“Heidegger identified nihilism as the fate of Western history. Personally I believe he is wrong. We can always change our collective destiny by altering our personal destiny. “

In this article, I discuss a theme that has become central in my life over the course of my experiences. The theme of ‘the saving act of meaning‘, valid action linked to the meaning of life.

As a child, I was already preoccupied with the fundamental questions and problems of human existence. I grew up in northern Ontario and Quebec during the 1970s and 1980s. At that time, although Canada was a “land” of peace, my family was hit hard by war. A style of silent warfare, unlike any other, the war of the annihilation of being.

The annihilation of being” or “strikeout” of being – as Heidegger would say, which causes an irreparable rupture, suicide. We have lost six family members (on the maternal side) at different times, killed by suicide. I had great difficulty in understanding why some of my uncles and cousins ​​had carried out these acts. Still, they seemed like all of my other uncles. They had family, friends, jobs. So why did you realize the irreparable?

At the time, no one around us explained to us children why our families had been so affected by suicide. We have not received any help in order to avoid damage to our psychological and mental development. If a similar situation were to occur today, with the development of trauma psychology, I imagine things would be quite different.

Later, in the late 1980s, as a young adult, I met a group of humanists in Montreal. Humanists were engaged in social and political projects. In addition, they studied the works of Silo. So I set out to study his writings. During this period of my life, I finally had some clues to understand what had happened to me during my childhood.

Having repeatedly experienced the suicide of my loved ones, the child and teenager that I was had been put in the face of nothingness, in the face of the annihilation and obscurity of life. From this understanding, I wanted to know what generated the abyss and the nothingness. In other words, I wanted to understand what allowed “the growth of life” on the one hand and “the annihilation of life” on the other.

In fact, at the time, during my short life, I realized that the little frustrations, anger, and my little acts of revenge and especially my failures remained engraved in me and weaved suffering in my mind.

Luckily for me, the main themes studied by humanists were indeed abyss, meaning, nonsense, and the development of consciousness and life.

“We have chosen the concept of ‘abyss’ for its psychological implications because it causes inner registers like dizziness, registers associated with a contradictory feeling of attraction and repulsion; or as that attraction to the nothingness that takes the upper hand in suicide or in the intoxicating destructive fury that mobilizes the nihilism of an individual, group or civilization. We are therefore not talking about anguish like Kierkegaard or nausea like Sartre, understood respectively as the passive disintegration of meaning. We speak of vertigo and the pull of nothingness as a destructive activity, as a motor of personal and social events that contested life for preeminence and power. ” (Silo Speaks p. 30)

I have discovered that suffering resides in the minds of almost every human being. Overcoming this suffering is possible as long as one directs one’s life towards non-contradictory acts. Consequently, these actions must go beyond the personal issue (actions essentially oriented towards oneself). Non-contradictory actions must be positively oriented towards others. Silo describes non-contradictory acts as valid actions, acts that build human life and mind while contradictory acts disintegrate life and mind.

How can we guide our actions towards the valid act? Silo offers a few Principles, which are in a way laws of behavior. Therefore, these are not thought of as a moral type of manual, but as fields of forces which act as action or as reaction depending on the location of the one who acts.

As I study these Principles, I have sought to integrate them into my daily life. But, I encountered great resistance. I realized that living in a society of chronic individualism that easily promotes selfishness was very difficult. I am a consumer, so I have to swallow things and relationships.

So I encountered great resistance to integrating the principles into my conduct. Since my childhood I have rather integrated “the act for-itself”, in other words, to act for a possible return of the action. But this way of building our life leads us towards collective neurosis and too often nihilism takes place in our hearts.

In fact, very few people today act beyond expecting an immediate return to action. So this is where the worthwhile action lies. It is an act that builds outside of oneself, without the expectation of a return of the action.

Maybe this COVID19 pandemic will cause us to reconsider our actions. These people are developing content that starts from them and goes out into the world, not responding to conventional stimuli.

Personally, I discovered that there was a big difference between the activities I was forced to do for pay and the others that started from my inner world and went to the outside world.

I believe there are a few things I have done in my life that come close to worthwhile actions. Because when I realized these, I had a sensation of a sudden inner amplitude accompanied by joy and great mental tranquility. And I understood that it is precisely by carrying out this type of action that I move away from internal states of nonsense and the nihilism that pervades society. I understood that carrying out “saving acts” was for me and my loved ones a way to overcome mental suffering and gain faith in human beings.

To conclude this article, I would like to share with you an excerpt from the book Humanizing the Earth. In this passage, Silo explains, in an allegorical fashion, the experience of nonsense and the meaning and mission of humanizing the earth.

Pain, Suffering and the Meaning of Life

  1. Hunger, thirst, sickness, and all bodily harm are pain. Fear, frustration, despair, and all mental hurt are suffering. Physical pain will recede as society and science advance. Mental suffering will recede as faith in life increases, that is, as life takes on meaning.
  2. If, perhaps, you imagine yourself to be a fleeting meteorite that has lost its brilliance upon falling to earth, you will accept that pain and suffering are simply the nature of things. But if you believe you have been thrown into this world to fulfill the mission of humanizing it, you will be thankful to those who have come before you, who have built with great labor the steps that allow you to continue the ascent.
  3. Namer of a thousand names, maker of meanings, transformer of the world, your parents and the parents of your parents continue in you. You are not a fallen star but a brilliant arrow flying toward the heavens. You are the meaning of the world, and when you clarify your meaning you illuminate the earth. When you lose your meaning, the earth becomes darkened and the abyss opens.
  4. I will tell you the meaning of your life here: It is to humanize the earth. And what does it mean to humanize the earth? It is to surpass pain and suffering; it is to learn without limits; it is to love the reality you build.
  5. I cannot ask you to go further, but neither should it offend if I declare, “Love the reality you build, and not even death will halt your flight!”
  6. You will not fulfill your mission if you do not apply your energies to vanquishing pain and suffering in those around you. And if through your action they, in turn, take up the task of humanizing the world, you will have opened their destiny toward a new life. (Silo, Humanizing the Earth, page 50)

Translation by Lulith V. from the voluntary Pressenza translation team. We are looking for volunteers!