What does it mean?

The oppressive sense of shock, dismay, and alienation that comes with realizing the futility and meaninglessness of life as it’s normally lived; a chastening sense of one’s own complacency and foolishness in having let oneself live so blindly; and an anxious sense of urgency in trying to find a way out of the meaningless cycle.”

-from Access to Insight

Why does it matter?
This is one of those terms that initially seems really depressing but is actually quite inspiring. I think everyone has had the experience, in large or small ways, of looking around and thinking, “What the hell am I doing with my life? Does any of this matter?  Am I just wasting my life working at this lousy job and watching tv?”

Sadly, when most people have this realization, there is not much to be done. The answer for most people in this country is: “Have a positive attitude!” All that really translates to is, “Suck it up and suffer for the next few decades.”

Buddhism offers an alternative! In a way, that initial realization is exactly what’s needed to go down the spiritual path. If working 9 to 5 and then kicking back and watching TV with a beer is enough, why strive for more?

Ajahn Thanissaro has a really beautiful article on this term.