These are a few pictures from a photo project my brother, Peter Nielsen, and I completed in the desert of Utah. I hope to complete more of these photos in the future and in new areas.
We all seek meaning in our lives. Justification for actions, self-worth, family relationship, meaningful work, and the list goes on. Many of us hold these as important steps in a healthy and meaningful life. But what happens when we confuse necessity for opulence? What happens when we get sucked in to the rat race of life and forget what it’s like to sleep outside, or enjoy good coffee in the morning, or take a walk in the woods? A 9-5 desk job can quickly become a prison; a child, a burden; a boss, a slave-driver; and family often suffers the most as a result. Frustration, tense nerves and anger may creep in and we develop distaste for our jobs, families, spouses, and bosses.
For some, the drive to achieve more – more revenue, more clients, more profit, more shares… more STUFF – takes over in an endless cycle of greed and savagery. Humanity and compassion may be quickly forgotten from behind the square desk of a brokerage firm, where the bottom line is more, more, more. But if we place our lives in perspective, we quickly see just how small we are. From behind our square boxes and under the fluorescent glow of artificial lighting, we forget the magnitude of the world around us – outside us. As our society has increasingly become technological and fast-paced, we have developed a false sense of significance. A million dollar sale is huge and maybe we buy a yacht, or new home in the mountains but it pales in comparison to the inspiration and grandeur of a natural landscape, taken in peace and solitude. A nagging boss driving you to insanity with busy work, rules, and deadlines can also be placed in similar perspective. Our triumphs and trials are small in a vast cosmos.
Now do not misinterpret my meaning; I am not suggesting a Nihilist approach to life. In fact, our world would not be what it is today without the work and toil of humanity past. An ant hill provides a nice example: each grain of sand is placed by one of thousands of worker ants. Without the coordinated efforts of these individuals, there would be no hill. Without the coordinated efforts of humans the world over, would we have an Eiffel tower? Great Pyramids? Would we have the scientific understanding of our place in the very cosmos that questions our own significance?
We all hope to seek work and meaning in life that inspires us and we contribute to society through these pursuits. Each time we pursue work or hobby, we leave pieces of ourselves behind and these may join those of past and present to shape a slightly new and maybe slightly better form. These pieces form our reality and without all of these the mosaic of life would be dolefully incomplete. But these pieces have meaning only when fit together with others to form a complete picture. A piece all alone is just a piece. We mustn’t allow our own self-interest and enterprise to become more important than the needs of others around us. Not one of us is so singly important that our needs or wants should be placed above those of others – both human and non-human. We share this world with millions of other beings. Plants, animals, desert sands, forests and mountains all create our world and when we see ourselves as part of this whole, we heal and replenish. And in the end, this will do more for us all than any one act played out behind a polished desk basking under the humming glow of artificial light.
Look outside your box every once in a while.