Anhedonia is the inability to feel pleasure. Leo Tolstoy, an author that gained fame and fortune in addition to having a magnificent family and good health sank into a profound state of anhedonia. He had it all but not only could not enjoy it. He began suffering from a shrinking sense of purpose. It seemed as if everything he accomplished was going to be ultimately meaningless. He became so depressed that he was on the brink of suicide. In an attempt to cope with his profound sadness and despair, he began to try to trick himself to stay alive while he tried to figure out what was driving this. During this dark period in his life he wrote this:
“As presented by the learned and the wise, rational knowledge denies the meaning of life, but the huge masses of people acknowledge meaning through an irrational knowledge. And this irrational knowledge is faith, the one thing that I could not accept. This involves the God who is both one and three, the creation in six days, devils, angels and everything else that I could not accept without taking leave of my senses. My position was terrible. I knew that I could find nothing in the way of rational knowledge except a denial of life; and in faith I could find nothing except a denial of reason, and this was even more impossible than a denial of life. According to rational knowledge, it followed that life is evil, and people know it. They do not have to live, yet they have lived and they do live, just as I myself had lived, even though I had known for a long time that life is meaningless and evil. According to faith, it followed that in order to understand the meaning of life I would have to turn away from reason, the very thing for which meaning was necessary.”
To contend with the fact that nature is the fire that both breathes us into existence and will ultimately consume us is not an easy proposition to face squarely. We could easily wither under this terrifying proposition if we were to boldly stare at its face. The realization that the best we can muster in the context of our brief time as torch-bearers is to take solace in the planting of trees, whose shade will be enjoyed by our descendants, as we fearfully await our inevitable fate or despair that all we build will someday crumble. We might try to avoid the topic altogether by fiercely burying ourselves in mundane routines elevated to sacred ritual status, not because they are important, but because they keep the persistent and inevitable monster that looms closer every day and rages whenever we dare look at a greater slice of the temporal landscape and we see our lack of presence there, when we peer past the boundaries of our own lifetime with the keen awareness that all things will end, including us.
We could attempt to avoid our mortality by never living at all. We can endlessly distract ourselves with trivia. Perhaps we will mind-numbingly inflate the importance of ultimately meaningless things in a frantic attempt to distract – even delude – ourselves… to believe for brief moments that we have meaning – that we have a purpose. For those of us who brave the naked cosmic fires that breathed life into us and find the wherewithal to navigate without being consumed along the way – we may find ourselves refined by those same fires that birth us and ever threaten to consume. If we endure we may come to understand that our existence is in the context of a larger body of life, of which we are part, and from which we cannot be separated. We may find that we get to have a voice, to craft meaning out of the stone – to breathe meaning into the object, and indeed into the larger body of life – to leave an indelible mark as we burn but are not yet consumed, passing through this thing from which we came, to which we will return, and paradoxically, from which we can never leave. If we cultivate lasting meaning, something that helps contribute to the integrity of the body of life – that is what will be cherished and treasured because of its value in stitching the bonds of integrity that stem the tides of chaos, rather than wither from the challenges that face us, it is only then in that cultivation of meaning from the stone that our life will have had meaning, that we will have become more than the object – more than just the stone.