It Always Starts With a Question

It’s odd. Life. It’s odd how so many of us feel lost even when our lives and everyday structure is rather well organized, set, safe and normal. It may start on just some ordinary day, a subtle smattering, the feeling that something’s not quite right, that something about life is gnawing inside of you and won’t go away.


It’s easy to shrug it off, especially in these times when there’s so much to distract oneself with. But however much you distract yourself or circle around the gnawing feeling while trying to ignore it, it won’t feel any better. That subtle smattering ain’t going nowhere until you face it. It’ll remain, and will eventually be accompanied by a feeling of unease and dissatisfaction.

It’ll gnaw, and gnaw, until one day – or maybe late one night – you’ll gather the courage and listen… and you’ll find that it’s a question, in the back of your mind, a set of six words:


What is the meaning of life?


Yes. What is the meaning of life, really? It’s not a particularly unique question, it’s been asked and thought about for thousands of years, ever since the beautiful creature called human developed the ability to picture tomorrow. Why are we here? What is life all about? What is the purpose of existence? Is this all? There have been a large number of proposed answers to these questions from many different cultural and ideological backgrounds. The search for life’s meaning has produced much philosophical, scientific, theological, and metaphysical speculation throughout history.


Someone who acknowledged and dug into the question early in life, was the danish philosopher Søren Aabye Kierkegaard. He was only 22 years old the first time he got that gnawing feeling. Picture him in his boys room in the nobby apartment in Copenhagen. It’s 1835 and he’s packing. Søren had everything a young man could ask for at that time, his father had worked hard and made a fortune, and he had soaring plans for each of his children. Søren is studying theology at university. Though, ”studying” is an overstatement. Mostly he’s just partying, and reluctantly drags his ass to classes. He just doesn’t see the point of him learning all that. ”What’s it to me? What’s the point of me learning the significance and meaning of christianity, to be able to describe a number of individual phenomenons, when they have absolutely no meaning to me or my life?” He wrote that in one of his many journals.


He feels numb, like nothing moves him anymore and for the most part everything just feels pointless – you know, the same type of phases that youngins today go through. ”Why am I alive? What’s the meaning? I’m standing before a big questionmark.”


So he decides to take a trip to the countryside for vacation, to search for himself in nature, to explore his inner self. What, at the time, just progressed like any ordinary vacation, actually had an impact on history. Isaac Newton got inspired by an appletree and formed the idea about gravity; Søren Kierkegaard goes on a vacation in the countryside and formulates the foundations of existentialism.

He was thinking that since he couldn’t find the meaning of life in the city nor in theology, then maybe he can find it in nature. So he put on his walking boots, and he spent weeks wandering about… before he gave up. The sea, the forests, the historic landmarks – none of them moved him the way he thought they would. On August 1, 1835, Søren Kierkegaard wrote in his journal, those words that would go down in history of philosophy:


”What I really lack is to be clear in my mind what I am to do, not what I am to know, except in so far as a certain understanding must precede every action. The thing is to understand myself, […] the thing is to find a truth which is true for me, to find the idea for which I can live and die.”


Aye, just a young mans thoughts scribbled down in words. Who knew back then, that this particular sentence, ”…the thing is to find a truth which is true for me, to find the idea for which I can live and die.”, is an intellectual leap that will affect the western world.


Søren comes to the conclusion that he doesn’t have to search for the meaning of life outside of himself. He doesn’t have to follow any authorities or believe in a particular doctrine. He is in charge of himself, and have the freedom of mind to decide what’s right and wrong. The truth about his life and purpose is nowhere else to be found, than within.


So he packs up his stuff again. Now he knows. Those weeks on a walkabout has given him an idea for which he can consider to ”live and die for”. The meaning of his life, his purpose, is to try and understand and figure out how a human being can find the meaning of their life. He sees it as his life task to study and investigate how he, and other people, works. What is it to be human? What function does the meaning of life have? And how on earth do we find it?


He travels back to Copenhagen, more obstinate and determined than ever, and begins his own private research work. He goes about it for 20 years: every day, every hour, frantically, almost manic.


Just like any other searcher today he starts looking everywhere he can – he study, analyze, contemplate, struggle, fumble, fantasize, ask questions, and try everything on. 


He whirlwinds his way through the Academic Library at University of Copenhagen, his research being a creative mess as he ploughs through philosophy, biology, culture, religion, medicin – anything he can lay his hands on. He reads a chapter here, some words there, underlines, scribbles in his notebooks, comments and starts conversations and discussuons with anyone who comes near him. And he experiments; with himself, his own life, his relationships, love… he was ahead of his time. What a modern human you were, Søren. You would have loved the internet, and my god what a blog you would’ve had!


To be continued…

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