There Is No There There

We have this notion in Western Culture that there is this place…this very special time in space where there’s no adversity, and that when we get there, we will have no more worries; we'll finally be ok. It’ll be rainbows and unicorns and everything will be amazing, if we could just get…there.

“When I have more money, I’ll be ok.”

“When I lose 10 pounds, I’ll be enough.”

“When I meet the perfect man, I’ll be safe.”

The truth is that there is no there there. There is no utopia, there is no mythical time and place where everything is perfect. The fact of the matter is that adversity will always exist—and not only that, the development of the human psyche actually depends on its existence—and the sooner we understand that, the better off we'll be as a species.

Over 20 years ago, scientists in Arizona created Biosphere 2, a vast, enclosed ecosystem in which they planted, among other things, trees. The trees in this controlled and seemingly perfect ecosystem grew taller than any other trees of their kind and the leaves were full and green and gorgeous. At first it seemed a huge success, but then something strange happened: all the trees began to fall down. They fell down because the one thing that this perfect ecosystem didn’t have in it was wind. Turns out that wind creates what botanists call stress-wood - strong, fibrous wood that strengthens a tree’s composition and deepens its roots. In the absence of wind, with nothing topush against, the trees’ root systems were shallow, their wood weak and they were unable to survive.

We are those trees in Biosphere 2. Without adversity, without the winds of change trying to knock us off our delicate life balance, we cannot grow; we cannot be strengthened in our cores.

If we accept that there will always be adversity, then the only thing we are responsible for is strengthening our root system so that we don’t fall over when we encounter it.

I truly believe that the meaning of life is to plant deep, strong roots in ourselves, so that when we encounter adversity, we are able to bend with it, push against it, be strengthened by it, and not fall down.

And we owe it to our children to not fall down.