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Photo by Kendall Marianacci, Nepal Semester.

I Believe in Existential Crises

“If everything, all of this, is transient, if nothing lasts forever, if we all leave this world sooner or later, does that mean nothing matters? Assume yes. Now, does that fact actually create meaning? I think so. If, in the grand scheme, nothing matters, then we must create our own meaning for every single little thing we do. All of the sudden, it is all incredibly meaningful, because we choose to do it even though we know it doesn’t matter. So nihilism contradicts itself. This, if anything, is the zest of life.”  (from my journal)
We are taught that an education means learning about the outside world: history, physics, calculus, literature. We equate intelligence with book smarts. But what does it really mean to know things?

Reflecting on my own traditional conceptualization of education and what I’m now discovering to be its gaping limitations, I am realizing that my goals have been reoriented. I continue to find the world massively fascinating; my enthusiasm for exploring and unraveling its vast complexities has grown with every passing day of this course. But I now see that it is not enough to only know about the external world. I want to find out what it means to be a part of it. What life is, who I am, and why it matters to try. And academic endeavors, I’m discovering, are just one of many tools that can help get there. Education is not just enrolling in an institution, studying, theorizing. It includes that, but it also is composed of the experience of life itself. Of observation. Of self-reflection. Of approaching every experience, internal and external, with an inquisitive attitude. If your aim is to truly know things, to understand even a sliver the meaning of life, rather than to make money or have a big name on your resume, that is what’s really important. Isn’t finding meaning in all of this the only thing that really has the power to bring us happiness? And isn’t happiness all any of us really wants?

I am used to existential crises. But I am not used to embracing them. These days, I’m beginning to understand that those moments when I feel the most lost in the big questions, when I am acutely aware of the perishable nature of everything, when I feel that perhaps life itself is an imagination, those moments should be dug into and cherished as the most valuable of all. How thrilling it is to experience learning as kindling not only of the mind, but of the soul. That must be the truest form of education there is.