Monday, November 28, 2011
The Meaning of Life
Teenage angst begins the quest with laments like “What’s the point of it all? We’re gonna die anyway. My life has no meaning. I don’t care. Nothing matters. Who cares? Shit Happens.” (I wore my Shit Happens! t-shirt in my youth as a badge of teenage angst.) The search for the meaning of life stings us most in times of severe stress, especially during periods involving grave illness, relationship meltdowns, and death.
So, what is the meaning of life?
Short Answer: There ain’t one.
Shorter Answer: You.
That’s it. Now what? The hard part, of course, arises in defining how or why you comprise the meaning of life. And to give the short answer its due, what do you mean; there’s not a meaning of life?
I mean that there is no overarching meaning of life that is obvious to everyone and we can count on to pull us through. However, unlike the nihilistic viewpoint, which denies any meaning to life, the meaning of life exists in another sense. For example, when we enter humanity through our birth, although we do not get a certificate, code or amulet that spells out why we were brought here in the first place, we may get a sense that we came from somewhere. That sense entails that we had been somewhere before we were here. We were “something else” before we became ourselves. Most people and religions call such a pre-human existence our soul-life. We came from Life. We return to Life. We are Life.
Once we become glued to humanity, as human beings, we cling to the notion of linear time for safety, giving order to our existence as one day follows another and another, presumably forever. But then we die, way before forever, and this fact is disconcerting. Is that all there is? I’m just getting started. Continuous neurotic thought viruses infect our feebly fearful minds again and again. In our frustration, we demand to know the meaning of life. Damn! There’s just got to be one!
“When we live in time, we spend our days seeking the meaning of life. In contrast, when we are present, we enjoy a life saturated with meaning.”—Michael Brown, The Presence Process (Namaste Publishing, 2010) p. 136.
Brown has tuned in to a deeper awareness of the human condition and, like Eckhart Tolle and Wayne Dyer, views connecting with “presence,” which connotes “source or god,” as a way to conquer the fear, anger and grief that has permeated humanity since its inception. One can rise above absolute futility and find fluidity and an integral way of being with oneself and the world, while basking in Presence. Such a purpose defines meaning.
“Our own perfection is yet to be reached, but that is what gives us a purpose in being alive.
I will not get over this.” –Shirley MacLaine, I’m Over All That, and; Other Confessions (Atria Books, 2011) p. 218.
MacLaine alludes to attaining perfection, which does not mean some infallible being, but rather, connecting to the God-Source within. In other words, you recognize your soul-life as simultaneously above and beyond your human existence and also part of it.
Like Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz, who was told by Glinda, the good witch, “you’ve always had the power…” referring to Dorothy’s ability to return home [to Kansas]. We all have the ability to attain our real purpose of perfection/recognition, we just cannot access that ability through the perceptual screens of ego, materialism, religion, technology and all else that attends modern day society, at least in non-third-world countries.
Our job is to connect to Life with intensity and integrity until we feel “the peace that passes all understanding.” The Life within us cannot be understood through mental antics, religious or any other ceremonies, or by trying to “find it” “out there.” It may only be felt within. It is not a feeling connoting emotion or a physical sensation like a mosquito bite or euphoria. When you feel it, you simply know, and it manifests as profound internal confidence, no matter what external circumstances may be presenting, no matter how seemingly chaotic or depressing. Although, as a human being, you still experience sadness, anger, grief; those emotions wash over you more quickly and fail to overwhelm and drive you to despair. That is the power of knowing, of Presence.
Viktor Frankl, in his book, Man’s Search for Meaning, expressed how he fashioned reasons for continuing his life and siphoned meaning into his own heart, in the face of dehumanizing devastation and torture he experienced in the Nazi concentration camps of WWII. Frankl emphasized that each person must create his or her own meaning and purpose in order to outwit the calamities that befall the human condition. Agonizing suffering endured by prisoners within the camps, Frankl observed, could be overcome by gifting oneself a private purpose, and thus meaning, despite one’s excruciating environment.
Frankl noted that prisoners who “gave up” and found no purpose in their existence, died before any outward reason commanding imminent death. Prisoners who did not “give up” and found purpose and reason to continue living, even while contracting illness and suffering starvation, recovered and lived to be rescued by allied troops. Meaning was all they had left. And, it was up to each individual to discover it for themselves. It was a personal, private endeavor. It was the difference between living and dying.
Viktor Frankl gave himself meaning and purpose out of harsh necessity and desperation. He was literally forced either into submission, suffering and death or into meaning. He chose to fight for meaning.
I wish I could say I understand his motivations beyond the obvious, but how can one person be another person in order to understand? How did he do it in the midst of watching inmates snap off their frost-bitten toes like little twigs? It is the nature of such work, that it not be analyzed for merit. The heart-felt connection to perfection, presence, source, is meant as an internal journey, not a destination that can be found with the right tools and maps. It’s a practice in responsibility. Frankl’s story is a guide, an insight, and a possible prophecy. Frankl’s account offers us the message that such internal work was, and is, worth it.
For individuals struggling today with the angst of why life appears to have no meaning, take a page out of Frankl’s book. Begin on a course today. Discovering a purpose and reasons for one’s life is a responsibility, and ultimate meaning, its progeny. The journey is a continuing process, and many purposes and reasons will surface as one’s life takes shape.
Cultivate a purpose, just for now. It need not be grand or “spiritual.” It need make sense only to you, and, like affirmations, should be stated in the positive. For example: “the purpose of my life is to take care of myself and have as much fun as I can and share it with as many people as I can.” Then follow through.
Find at least one thing, right now, for which you are grateful. Gratitude leads you on the path to meaning. Gratitude fills you with positive energy and nullifies ennui and nihilism.
There are many guides available through books and other mediums that offer ideas and methods of discovering your individual purpose and ultimately, true meaning. You need not toil alone, even though the journey within is private.
Sit still until your mind quiets and listen to Life’s manifestations. Imbue yourself with stillness and notice what happens or does not happen. Observe and allow Life to meet you at your unique threshold.
There is no higher calling than for you to give yourself this gift. You are the Meaning of Life. The purpose of your life is to connect with that Meaning, with Life. You then reflect meaning into your world, coloring your every experience, touching all of humanity in ways you could never imagine—And it’s worth it.