an answer we would rather not know. But that’s not a reason to stop asking or tirelessly searching.
If we’re to become fully realized human beings, we must fully realize as much as we can about what being a human is all about. And that includes the most distressing and impenetrable parts of life.
We should never cast something fundamentally important aside just because it’s frustrating. We’re worthy of understanding the nature of our total situation on every level. We owe it to ourselves and to each other to remain completely enthralled with life and all its endless mystery, and not just decide that it’s too tiring to grapple with. It’s not better to just focus on daily life and friends and family. It’s best to focus on all of life by looking deeply into everything we encounter, and mine our everyday experiences for what insights they can offer us as we move toward our biggest questions, as we try to penetrate the deeper layers of life.
Everything counts. And you are completely justified in feeling frustrated, irritated, and annoyed by a world that discounts and ignores so much of what is most pressing and fundamental to our existence. Do not give in. Do not give up. Be polite, be patient, be compassionate, be loving, but don’t be afraid to think and question everything, especially the most essential aspects of who and what and where and how you are. Stay the course and go all the way. May the search for truth bring out the best in you, even as it pushes you to your limit. It’s a test we each can pass if we have the courage to take it. It’s the test of becoming yourself. And maybe searching for the meaning of life is the meaning of life after all.
More:Ask Andrew W.K.