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From Here to Ecstasy
How I Found Meaning in a Meaningless World
I began writing the novel series The Desert Road of Night shortly after the events described in The Inheritance. In that post, I shared how I coped with the end of my marriage, the sudden loss of an old lover and friend, and a cancer prognosis. I hit the road and took notes of long conversations with memories of people who were no longer alive or a part of my life. These ghosts came along for the ride and sat in the passenger seat with me, helping me process my emotions.
My initial plan was to use the notes from that time period in my life to write a love story and nothing more. During those long drives, I kept replaying in my mind how, as a young man, I had a sense of self—a sense of spirit—that projected calmness, making it easy for me to meet and date dynamic women, like the one who inspired one of the main characters in my series. I was only able to have that experience because I worked hard to find the answers I needed to help me cope with my broken body and mind, as well as my loss of faith in God and in love.
I was desperate for a reason to keep living in the aftermath of the destruction of everything I had believed in. I needed that reason to be something greater than myself, something that transcended any old belief I had that there was a God who was so invested in my suffering that He would comfort me. What I had learned of myself in the aftermath was just how small and insignificant I was—as small as Job yelling at God, who then reminded him that He was the one who created Orion in the vast night sky.
God did not care about Job’s pain—He wanted to prove a point, and, according to the Bible, it came at the expense of one of the most blameless men to have ever lived. While recovering from my injuries, I had the time to read, and it was during this period that I came across the works of Alan H. Watts and Albert Camus. I gained a profound understanding from their writings and philosophies that the world we live in is ambiguous and complex. It confirmed what I had already learned during my time in the military: the lines between good and evil are unclear, so much of life is gray, and the universe is inherently absurd and uncaring.
Camus taught me to embrace absurdity and live in the present moment to find meaning. Watts taught me that the world is an extension of ourselves, not a fixed entity. He believed that our experiences of the world are shaped by our perceptions, and because of this belief, I learned that despite the anger and sadness I was feeling at the time, I must be open to new experiences and embrace the unpredictability and uncertainty of existence. I must put myself out there, without fear, in the beautiful world of the living. And by doing so, I would be opening myself up to meeting new people, which could lead to new opportunities for me to experience joy and ecstasy through sex.
Watts perceived sexual ecstasy as a means of accessing the creative force of the universe, both within and beyond ourselves. For him, it wasn’t just a physical or emotional experience, but a spiritual one that transcended the self and linked us to something bigger.
This is exactly what I wanted. That is what I needed: to experience sexual ecstasy that he described as mystical, one that could transport me beyond myself and link me to the universe.
Based on what I had learned from reading Watts, once linked, it would be easier to embrace my desires. It would help me project calm and ease because I would feel that I was one with whomever I was sharing the present moment with. With that person, I would be my genuine, authentic, direct, and honest self. Camus’s philosophy taught me the importance of living authentically and finding meaning in a seemingly meaningless world.
According to Camus, recognizing the absurdity of our existence and being present in the moment are essential. If life is absurd and meaningless, then we must create our own meaning by living fully “to the point of tears.” To truly experience the depth of our emotions and live our lives with intensity and passion, we must embrace life’s joys, pains, sufferings, and ecstasies.
But, because life is inherently meaningless, and we must confront the absurdity of our existence, it also means recognizing the futility of searching for meaning or purpose in life, including through the experience of pain and suffering. In The Myth of Sisyphus, Camus writes, “There is no love of life without the despair of life.” This means that while we may enjoy life’s pleasures, they are ultimately fleeting and cannot provide a lasting sense of meaning or fulfillment.
Meanwhile, I discovered that Watts believed that suffering and sexual ecstasy were two sides of the same coin, and that we must go beyond the duality of pleasure and pain, acknowledging that both are fleeting and ultimately unsatisfying. He saw pain as an opportunity for people to learn and grow, to better understand themselves and the world around them. He believed that experiencing pleasure was vital for a full and fulfilling life. Watts encouraged people to explore their desires and experiences, even if they were unconventional or stigmatized by society.
I found his ideas on the connection between suffering and sexual ecstasy fascinating and insightful, prompting me to delve deeper into the role of pain and pleasure in my own life. It was only then, after combining what I learned from Camus, that I was able to find answers that not only helped me cope but also heal and find a new faith.
This faith wasn’t based on God or a conventional definition of love, but on the belief that we can carve out joy and ecstasy in an absurd universe through our bodies, and in the full experiencing and expression of our emotions. And it was because of this that I was able to meet the women who inspired my novel series. Ultimately, it was my sudden loss years later that led me to stand along a desert road at night, staring at Orion high in the vast sky, ready to die again, until I found new meaning again. With the new conclusions I came to, it caused me to shift from wanting to craft a love story from my notes to wanting, instead, to write about generational trauma.
Practical tips for those who see themselves reflected in this personal essay.
Embrace life's uncertainty: Recognize that life is unpredictable and full of ambiguities. Instead of fearing the unknown, embrace the uncertainty and remain open to new experiences.
Live authentically: Be true to yourself and express your genuine emotions. Don't shy away from expressing your feelings or desires, even if they don't conform to societal norms.
Find meaning in the present moment: Focus on living fully in the present and appreciate the depth of your emotions, both positive and negative. By doing so, you can create your own meaning in an inherently meaningless world.
Acknowledge and learn from suffering: Accept that pain and suffering are a part of life, and use these experiences as opportunities for personal growth and understanding.
Go beyond the duality of pleasure and pain: Understand that both pleasure and pain are fleeting and ultimately unsatisfying. Instead, focus on embracing the full range of human emotions and experiences to lead a fulfilling life.
Create your own faith: Build a belief system that resonates with your personal experiences and values, rather than relying on conventional definitions of love, faith, or spirituality.
By applying these lessons to their own lives, readers can learn to navigate the complexities of existence, find meaning in their experiences, and live more authentically and passionately.
If you’re interested in seeing these ideas, and their philosophies, in action, I invite you to read the novel series The Desert Road of Night. Through the characters’ journeys, you can witness the power of embracing the absurdity of existence and how these philosophies can make a real difference in your life.
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