I enjoy walking labyrinths. Labyrinths are maze-like structures that have been used as spiritual tools for centuries. There are many of them around, and I am in the habit of trying to visit a lot of them. For more information about labyrinths, check out The Labyrinth Society. Find where labyrinths are in your area at the Worldwide Labyrinth Locator.
This labyrinth is at the Freylinghuysen Arboretum in Morristown. What a wonderful place this was! It was a beautiful early autumn day, and I enjoyed walking around the trails at the park. If you’re in the area, I highly recommend it.
The labyrinth itself was along one of the main trails in the arboretum, nicely shaded.
It’s a typical 7-circuit classical style labyrinth. The path is gravel, and the walls are random (presumably local) stones. One thing I found a little amusing about this labyrinth was an area near the center, where the path got very narrow and “squished.” I think maybe when they were building it, an error was made, and this was their way of correcting it. I like it – it gives this labyrinth character!
The question I carried in with me was a heavy one: How can I live with all these powerful doubts about meaning? I’ve been really struggling lately, trying to find a meaning in my life, trying to find some reason for living. I’ve been dwelling lately on the thought that we’re all just atoms and molecules, wondering if consciousness is just a meaningless blip in the universe, wondering if I even really exist, and if so, what it even matters.
You know, light fluffy stuff.
On the drive there, I thought a lot about how to frame the question. I didn’t want to just ask, “Is there meaning to any of this?” because I knew the answer I’d receive would be yes. And I knew that I’d just question that answer later anyway. I wasn’t likely to learn anything from that. I thought about what I could find practically in this labyrinth today, and the question I came up with was the one above: How can I live with all these powerful doubts about meaning?
As I walked, the word I heard was, “hope.” “Yes,” I thought, “but hope what?” Hope that I’m real? Hope that there’s meaning? No. Hope that someone else is real. Hope that through my actions and words, I can make that person’s life just a little bit easier. Perhaps I can sidestep the question of reality and meaning, by simply taking it as a given, without proof, and then focus on what I can do to make someone’s life easier. It’s kind of like a type of Pascal’s wager. If I assume that other people are real, and that I can make a difference, then there are two options: either I’m right about that or I’m wrong. If I’m right, then clearly the right course of action is to try to accomplish something that makes someone’s life easier. If I’m wrong, then it really doesn’t matter anyway. If I’m wrong about that, then anything I do is completely meaningless.
This gave me a strange sort of comfort. I found it good to think that I don’t have to solve the question of meaning, I can just make this assumption and still know that I’m making a difference, if that’s possible. I don’t know whether it’s possible or not, and maybe I won’t ever know. But I know that I’m doing whatever I can — even if that’s nothing. It’s not quite a reason to live, but at least it’s a reason to do a certain thing with the life that I might have.