The Meaning of Life
By: Stephen Levine
Posted: April 12, 2013
Confronting loss the meaning of life changes. Searching for meaning and purpose leaves us wandering and bewildered. What was ordinary yesterday becomes precious today. What was precious yesterday seems dull and lusterless. What we liked becomes uninteresting, what we loved becomes everything.
There is a delicate balance that needs to be honored in the finding of “meaning “ in any event or state of mind: for many finding meaning may be necessary for the “closure” that is an opening into the letting go that is letting be, an integration into the heart, a changing of levels at which loss is experience. Closure, a level of finishing unfinished business, is often the term used by survivors of a violent crime when the antagonist is punished. But for most the wound is not so obvious and “more than meaning” may be required.
A psychotherapist friend spoke of working with people in grief and crisis and attempting to help them “decipher their lives”. He said he tried to help them find some meaning in their situation that they would be satisfied with. And found that this perhaps helped in accepting the loss at one stage but noticing that an appreciable part of what they were reaching for was some supernatural meaning, some cosmic coincidence, he came to feel that supporting them too long at this level of meaning might be keeping them from going deeper, from directly addressing their pain. We are bargaining with our pain. Settling for some “meaning”, though momentarily comforting, might be delaying their healing. Might ultimately reinforce their suffering by keeping them stuck at the same level from which feelings of “the meaningless of life” also arise. He said ‘meaning” is okay as far as it goes but it doesn’t go far enough to liberate us from our suffering. Only a merciful awareness that goes that deep. Only trusting the “don’t know” quality of our unknowingness, “only joining the hunt for our true selves” which tears us open and somehow puts us back together again stronger and more loving than before.
We question, particularly when we are experiencing loss, the meaning of our birth and death and insist that the answer has to come from some supra-rational source. But it is difficult to uncover it from this perspective. The meaning of life has to come from us. And the most satisfying of those meanings always arise from love: the love of others, the love of work, the love of God, the love of the pilgrimage toward the heart, the love of the art and science of self-discovery. It is from love’s absence that the world often seems the most meaningless.
In a life that many say would not be worth living if it had no meaning we discover that the meaning to life is the meaning we offer it. The aspiration to know the whole of us.
We can find no secret from on high that somehow reveals to us at last the reason we seem so often to be discomforted.
As life continues to change the question “Who am I and what am I doing here?” peels back levels and levels of what we took for granted to see what was bestowed 6at birth, the potential for going beyond our ordinary and extraordinary suffering to reveal something worth living for.
Martin said, “I remember in high school math they spoke of the theoretical limit. I think I reached the theoretical limit of my pain with the death of my son. All the pain I could bear and still stay alive. A life once so full was drained of meaning .
“I found myself spending a lot of time in prayer and meditation. It was the only context big enough for this longing for my son and all the confusion it brought up. And not knowing what any thing meant or even what to do next, but not quite wanting to kill myself, I just let myself die into this unknowing”.
How we approach our not knowing what comes next is what gives meaning to our life.
When we whole heartedly surrender into our not knowing with what is referred to as “don’t know mind” an openness and vulnerability to deeper and deeper truth rises from our inborn unknown wisdom. What is exposed seems somehow already so deeply known yet the surprise of its diamond clarity overwhelms one with humility and gratitude.
In that stillness, in that space between breaths, between thoughts, between lives, something is suddenly remembered. Something it seems impossible to ever have forgotten . And in every fiber of our Being we know that love is the only rational act of a lifetime.
And what may have seemed “meaningless loss” leads to meaningful change which like every evolutionary leap must cross chasms.