Taken in Dijon, France

When Life Loses All Meaning: Coping with a Pointless Life

Often, sudden spiritual awakening can be followed by a profound lack of motivation and the feeling that life is meaningless. How do we navigate this?

I’ve been having an interesting exchange with a reader of MA who has expressed something I’ve heard many times from different people who have experienced sudden enlightenment. When the belief in the personality-self dissolves and we uncover the inherent emptiness within all things, this can cause serious disorientation, a kind of vertigo. Suddenly, nothing in life seems to have a meaning. You might start to wonder what the point is to this, to life. Without the meanings you ascribed to the various aspects of life—work, relationships, goals and aspirations, even spiritual seeking—you may find you no longer feel motivated to do much of anything. When you are used to being a seeker, you get really good at embodying that perspective. But once you are a finder, the whole universe shifts, and instead of using the skills and acquisitive reflex you employed as a seeker, you have to use a whole new approach and skill set, which is all about integration, expansion and stability. It’s different, and for a while, you may really suck at it. Not to worry!

I’ve experienced a profound lack of motivation, and it still seems to arise and subside. Sometimes it’s gone for years and then suddenly it’s back. I have to admit that I’ve never wondered why it comes and goes. Months have passed and I hardly seem to notice. I have no goals, not even modest ones. I have few responsibilities. This is partly because for ten years I’ve just not taken on new ones. When I was first awakened, I had lots and lots of responsibilities, and dealt with those until they were resolved and I engaged in no new or further commitments.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not sitting here covered in a layer of moss or something. It’s not as though I don’t clean the house or brush my teeth anymore…but I don’t apparently “accomplish” anything for long stretches of time. It’s weird, but not unpleasant. And then something changes and my focus is called into some external in-the-world adventure or endeavor.

This lack of motivation and the disorientation can lead one to real, physical depression. It doesn’t have to, and doesn’t for all people, but many have wandered into this bleak territory. It is one thing to know that there is no point, but it’s entirely a different experience when a thousand pounds of pointlessness pins you down and sits on your chest. Frankly, it sucks.

I really don’t know how a person can know if they are depressed or not. I don’t really know what depression is. We use this word so much, and people seem to use it to describe a variety of unpleasant mind states. My feeling is that some people can get lost in the pointlessness and then they will get depressed. Others feel the pointlessness, but keep moving through it.

All I can offer is my own experience. Let’s say I’m being crushed by Pointlessness. I stay curious about it, feel it, feel the dead center of it, the edges of it, all of it. I investigate it. It’s not physical pain, it’s not like having your arm cut off or stomach cramps or even being homeless and having to sleep rough in some cold place. Pointlessness is purely a mental construct. Your mind is suffering from it. Your mind is feeling disoriented from it. Here are some things I do:

First, I don’t try to get rid of it. It is what it is.

I ask: So What? This seems so simple, but often I find that I can’t really come up with a reason why it’s even important. What if life is pointless? So what? You see the pointlessness, and there it is. The sun comes up, I water my garden, my cat needs to be fed. Even if all these things are pointless, does that change anything?

What if there is a point or purpose, but you just can’t grasp what it is at this time?

What if you are sensing that the machinations of human society are pointless (graduate, get a job, get married, have kids, 401k, dinner parties, networking, blah blah)…which they are. But does that mean that all life is pointless?

And…what if life is pointless? Does that mean it has no value? Do things only have a value if they have a point or purpose?

Just feel around and see who is feeling the horrible weight of this pointlessness and meaninglessness. Is it on a soul level? And maybe that is not a good term to use, because what is a soul after all? But I think you know what I mean. Is it the mind feeling painfully disoriented or is it from your core being?

When you realize viscerally in every moment that every meaning you’ve ever ascribed to your life and all its contents has evaporated or been seen to be false or empty, that can be extremely disorienting. In that disorientation, you can then hyper focus on the feeling of pointlessness or grasp onto it and then, oddly, give the pointlessness a meaning or value, even if it is negative. You feel that life has no meaning, and now you’ve ascribed a meaning (negative) to the lack of meaning!

Weird but true: life goes on without a purpose perceived by you. So obviously the whole of life does not hinge on whether you can divine a purpose or meaning in it. We believe that meaning and purpose are important or even crucial, but if you look around, Life doesn’t seem to share that opinion. Meaning and purpose do not appear to be the foundation upon which Life is built, so maybe it’s just the mind that believes them to be so crucial.

Awakening can be pretty freaky at times, but I promise you that the end of it is not supposed to be you staring out the window for hours on end, unable to rouse yourself to engage with this world in some way. It can feel like being lobotomized at times, but it is not that. Can you imagine a life in which you get through the disorientation and arise to meet the world as it comes to you, fully…even though it is pointless? Can you imagine expressing your ever-evolving true nature moment by moment, not merely acting out the tired empty pantomime of the persona? Can you imagine doing whatever it is you will be doing and feeling whatever you will be feeling, being fully alive and awake…even though there is no point?

I got up before dawn this morning and fed the birds and chipmunks, I fed my cat, I made some tea. I split some firewood, which was a lot harder than I thought it would be. I did a bunch of admin stuff that needed doing, I cleaned the house and paid some bills and fed the cat again. Even though it is pointless. So what? Even though I can’t find a point or purpose to any of it, I am still fully engaged in doing all these things. You can hear my voice speaking through these written words, alive, real and present. That’s because, even though I can find no point, I’m no longer looking for a point. If I’m not in thrall to the purpose or non purpose, I can just be and do and express and experience freely. Got Purpose? No? So what?

It’s an awkward phase. But as with any phase, you can get stuck in it and retard your understanding, your mastery. I know the mind is always after answers, but I also know that this morning, before the sun was up, I saw the moon and morning stars and they were amazing. Looking at them, I became them for a moment. I was amazed. And I could feel that full, even though my mind is pretty much empty of answers. Certainly empty of purpose or meaning. You can get there too. Keep moving through this phase and don’t let yourself get too fascinated with the problem of not being able to find meaning or purpose.

And if you are getting depressed, however you measure that, then all the normal remedies still apply: eat for mental health, keep regular sleep hours, get enough vitamin D and Bs, get out in nature, take a break from your phone/computer/tv, be physical and get your heart rate up every day, don’t take mind altering drugs like alcohol or excessive sugar, do something that inspires you to feel good or joyful that does not need a purpose, like watching a sunset or going to the beach or playing with your dog…there are so many things that are just awesome whether you ascribe a meaning to them or not. I’ve been in a similar place to where you are now and it is not easy. I know. But it’s just a phase, so long as you don’t get trapped in it. The mind loves thought loops.

I use the word disorientation a lot. The word seems mild and benign, and perhaps it is the understatement of all time to apply it to the experiences we are talking about.  Oh, your entire universe is turned inside out? Don’t worry, you’re just disoriented! But disorientation is serious and feels horrendous and overwhelming. A signal goes off that says, “PANIC!” Alarms ring. I also speak of navigation, and how we need to navigate this awakening.

Pilots and sailors will tell you how important it is to stay correctly oriented. The ability to know where you are in relation to the horizon or sun or constellations is a matter of life or death. Having certain anchors, like the aforementioned horizon, are not mere trifles. It’s life or death. So when you find your anchors in life are gone or you no longer understand your relation to them, you can see how you will be totally unable to navigate by the usual means. A good part of the whole post-awakening life is finding new ways to understand an unfamiliar or vastly changed terrain and learn once again to navigate.

image: taken in Dijon, France

 

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22 comments

  1. Hannah says:

    Thank you. I needed this.

    • 21st Century Bodhi says:

      You are welcome, Hannah.

  2. Tony says:

    I can relate to this, and it is very disorientating. There are breaks in stability of meaning at the persona and the soul level and they can get progressively harder along the path. When you see how much ‘purpose’ is drilled into us from childhood, it is quite frankly bizarre to experience the unravelling not only of ones habitual place in family/society etc, but also in ones own mind and body.

    One of the things I find more and more is that in everyday tasks I am not there to register the event. I read things but it’s like pouring water through a sieve. Nothing sticks. Same with eating nice food, listening to good music etc. People ask what I did the previous evening and I can’t remember. Something happened surely, but I wasn’t really there to experience it. It certainly takes some getting used to.

    Great site, thanks!

    • 21st Century Bodhi says:

      Oh goodness, Tony. Reading your comment is like talking to myself…same words and everything. I know exactly what you mean. And yes, I went through a long period where I was also not there, everything just flowed through me. And I also could not remember things that just occurred, not from dementia, but because the activities happened but weren’t registered and archived in the usual way. I did not bother making an assessment of the activities, nor did I form an opinion about them. They happen and then they are gone. This was very novel, but I got used to this pretty quickly. But it can be a little awkward socially when people expect you to know what you did and to have an opinion about everything.

      Over time, I learned to archive a few bits from select experiences so that I could approximate normal conversation with people. That was not easy at first, a bit like putting on someone else’s eyeglasses, really. But people need very little and if you give them a few bits they tend to fill in all the blanks anyway. So I archive one bit: I went to the beach. And then one bit of detail: it was windy.

      Having life flow through you instead of happen to you is disorienting at first, but ultimately I’ve found it to be so spacious and free. Some may initially feel bereft when they lose their sense of purpose as something that drives life, but my experience is a sense of miraculous freedom from the tyranny of purpose.

      • Kerry says:

        21st Century Bodhi….I have no idea how old these posts are, I don’t see a date, but you’re one of the first people to make sense about this process. Do you have a website or blog I can follow. Or are you prepared to correspond directly? Please, I won’t pester you, just need to check in with someone further along once in a while.

        • Lilith says:

          Kerry, this is my blog so you are in the right place.

    • Andrew says:

      I can definitely relate to this!

    • kerstin says:

      It’s so good to read this.
      I feel that there is no meaning to anything.
      Today I asked my friend: why do people need to school? Why all the effort “becoming” sth?
      Although it’s so good to have peace in the present Moment I have to decide where to move. I dont know where to go. There is no preference. I feel I can live EVERYWHERE with ANYONE and like it. Thats a little bit discomforting… how to decide? (In all areas like job, children or no children, nature vs city) it’s all confusing and so open. I want to experience lot of things in my life! Thats my meaning I can give my life. Enjoying and experiencing all!

    • kerstin says:

      Same here… it’s like I only know what I am doing right now. It’s hard to study sth when you feel like you JUST CAN’T

  3. Tony says:

    “The tyranny of purpose”. What a great title for a book.

    Yes I know exactly what you mean about filling in the blanks… it is the mind’s relentless activity that fills in blanks. Most of the time entire fabrications and imaginary edifices are being built; they rarely have much to do with what is happening, but they have a lot to do with the incessant story-building activity of the persona. It’s like playing Tetris — the mind continually engaged in twisting, rotating and flipping in order to construct neat and tidy blocks of perception and understanding. But when you’ve stopped playing Tetris 24/7 and everyone else is glued to the screen waiting on the next brick to fall, it makes things perplexing.

    One of the better examples for the process (and something I keep coming back to) is Forrest Gump; and in particular the part where he goes running across the country “for no particular reason”. Everyone outside wants to impute reasons for it — high moral stances and ethical motives or more personal psychological drives and so on. But he “just felt like it”.

    No longer being caught in the pinball machine of action/reaction to every sense datum and mind loop is an odd feeling. Political debate, sport, workplace activity, movies, worthy causes, social gatherings, personal ambition, TV… it’s incredible and highly disconcerting to see just how much of ‘normal’ life is this pinball machine in motion.

    From the point of view of society you become a simple fool — almost brain-dead at times or able to do little more than to sit on a bench eating chocolates.

    And you may have tremendous resonance and compassion for the outliers in all their forms… right up to the weird guy outside the corner store who talks to the pigeons. Because you know they also have fallen through the cracks of the world in one way or another.

    So yeah… glad to hear your process is going well, and what a good resource this site is for those who are floundering with it all and in need of receiving some wisdom and care.

  4. Chanel says:

    Thank you so much! I needed to hear this too. <3

  5. Maury Lee says:

    For a long time things didn’t register for me. My wife was the one who kept asking me what the hell was wrong. It feels like dementia, but it’s not. Things don’t register because they have no meaning. Without a self to cling to experiences, they are while they are happening, and then puff, gone.

    And yes, you do get used to doing things even though they have no meaning. You can do without purpose. For me, I can say that there is obviously some intelligence behind life. It is doing what it does without our consent. For us to even claim that we know what its purpose is, does not hold water. Our body-mind is product of that. It is doing what it does, whether we get it or not. I am at peace with that.

  6. John says:

    Hi,

    I came across your site yesterday and have spent most of the last 24 hours reading, the content combined with indifference and compassion is refreshingly welcome. It is nice to know that I am not as crazy as everyone around me thinks I am!

    Out of several posts that really hit home (Dealing with Thought Loops, Am I Wasting My Potential, Avoiding People and Social Interactions, Negative Thoughts and Emotions and How to Engage in Life Again), Coping with a Pointless Life has has engaged me the most (so far!). It is not only the lack of motivation and profound sense of pointlessness which I can relate to but more importantly recognition of the deep focus on the pointlessness of everything and acceptance of it without needing an outcome that I recognise.

    I spent 10 to 15 years in deep, deep despair fighting feelings of nothingness and void and no knowing and considering questions like, ‘why’ and ‘what’s the point’ before one day just deciding to go with the flow and accept those feeling rather than rejecting them. Finding this an easier option to deal with, I was then able to engage with daily life by letting it happen rather than shutting it out and self medicating with alcohol.

    At this point I can’t say if i am enlightened or not, I suspect either enlightenment came very early (I had out of body experiences as a child, often seemed to know what was about to happen – especially in times of crisis, experienced intense moments of concentration often feeling my hands becoming enormous, hyper vision – seeing in minute detail or from a very wide angle and indifference to others) or I still have a long way to go. As a child and young adult I didn’t know what was happened and so believe I was bad or wrong and tried to engage with the standard life programming which clearly didn’t fit. Maybe for some realisation is sudden and for others is is gradual and creeping with moments of acceleration in between just like evolution. Finding these articles is one such moment, realising I am not my thoughts (with Tolle’s help) was another, as was accepting rather than fighting feelings of despair at the pointlessness of it all.

    Either way, it doesn’t really matter, nowadays I support my family, see beauty all around, practise yoga and do my job with observation and indifference. Although no longer attached to outcome, I still use my mind to enquire and currently am coming to terms with the fact that everything ‘conscious made’ i.e. jobs, hobbies, relationships, ideas, progress, history and yes, even yoga is really just a distraction. From what? I don’t know, and that is ok too. What is more ok is that is that it is ok not to be distracted.

    • Katie says:

      John,
      I am simply replying to one tiny portion of your comment. I, too, as a child experienced the feeling of my hands feeling “enormous,” and I have never known someone else to experience this. I remember also feeling like my tongue and teeth were too large for my mouth. It gave me tremendous anxiety as a child, and I always wondered why it occurred. Not that there is any meaning to it 😉 I just find it funny how I stumbled on this article and your comment particularly.

  7. Jonathon Stropoli says:

    I just came across this article and found it deeply hit home. I have been restless for many years, aware that so many of the tropes of life that most hold dear, money, status etc…, only held a moderate amount of sway for me. I have gone through the paces, not letting myself think too much about the pointlessness of it all because I am afraid. Afraid of the time I’ve spent nurturing these tropes being for nothing, but also aware that I may not be able to wake up tomorrow and go back to my life in the game…artificial importance and a rigged system. I understand the biological need to perpetuate the species, but is that all there really is?

    I feel I’m over the cusp of understanding but excepting is not going to happen easily. I don’t know where to turn and feel a deep despair waiting for me.

  8. Richard J Clasby says:

    I loved your post. I keep coming back to my truth that I can choose to make anything meaningful…or not. Since it’s internal; I’m free to create.

  9. Jeremiah says:

    This really helped me. I was so upset thinking what’s the point to life? As you say we go on, interact, move and feel. But there doesn’t have to be a purpose. It’s strangely liberating. Thank you!

  10. Natalie Stratmore says:

    And here I was thinking it was just me who felt this way about life…so nice to know I’m not alone on this journey…thank you everyone who contributed something here!

  11. Eric says:

    I love your material. It’s so refreshing to see someone speak to existential angst in a way that isn’t “medicine will help you with that…”

    This post is very intriguing to me as leaning into the pointlessness is clearly the way forward. It was an eye-opener to read how you describe the act of moving through the day without a sense of purpose. Also, recognizing the desire for a point was another great nugget from this post.

    However, I have one qualm that I see as detrimental to the whole argument. “We believe that meaning and purpose are important or even crucial, but if you look around, Life doesn’t seem to share that opinion. Meaning and purpose do not appear to be the foundation upon which Life is built, so maybe it’s just the mind that believes them to be so crucial.” <- I disagree. Life clearly has a point: Further perpetuate Life. It's that cyclical purpose which fuels any and all kinds of society – from humans to fish to insects to plants. Seeing that cycle is where most ideas of pointlessness come from.

    Clearly, as is mentioned in the post and in my comment, moving through the pointlessness is the way forward, but the question remains: Why move forward?

  12. Jason says:

    I’m still going through the phase of lack of motivation.

    Knowing that things are pointless and accepting it. How do I stay motivated to still wanting and achieving more in life?

  13. norah says:

    I am in tears ..I had a panic attack for the first time a month ago and felt like i was going to die..ever since i keep thinking whats the point if death can happen us any minute.. but i cant say the same about u, ur work has a point in deed, u r giving relief to a depressed girl in the other end of the world. Thank u and lots of love

  14. Lainey says:

    I can’t tell you how much I needed to read something like this. I’ve been struggling to find a purpose in life and although it’s still very ‘disorienting’ as you say, this brought a tremendous amount of ease to me and my thoughts. Thank you.

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