Second Principle- Just Because

No plan, no purpose, just because–and that makes it all the more incredible.

(photo by Jesse Gardner on Unsplash)

When I was 24, I was living in the woods in a rural area outside of Chapel Hill, North Carolina. There were several small, cheap rental houses clustered together in a narrow clearing surrounded by a pine forest. My darling daughter was three years old and pretty much unfit for public consumption at the time. A perfect baby, I came to understand that she was just observing the world and figuring how she was going to terrorize it once she was mobile. So I retreated to the country to give her a chance to settle down a bit (or so I fervently hoped).

In the house next to me lived a young woman named Karen. With her own three year old and a 2 month old baby, Karen was really still a girl herself. She was 19 years old. She hadn’t gone to school beyond tenth grade and, though married, she was basically on her own. Her husband appeared to have moved on and showed up once a week to bring Karen and their children groceries for the week. She had no car or other means of her own to get them food or to ever leave this remote location.  

(photo by Pexels on Pixabay)

Despite the lack of education and current dire circumstances, Karen was a bright, imaginative thinker. Many an evening, we had long, reflexive conversations sitting in the grass between our two homes, strategically positioned so that we could hear any of the children, should they awaken. We were a good ways from city lights and the dark sky offset the brilliant starscape. Karen had a fundamentalist Christian upbringing and as we gazed upward she wondered how I could see what she was seeing and not believe in the God she was certain had created all that we observed. Why did I think that all this had come to be and, even more importantly, how did I find meaning in it if I didn’t believe in God?

At this point in my life, I was deeply engrossed in the study of my own spiritual and existential beliefs. I was raised Catholic until I was in third-grade. I’d been through catechism and received my first communion. My quite young but independent-minded mother had been doing her own deep reflection and when we came home one day asking for a holy water receptacle to be placed on our bedroom wall beside the door because the nuns told us we would be protected from all harm by doing so, my mother was pushed to a decision that had been growing inside of her. Our family left the Catholic church.

Within the next year, we joined a progressive Unitarian Universalist church and were active members in that community until my parents’ divorce 6 years later. In between, a lot happened. One thing that happened was that when I was 10 years old I received a book on the life of Buddha and it was the catalyst for my life-long quest to understand Buddhism and other religions and philosophies. But there was also this major protracted crisis my family was going through. While my sister and I were in 3rd to 9th grade, we lived in Connecticut, North Carolina, Chicago, California, Texas, and North Carolina again. And still, my parents were not finding the happiness they were seeking. The break-up of our family was devastating, but it was also formative as were the other events in our lives at that time. Leaving churches and religions behind was just a part of it all.

After earning a degree in philosophy, I was more interested than ever in getting some kind of handle on my own belief systems. So, when Karen asked this question of me, I already was getting pretty clear on my answer. I explained that I didn’t find a need for a reason for the existence of our world, the universe, any of it. To me, the most remarkable aspect of its existence was that it existed just because. I was as awestruck by this very “just because-ness” of the existence of everything as she was by her sense that God created it. To me “just because” made my life and all I encountered more remarkable than any other reason I could imagine. As a miraculously serendipitous occurrence, it was incumbent upon me to treasure it and make the most of it, especially because I too am here “just because.” 

As if to make sure I didn’t miss my own point, another house in the little enclave was occupied by a long-time tenant, a gifted sculptor, who used the old school house on the property as a studio and who never tired of declaring to me that he “sensed purpose!” This declaration was always accompanied by a pounding of one fisted hand into the palm of the other. Bill was clear that he had been put on this earth for a reason and that his existence was in accordance with a reasoned plan of which all things were a part. He wasn’t clear on who made the plan or saw to its implementation, but its existence and his pre-defined role in it was definitely responsible for his lifelong sensation of his own purpose.

(photo by Wokandapix on Pixabay)

I didn’t sense purpose. I sensed a purposeless gift that I was responsible for making the most of. There was no pre-ordination of where I should take it nor even any requirement that I do anything with it. My life had happened just because.

After a lifetime of rumination on both the meaning of life and the just because-ness of it, I am as committed now as I was then to this belief. Cosmological physics has grounded that belief, but basic tenets of Buddhism, Taoism, and just my own experience of nature itself have held it intact. And I am as awestruck by the thought of being here just because as I was sitting on the grass under the nighttime sky with Karen.  

A consequence of believing that my life has happened just because is that the notion of a meaningful life– a phrase I hear tossed around everywhere, but particularly in relationship to the workplace and to aging (from middle-age to our “later” years)– is somewhat suspect. What is the relationship, say, between a meaningful life and a purposeful life? Where does the meaning come from? Who is the arbiter of a life’s meaningfulness?  

Perhaps it is the idea of meaning or purpose that round out the journey, compel us onward. For some, the just because-ness of it all may not be enough; they may not see the gift in that. Instead it looks frighteningly empty–“all of this struggle, and for what?” Probably most of us need a story, a story of our life. In fact, we can all reflect on the many stories of our lives–it’s what we do, we make up stories. We do this because we are wired to do so, but also because we can’t quite get comfortable with the just because-ness of our existence. We can’t quite see how huge it is in and of itself. It means that we are a part of the whole; we are a manifestation of the universe, even of consciousness itself. We are the consciousness of the universe playing itself out. What could be more than that?

E.M. Forster wrote, “We move between two darknesses. The two entities who might enlighten us, the baby and the corpse, cannot do so.” We are dying from the moment we are born. Each and every one of us will become extinct. So why are we here? Just because. Isn’t that beyond remarkable?  

(first photo by Isaac Quesada on Unsplash; second photo by Mathew MacQuarrie on Unsplash)

Recognizing that we don’t have long on this earth, one feels the impetus to “do” something, to “be” something. But what are we to do or to be? How will we know? Is there a plan? Is that purpose I sense as I desperately search for meaning? Am I making up all of this or is there something underpinning me? Could it be both–I am making this up and something does indeed underpin me? All is story, including this, this perhaps greatest of all stories. And I am underpinned by all that is because I am a part of the whole. I don’t have to “do” anything or “be” anything but I can do and be whatever I want. How we carry ourselves on the journey between the two darknesses is our only concern. And even that is just for its own sake while living the journey. In the end, it too ends in dispersion. All there really is is right now. I am living the gift right now. There is “no there there” but there is here and now and we get to experience it just because. 

The Second Principle of Being is that we are here “just because;” there is no existential purpose. The next several posts will explore this principle and the related points raised here in greater detail.

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