The Second Eclectic

Technology changes how we relate to God and each other

Meaning and Repetition

People seek meaning.

They do it in all sorts of ways, seek it out in all sorts of places: relationships, jobs, religion, culture, travels, money, sex, education, God, self, music, movies, the future, nature, noble causes. But over time, any of these things can lose meaning. The search, it seems, is in vain.

It seems that anything that is innately, genuinely meaningful should maintain such an impact on our lives. Whatever is truly meaningful should always feel meaningful to us. But it doesn't. Why not?

Without a lot of fanfare, I think the cause is simply repetition. When we find something that holds meaning for us--it holds meaning oftentimes because we pour meaning into it--we use it to give us purpose. We dance with it and think about it and worship it for as long as it repays us in the currency of purpose. But, our dance becomes a series of steps, our insights become worn-down neural paths, our worship becomes recitation of words and deeds whose reasons we've long forgotten.

Sometimes this happens in a single lifetime. Sometimes this happens over the course of generations, where cultures build up grand and beautiful steps but fail to pass down the meaning to the movement. Whether in one life or many, the movement loses meaning and becomes nothing more than effort.

In our demand for meaning, in our search for an elusive feeling, when we find it in a passing wave, we attempt to repeat it again and again. We repeat the motions to manipulate the meaning to provide us with purpose. So we recite the old prayers, download the next songs, fly to new places, embrace the important causes. And we keep on pushing that button like compulsive gamblers until we're numb to the movement. Until the motions mean nothing and repetition is the echo of dead hope.

Yet, while we have become souls calloused to the movement, it is not the sources that have lost their meaning. It is we who have lost our purpose. We have failed to see that perhaps all those things were not made to invest us with purpose. Perhaps music and marriage and sex and the Seven Wonders of the World weren't meant for us at all. Perhaps we, along with them, have a purpose beyond ourselves. Instead of believing that meaning will pay out in purpose, maybe it's that we must recover our purpose. And there, find meaning.