This week I got an email from someone saying that, in the face of climate change and other world problems, they felt empty and futile and couldn’t understand the point of our existence. They asked me for any “positive input.”
I wrote them back in the most loving way I knew how. I started by empathizing and asking if they needed more support than an email from me could offer. In other words, did they need medical or therapeutic support?
I certainly have needed that kind of support before in my life and so I see no shame in seeking it out when it is necessary. Not that I know whether anyone else needs it or not. Only they can know that.
After that, my email about dealing with futility went like this:
In Zen, which is the spiritual tradition in which I practice, we sometimes quip that if you completely embrace No Meaning then it finally becomes Complete Meaning. If no one thing stands out as meaningful, then even a dried leaf falling from a tree branch is as meaningful as everything else and suddenly has the tremendous meaning of the entire universe brought to one point.
If helping oneself or helping others is completely futile, then we do not need to waste time looking for the “right” way to help ourselves or others, but can just proceed by giving our full energy to whatever arises, since it doesn’t matter anyway. Giving our full energy and attention to whatever arises is true meaning.
The meaning of life is hard to find but the meaning of each moment can be very clear if we pay real attention to that moment rather than giving our attention to our opinions and judgements about the moment.
For all these reasons, feeling futile can be a really important part of our emotional and spiritual development.
However, sometimes we fall too deeply into the feeling and it becomes depression or we realize we are stuck in some other way. Sometimes we need help moving on from our depression and/or stuckness and that is the time to seek help from family, friends, doctors, therapists and spiritual guides.
I hope you can trust in the truth of whatever it is you need and seek it out for yourself wholeheartedly. Putting one foot in front of the other is the path. We are all on it together.
I thought I’d share that email in case it was helpful to you, too. If you want more, I also posted a video about dealing with feelings of futility on Instagram, which you can find here.