Apr 15, 2017
By Dean O'Shea
Searching For The Meaning of Life in China
I have travelled far and wide, seeking out the most barren places, searching for answer to that fundamental question: why are we here? And do you know what I’ve found? I did not find God, or myself, or some magical wish granting fish; do you want to know what’s really there?
Only what you take with you.
I sit here staring out over a 500ft drop down to a verdant jungle. This is one of the hundred secret places of Zhangjiajie, Hunan province, China. A towering sandstone obelisk sticks out of the ground in front of me, its base thinner than its top.
I have a little dream, and in it, an ever changing figure traipses an endless plain of white. Eventually the figure takes off and becomes a white bird flying towards me. I wake and feel fear strike me once again on the precipice, but I quickly overcome it and smile deeply.
“I am here” I whisper “and I am not afraid.”
“I see you.” It says back.
Was this some kind of vision? A metaphor for my own life? A message from God? No. It was just a dream, and this is just a memory.
I used to think I travelled the world looking for a place to call home. Then I met someone I called the love of my life and thought that I had instead been looking for someone to share the whole world with. Now I see that both of those thoughts, though true to me at the time, were merely oversimplifications of a common truth.
And what is this truth you ask? Well, it is as different for me as it is for you. Some people follow their favourite sports team religiously, some follow religion itself, some pour all their energy into their career, or family, or a noble cause such as justice or politics.
In truth, though people may appear to want very different things, they are all seeking the same thing:
You can call this fulfilment, gratification, whatever you like, the feeling is indescribably unique and yet universal to everyone.
I have none of these things. Does this make me lost? While I may not have anything in particular to focus my attention on: no faith, no family, no state; am I destitute? On the contrary, I experience happiness almost constantly and I know that because of my personality, I will always continue to do so. I move from occupation to occupation, from place to place, I explore the world and experience great things, things others only dream of. This is the life I have cultivated for myself, and as I sit here staring over this indescribable scene, I am beginning to realise this, or rather remember it.
You might call this a life of self-indulgence, and you may be right – by your standards – but what’s important to you is very different from what’s important to me. I don’t care where I sleep, what tomorrow brings, or what troubles yesterday served, as long as I have this happiness, this freedom. And I don’t judge others, or consider their lives less meaningful, or less fulfilling than my own. We barely understand ourselves, let alone those so different from us.
But all of this is essentially irrelevant. I am happy in this life because I have the knowledge in my heart that when I die, I will become dust and nothing more. Even if I leave behind a family, a legacy; within two generation my actions, no matter how great, will be forgotten. Do you know the name of your great-grandmother? What did she do? I don’t.
This rock that I sit on was once a billion grains of sand, which were once a part of a billion other rocks, and in another billion years they will be sand once more. We have been on this earth for such a short amount of time that we forget that the earth has barely noticed us at all.
We are but a breeze in eternity.
What does it matter what we do in our short lives? Who will it matter to a hundred, a thousand years from now?
We will be but dust and air.
If I were to pick up a stone and throw it from this cliff, would you miss it? So then, if I throw myself instead, will the world miss me? I will simply become another part of it.
Like this stone.
I twist it in my fingers and then casually toss it over the edge.
Will I be more beautiful then?
Will I be more free?
It is six seconds before it hits the ground and in the time it takes the echo to reach me, I have overcome my fear of death.
Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter the Inspiration 2017 Travel Writing Award and tell your story.
About the Author
I am a travelling nomad, adventurer and writer / photographer, currently based in Andorra. I seek truly unique points of view and different ways of living outside the norm. I will talk about anything to anyone, for free. Currently raising money for a women's charity in Afghanistan.