I have many questions about life and how to live it, but there is one in particular that troubles me: what is the meaning of life, of it all? The more I read about it, the more questions arise (especially the theories saying that life is only an illusion, which is how it seems, at times…). I get fixated on this question and, since I don’t have an answer, I don’t see a specific meaning to live for and I become unable to enjoy my life, I question why I need to do even the basic things. I know it’s not a healthy approach, but sometimes my mind just gets stuck on this and it’s hard to get out of it. Why do we get life? To experience, be happy, suffer, learn etc.? At times this doesn’t seem enough. Or is it? Do we have to decide and personally give it a meaning? What do you think?
It is a great question, but of course it is not an easy one, as there are so many levels at which it could be answered!
The first level, although it is a great and profound question, is that many times this question arises when you are in a low mood. You have lots of expectations about life (consciously or unconsciously) and when those expectations are not satisfied you get low, and the question of meaning may appear in your mind. Although the question remains a great one, the part that is asking the question is not really interested in the answer, but in getting high (or at least in getting away from the low), which means that any good thing that may appear in life, like a new relationship, more money, a new trip, or even going shopping will make the question disappear… until the next low.
This is one of the reasons I very often insist on the need for what I call a quiet mind, or what can be called a trouble free mind (or, at least, a relatively trouble free mind). The question of meaning has to come from a mind that wants truth, not from a mind that will be satisfied with some ‘sugar’.
At a different level, when a clear mind is asking this profound question, there is not one correct answer, but as you say, we need to find our own. You say: ‘Why do we get life? To experience, be happy, suffer, learn etc.?’ Yes, all of the above. We are given this life to learn and to evolve, to become more of what we can be. What can we be? Well, we are given the power to survive. And so we need to survive. But a tree or a bee is also given the power to survive. If we just do that (and many people are doing just that) we are no better than bees.
We are given the power to feel emotions, to sacrifice ourselves for our loved ones. And so we need to do that. But a dog is also given that power, and so a dog will sacrifice itself to save its family. If we just do that, we are not better than dogs. And we can see in many movies, for example, where the hero is nothing more than a person behaving like a dog defending what he or she considers his or hers.
From what we are given, what is it that makes us different from other creatures? We are given the power of high emotion and high reason, which translates as wisdom. And so, one of the answers to the question of what is the meaning of our lives is to learn to live by wisdom, to express ourselves in whatever is that we do with wisdom.
The meaning is not in WHAT we do, but in HOW or WHY we do it. The meaning is not in the doing, but in the emotion and the reasoning behind it.
Most people do not live by reason, but by instinct. Instinct means surviving, enjoying and protecting what is mine. And then they try to find meaning within those parameters. They will not. Or if they do, like when they find the right partner or when they have a child, they will again lose it when they start having problems with the partner or when the kid grows up or does not behave the way they expect it to behave.
And so, what does living by reason mean?
At one level, it is seeing that we are not alone, but that we live in a world that is affected by our actions. And so, the meaning that arises from this perception is that I need to learn to live my life according to the needs not only of myself, but of the whole world (and for each of us, the whole world is nothing but whatever is affected by our actions in thought, word and deed: how do I affect myself, the people that I encounter and the world that I reach?) This by itself is probably the highest meaning that most people will ever find: whatever I do, I don’t do it only for myself, but as an expression of my connection to the whole. The smallest and the biggest action, I do them as an expression of my love for the whole.
Taking a shower, for example, seems to be a very selfish act. But I can learn to do it with the understanding that my own body is nothing but an expression of life, and so when I take a shower, I am taking care of life. The shower is not just for me, but for life. And so, if I really understand this, I will never do any action that will hurt life, like taking a very long shower and wasting water.
Obviously this is just an example, but if you understand the principle behind it, your whole life becomes a meaningful act of love.
Taking a shower, educating a child, having a business, writing poetry, playing music, or whatever it is that you are given the possibility to do, you do it not only for yourself, but as an expression of love for life itself. To find this love is the meaning of our life…
…I could finish my answer here because for most people, finding this love in their everyday life is already a beautiful and great and very high achievement.
But then, there is also a higher level… or, better said, a continuation of this love. I know I am, and I know that other people are and the world is – this is the conclusion we arrived at before and thanks to it I am able to see a larger picture of the world.
But then, I could ask: I am, yes, and the world is, OK. But what am I? What is the world? Am I just this body and this mind? Am I just my thoughts and needs and desires and hopes? Am I just what was born and what is going to die? Is there something else? What is God? What is eternity? Is there anything underneath the obvious appearances, underneath what I can see and touch and smell and think?
I said that I could have stopped before because this level is not for everyone, not because it is hidden, but because most people are simply not interested. How many people are really interested in the nature of their reality? How many people have the time and energy of really questioning their own nature, not casually when they are having some problems, but as a real quest within their heart of hearts? Not many.
To me, this quest is the true meaning of our lives. To discover the real nature of myself, of all that is. This is what I call the true spiritual journey.
The discovery that, appearances to the contrary, all is one. This ‘one’ in some traditions is called God. But not the God of religion, the God that is up there, separated from ourselves, checking to see if we are good girls or boys. Not that one, but God as the sense/experience/understanding that there is not you and me and the world, all separated from each other, but that all there is is One, Infinite, Eternal Existence, right here and now.
The discovery of this unity is the end of the search. It is the ‘knowledge’ that ends the search for knowledge; the discovery that ends all suffering; the realization that generates real peace and ultimate satisfaction. From here, a whole new life begins.
The search for that unity is, to me, the true and highest meaning of our lives.