“I don’t think people are really seeking the meaning of life.I think we’re seeking the experience of being alive… We want to feel the rapture of being alive.” -Joseph Campbell
Do you really mean to ask, “What is the meaning of life?”
The word, “meaning” has several implications, of which “implication” is one.
“Meaning” has several uses, of which “use” is one.
Other meanings of “meaning” are: purpose, intent, reason, translation, and a result of an action, as in, “if you do this, that means you have to do that.”
“Meaning” shares the same Indo-European root as “mind.” Meaning is in the mind. Mind and meaning are correlated. Without mind, there is no meaning.
Asking the question, “What is the meaning of life?” begs another question. It implies that there is a meaning of life; a single, all-encompassing meaning, which has never been established conclusively. And if it were, then what?
If you find yourself wondering what the meaning of life is, it is a sign that you have slipped out of the flow of life. You find yourself standing apart, lacking direction, lost. It’s a trick question that points not to life itself but to the stance of the asker.
The more we establish the nature of ourselves or anything else as being permanent, separate, singular, and solid, the less meaning we find. It becomes a rut of fabricating an infinite series of finite equations, all of which will fall short, dying before they are solved, supplanted by more questions.
With our limited scope, we attempt to make meaning with equations, even though there are no equations. Nothing really equals anything else from one moment to the next, does it? When we try to apprehend meaning in this way, presuming there are any stable phenomena that we can figure out if we persist, we diminish life and any meaning therein. This way of seeking understanding is counterproductive, for if, in attempting to understand something, we are actually trying to dominate it, then our methodology fundamentally precludes understanding.
“Understanding” is standing under. if you examine the word, it obviously denotes a humbler stance, a willingness to be guided. Since nothing is solid, separate, singular, or permanent, nothing possesses meaning in and of itself. Therefore, meaning, like everything else, is fluid and interdependent. It is ever-changing.
The more we shift from the dominating stance to one of naked presence and pliability amidst an ever-changing reality, the more life there is. When we stay on the path of true understanding, the way grows ever wider. Meaning grows ever deeper. We stretch and stretch until there is no more “I” needing to know anything about anything.
Another popular trick question is, “What is my purpose?” Now this question implies that there is a “you” there to have a purpose. Again, the question points to a separation from life. When we are in the flow of life, we receive direction in the form of signs, synchronicity, and insights that can only come from the catalyst of relationship. It can be a relationship with another being, or with an abstration, but neither purpose nor meaning, even if there were a god to bestow them, could stand inert. Any meaning in life is generated by its living.
I have experienced a handful of peak moments in which I had participated in events that may or may not have, but certainly felt as if they had an ultimate and resounding positive effect on the world. In the ecstatic throes of total fulfillment, I declared to myself that even if I did nothing else for the rest of my life, that would be enough. I felt as though my purpose had been accomplished and the question of meaning was just gone. Every time, though, the moment passed, and the fulfillment gradually waned. The one who was fulfilled was only that one in that moment. The part of me that longs for not longing anymore compels me to seek those peak experiences, but I have learned that, like any other chase, it’s disappointing.
Every moment needs tending. We offer ourselves to it and it to us.
The real question is “What do you mean?” What do you mean for this moment? What are you to it and what is it to you?