Before I Was Mine

On Love as the Motive for Existence & Identity

Before I Was Mine

I consider myself a pretty meta thinker. I always want to understand the deeper reasons for why things are the way they are. And the meta-est question of all, the one I always seem to come back to, is why do we exist? Like at all.

The fun part is that such a question will never be answered, the search for the answer is a lifelong and individual journey. The more you learn about the world, the closer you get to your personal take on the answer. I've recently taken inventory of the big ideas I most resonate with. I went through the exercise of mapping these ideas to see which connections might help me define my version of an answer to the mother of all questions. So here's my most recent take on it:

I often wonder, as Stephen Hawking articulated, “Why does the universe go through all the bother of existing?” [1] I've been reading the book Why Does The World Exist? [2] by Jim Holt and I learned that while mathematics and physics have done great attempts at a true empirical explanation, most of the debate happens in philosophical spheres. I've come to appreciate that we all get to pick an answer, in what we decide to believe in. The one I relate to the most is Schopenhauer's argument that the universe is just the embodiment of a big will to be. And ever since I read that, I see things completely differently. “The entire universe is a great manifestation of striving, one vast will. All of us, with our seemingly individual wills, are merely little bits of this cosmic will.” [3]

“Why does the universe go through all the bother of existing?”
— Stephen Hawking

As Alan Watts wrote in The Book: On The Taboo Against Knowing Who You Are, “As the ocean ‘waves’, the universe ‘peoples’.” [4] In that sense, every single one of us is participating, playing our unique little role in "being" the universe.

“As the ocean ‘waves’, the universe ‘peoples’.”
— Alan Watts

I like to interpret this unending will to be as a form of love. Because what else could be driving such a large effort of manifestation but love? Clearly the universe prefers to exist than not to, so I like to believe that love is the universal language. And I don't mean love in a romantic or spiritual way, I mean love in the sense of curiosity, aspiration and resonance.

Now what does that mean for us on an individual level. If love is what motivates the universe to be, and we are but a manifestation of that act of being, we are therefore also defined by love. An easier way to look at it is to start with personality. We often define our personality based on our likes and dislikes. I can say I'm an intellectual because I thrive in the world of words and ideas. I can identify as being creative because I am sensitive to beauty in imagery and spaces. I consider myself a minimalist in that I intentionally simplify my life to mindfully focus on what brings me joy. These things we actively decide to associate with are based on what we love.

Here, personal taste plays a crucial role in allowing us to filter the world and the information we encounter. We all have a unique set of filters which allows us to curate what we give attention to. [5] To some extent, we manifest these filters, our taste, in everything we do. It's a way to constantly showcase and reinforce what we believe in, what we love, or in other words, who we are. From the small daily habits we cultivate, to the people we choose to surround ourselves with, to the long-term goals we set for our careers; these are all active manifestations of our love, our selves, and in some sense, the universe's will to exist.

To go further along the distributed self idea, I've come to understand that it has been educated out of us by society. The sensation of a separate "I" is simply a consequence of language and modern civilization's fostering of ideologies such as individualism and ownership —which only benefits capitalism, by the way. In fact, many societal phenomena have, over time, altered the way we acknowledge our selfhood. Notably, the concept of normal was invented to sell mass-market products, according to Seth Godin in We Are All Weird [7]. Through advertising, we've been taught to ignore our uniqueness and want the same things —again, only benefitting the manufacturing of goods at scale.

I want to specify that as much as society at large might have shifted us all a bit off-track, the same pattern happens in smaller communities such as family. For example, coming from a religious upbringing, one might be disconnected from their authentic self, their inner love. We must all develop the habit to question these things, even if it means uncovering that they were indeed aligned with our truth all along.

Not everything that society teaches you is good for you. A healthy questioning of social constructs allows us to dive deeper into the definition of our filters, our love, our self. It is our responsibility to constantly search for and find our truth, in order to fulfill our potential in manifesting the universe in its purest form, and not in a biased, socially-constructed way.

I now like to see myself as being a uniquely weird set of filters through which the universe manifests itself, but having nothing proprietary or more important than others. I might be the only one with this exact love-filter combination, but in the end I have something in common with everyone on Earth. What it comes down to is simply a love-driven will to be. We must pay attention to what we pay attention to [8], follow what we love and express that cosmic will. So embrace your uniqueness and go be!

[1] Stephen Hawking in A Brief History of Time
[2] Jim Holt’s TEDTalk on the subject
[3] The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy entry on Arthur Schopenhauer’s The World As Will
[4] A piece about Alan Watt’s book on BrainPickings
[5] Tom Vanderbilt interviewed on The Atlantic about his book You May Also Like
[6] Who Am I? by The School Of Life on Youtube
[7] We Are All Weird by Seth Godin
[8] Amy Krouse Rosenthal via Austin Kleon