Essay: Meaning and Time

September 15, 2010

I am an atheist who prays. I believe there is no God in charge of our daily lives and daily events in the world. I entertain several creation myths and believe they are all equally true--Evolution and the creation story in genesis are two of my favorites. I believe we humans have to experience our lives as meaningful in order to live. I believe that we have to create our own meaning--collectively and/or individually. My prayers are those of thanksgiving and pleas for support when I am feeling really scared or experiencing myself as especially powerless.

I believe that individual human existence ends at death. I believe that the only way we can conquer death is through the experience of meaningful activities that give us timelessness.

Almost every Monday this summer I walked along the Schuylkill River about 3/4 of a mile from my apartment. I took along a net and a bag or two. I fished bottles and cans and plastic bags and styrofoam cups and plates and a couple of T shirts and several flip flops out of the water with my net, and used my bags to carry them to the trash cans located along the bike/hike trail that runs along the river.

I also fished out balls--baseballs, soccer balls, undersized basketballs, rotting nerf balls of various sizes, handballs, (no ping pong balls), several footballs (not round), and many, many tennis balls of various colors. Also 2 dozen plastic fishing bobbers of various sizes and 2 rubber duckies.

I kept the balls and bobbers and the rubber duckies. I collected them on a shelf in my apartment entrance way and wondered what I would do with them when fall came.

Mostly the hour that I spent harvesting bottles and cans and balls every Monday was timeless. No rushing, no worrying, no hurrying, no past no future, just presentness. I did have to practice letting go of thoughts related to wanting balls more than cans, rewarding myself by letting myself collect balls after fishing out a certain number of bottles and cans.

Years ago, I would not have been timeless in this activity for, even if no other worries or thoughts of present and future came to steal the present, I would be drawn into thoughts about pollution and polluters and self-righteous indignation and anger at those who dirty up the river. I probably would give some of my serenity to depression--hopelessness and powerlessness about changing the world.

Now I accept that I am a polluter even though I don't throw cans and bottles away on the street or in the water. I accept that I am no better than anyone else and that I have my defects and failures that are at least as serious as those who litter.

I really don't know if we can save the planet from our polluting. We might. We might not. What I do know is that I can take 30 bottles and cans out of the water this Monday Morning and this little bit of the Schuylkill river looks a little cleaner.

I find this meaningful. And the activity timeless. While I am doing it, there is no death, only the enjoyment of these present moments.