Who wants to know the meaning of life?
Well, perhaps a better question is, who doesn’t?
Since mankind has been wondering about the meaning of life for ages, it may seem presumptuous for me to write anything definitive about it, but really it isn’t. Because we ALL have the answer, and we’ve had it all along.
Contents of This Article (Clickable Table of Contents)
- 0.1 Meaning Isn’t a Mental Thing
- 0.2 Meaning Is Not a Thing at All … But It Is an Experience
- 0.3 So, What Does Meaning Feel Like?
- 0.4 No Thought Allowed
- 0.5 Beingness
- 0.6 Meaning is NOT about Cause and Effect or Relating … Confused?
- 0.7 What Makes Life Make Sense?
- 0.8 The States of Being We’re Looking for
- 0.9 List of Inherently Meaningful States of Being
- 0.10 Things that Didn’t Make It to the List
- 0.11 Why All This Talk about States of Being?
- 0.12 Some States of Being Are Phony (Relative)
- 0.13 The Differences Between Real and Phony States of Being
- 1 The Big Finale: The Meaning of Life
- 2 Finally: So How Can We Experience More Meaning in Life?
Meaning Isn’t a Mental Thing
The trouble is, the answer is one that our MIND doesn’t much care for. We cannot THINK our way to the answer. It’s not an intellectual exercise, not a mental construct. It’s nothing fancy or clever. Rather, it just IS.
My challenge here is to put it into words. Your challenge is to read those words and interpret them not so much with your thinking mind as with your heart – or gut or intuition. (Don’t worry, I’ll still stimulate your intellect a bit).
Meaning Is Not a Thing at All … But It Is an Experience
First off, let’s be clear that whatever else it might be – or might not be – meaning is an experience. Either we experience meaning, or we don’t.
It seems that most people most of the time do not experience meaning. At least not in the industrialized world.
But everybody experiences meaning every once in a while. Even if it’s just a glimpse, ever so briefly.
Most people have a hard time putting those moments into words. (I can relate to that. It ain’t easy).
Also, it’s hard to pinpoint exactly why those precious moments occur. In fact, it’s very-nearly-but-not-quite impossible, because we’re typically looking for the wrong type of answer. We’ll get back to that in a moment.
So, What Does Meaning Feel Like?
Here are some examples of how I’ve heard people describe those treasured instants where they experience meaning:
– Everything seems to fall into place, and things – all things/everything – make sense.
– Instinctively knowing the meaning of life, the universe and everything.
– Being in “the Zone”, flow, a peak experience.
– All words disappear, and are replaced by beingness or presence.
– Feeling totally alive, and being alive feels wonderful.
– Unconditional love, coming from the inside.
– Unmitigated joy and happiness for no reason at all.
– Being at total peace, in a state of complete contentment.
– Just being here, now, or just being, period – it is enough to exist.
– All is right, all is as it should be.
– Like deep meditation, only wide awake.
– Oneness, all is one.
Obviously, the second one above, “Instinctively knowing the meaning of life, the universe and everything” is spot on, and I have talked to several people who have had this experience, just like I myself have had it (as well as most of the other experiences mentioned).
The problem is, that particular experience doesn’t last very long – in fact most or all of the above experiences have that tendency – and afterwards all we can remember of “the meaning of life” is that we knew what it was and that it was incredibly simple and obvious while at the same time allowing for near-infinite complexity.
(But, as it happens, that’s actually a fairly apt description of the meaning of life – even if it doesn’t tell us WHAT that meaning is).
No Thought Allowed
One of the reasons why those wonderful moments of clarity and meaning are so hard to describe is the absence of thoughts and words, precisely because the intellect is NOT involved in the experience. In other words, we can HAVE the experience but we cannot THINK about having it. The second we start thinking, the experience ends.
This tells us that meaning is not about RELATING TO SOMETHING. Or, to put it differently, meaning is not a thing for us to relate to … indeed, it’s not a thing at all.
It also tells us that meaning is not about CAUSE and EFFECT. Or, differently put, we cannot plan to get and then work hard to achieve meaning, because meaning is beyond causality.
What is meaning about, then?
Meaning is about BEING.
It is so tricky to talk (or write) about being. But it really should be simple. After all, we are all human beings.
You know the expression, “You’re not a human doing, you’re a human being”? Well, it’s spot on. We’re all humans and we’re all BEING. Not being something, just being.
We all have beingness.
Which is precisely the point. What’s truly interesting here are states of being. But before we continue down that road of understanding, let’s look at what else meaning ISN’T.
Meaning is NOT about Cause and Effect or Relating … Confused?
We’ve got a couple of very persistent and all-pervasive habits that get in the way of the experience of meaning:
– Our cause and effect habit, which goes something like this, “What must I do – or be – or have – to achieve X (with X being anything and everything?)”
– Our relating habit, which goes something like this, “What do I think – or feel – about X (with X being people, animals, plants, the environment, things, information, experiences, etc., etc.)?”
Just consider it for yourself. How much of your time, attention, energy and even money goes towards those two habits?
Odds are, almost all of it. All your resources, everything you have.
Crazy though it seems when you think about it (relate to it, ha!), we’re so used to everything being about either cause and effect and/or relating – that we’ve more or less forgotten how it is even possible that something is NOT about cause and effect and relating!
But the experience of meaning is exactly like that. No cause, no effect, no relating … just being.
External things do not give us a sense of meaning in life. Nothing external can give our lives meaning. Meaning is an inside job.
Meaning is not caused by anything. If you absolutely need a cause, then let’s call that cause the absence of causality.
In other words, the experience of meaning is not caused by, say, having a cool car, a perfect home, or a wonderful, experienced and devoted lover who loves you very much.
Nor is it caused by being rich, or famous, or good looking.
And, very importantly, meaning is not something you “achieve” by setting goals and doing things, either – you simply cannot “goalset-and-win” the meaning of life.
All of the above externally based ideas about meaning are just persistent cultural myths that have nothing to do with how things actually work, a.k.a. that-which-is.
– FORGET about cause and effect. (You can’t set meaning as a goal and achieve it).
– FORGET about relating (to people, things, etc.). (Meaning is not caused by your relationships).
– FORGET about doing. (Meaning is not dependent on your actions or non-actions).
– FORGET about having. (Owning stuff – or not owning it – has nothing to do with meaning).
– FORGET, even, about being something or other. (Pretense isn’t meaningful, just the opposite).
While all of those can give you brief glimpses of pleasure, even small blips of happiness, those glimpses and blips certainly don’t last … and when it comes to experiencing meaning all of the above cultural myths about meaning are simply in the way! They will lead you astray.
“Do this! Be that! Have a relationship with …” Those are all red herrings. You’ll be better off letting them go.
(In terms of the relative versus the more absolute, or personal reality versus absolute reality, the experience of meaning is fairly far away from personal reality and closer to the more absolute (real) version of reality. If this seems like a slightly cryptic statement, don’t worry, just ignore it. It has to do with the nature of reality, which is going to get it’s own article on this website).
What Makes Life Make Sense?
Well, what is it, then? What’s meaning of life?
Actually, by now we’ve already covered most of the answer:
Meaning is an experience – of a state of being.
Okay, but WHICH state (or states) of being?
Well, as I started out by saying, we all already know the answer, so let’s consider this: which states of being do we know that give us a feeling of meaning all by themselves, for no reason at all?
The States of Being We’re Looking for
Right off the bat, we can cross out states of being that make us feel bad. Jealousy, hate, anger, fear, sorrow, anxiety, depression and so on are states of being that we don’t experience as anywhere near the meaning of life. In fact, they’re pretty much the opposite. Just ask any depressed person.
To find meaning what we’re looking for are INHERENTLY MEANINGFUL STATES OF BEING.
States of being that are both the means and the end. Both the alpha and the omega.
States of being that are self contained, self-sufficient, self-supporting and inherently, intrinsically meaningful in the sense that they makes sense all on their own, nothing else needed – no purpose, no goal, no cause, no reason why.
Let’s make a list.
List of Inherently Meaningful States of Being
It’s not a very long list, and though I cannot promise that this list is exhaustive, it is a fairly good start:
• Being (existing, living, being alive, being consciously aware, being yourself, authenticity)
• Loving (feeling gratitude and love, loving others, loving yourself, loving life, and to some extent: being loved – and yes, good sex is included here, too*)
• Creating (writing, painting, dancing, singing, playing music, performing, inventing, building, etc.)
• Choosing (using free will, deciding, making our own decisions, autonomy, freedom)
• Growing (expanding who you are, learning new things and skills, being challenged, getting better)
• Helping (helping yourself and others, doing “good”, compassion, giving, doing your part)
• Fulfilling needs (fulfillment of survival needs, social needs and spiritual needs … but only to the level of “enough”, anything more becomes meaningless)
• Experiencing (basically what we spend our lives doing)
• Playing (a playful attitude, experimenting, trying out new things, having fun, humor)
• Being whole** and in balance (unity, oneness, spiritual enlightenment, nirvana, harmony)
*NOTE: For reasons that seem meaningless to me, sex is more or less taboo in several cultures, but the way I see it, sex is first and foremost a way to express and receive love. Good sex is also extremely playful, creative, life affirming and an absolutely wonderful way of experiencing; as well, of course, as being the fulfillment of a need. So sex definitely deserves a mention on this list.
**NOTE: “Being whole” is a funny one, for two reasons:
1) We ARE whole, all of us, we cannot NOT be whole, though we can certainly think, feel and believe we’re not whole and thus experience not being whole, even though everything, everywhere at all times is whole, including us
2) Being whole means consisting of smaller “wholenesses” (e.g. organs and cells) and being part of bigger “wholenesses” (e.g. groups, nations, humanity, earth/Gaia, life itself) … Think ecosystems: each human being consists of minor ecosystems (e.g. in our bowels) and each human is also part of many bigger ecosystems (local, regional, global, universal).
As you can see, there are actually quite a few of these alpha-and-omega states of being that involve “action” or “doing” (creating, helping, fulfilling needs, playing, etc.), so it’s not a question of “being” versus “doing”.
More than anything meaning has to do with wholeness, and a whole human being can and will both “be” and “do”, often at the same time. In fact, “doing what you are” or “doing what comes naturally given who you are when you’re being authentic” tends to feel extremely satisfying and meaningful all by itself (we’ll get back to that briefly).
Things that Didn’t Make It to the List
Now, some people would probably add things to the above list, like maybe …
– Relationships (to family, friends, co-workers, etc.)
… but those items don’t “make the cut”, in my opinion. First off, with the possible exception of passion, neither of those are states of being. And furthermore …
Relationships (the ones we like) are generally based on love, which is already on the list. The relationships we don’t like, well, those don’t make a lot of sense or add a lot of meaning to our lives, so they are exactly the type of things we quit, let go of and walk away from when we use life alchemy to create a better, more meaningful life for ourselves.
Purpose is merely a way to describe whatever it is we do when we’re being who we really are (100% authentic), and passion describes how we feel about it. Also, being authentic is already on the list (under point one, “Being”).
Mission and goals are mental constructs which are just as likely to be distracting red herrings as they are to be useful, and they certainly aren’t self contained both-the-means-and-the-end type of things. Rather they’re pretty much just about the end.
So no, neither “family” nor “lovers” nor “sex” nor “work” nor “achievements” nor “finding your passion” nor “riches and fame” is the meaning of life. They cannot be, because they’re all external things.
Sometimes, though, some of them help us to enter one of the alpha-and-omega states of being which are inherently meaningful. In other words:
It’s not the family or the lover or the sex that makes sense, it’s loving others, growing, helping, playing, creating and so on.
Why All This Talk about States of Being?
Why is it important that the above list of inherently meaningful things is a list of states of being? Because …
a) … states of being have exactly that alpha-and-omega-quality that makes sense all by itself, for no reason at all: states of being are intrinsically, inherently meaningful, they are both means and end, and thus self supporting/self sustaining and completely self contained
b) … states of being are what experience is all about, because we experience everything through ourselves and inside ourselves, and our most profound experiences are in fact states of being, since they occur when what-we-are merges with what-we-do (e.g. when we express our true identity)
c) … experiencing is what all of life and consciousness (incl. humans) is busy doing, so it looks a lot like experiencing through states of being might be a basic purpose of life, consciousness and existence in general
Some States of Being Are Phony (Relative)
Here’s a side note about the unpleasant states of being we mentioned earlier, like e.g. jealousy, anxiety, hate or depression.
All these displeasing states of being are based on external misunderstandings (typically something egoic and fear-based), and so they’re not self contained, and we certainly don’t experience them as inherently meaningful. Which means they’re phony (only relatively real).
However, they actually do share one important characteristic with the real deal: they’re (kind of) self supporting in the sense that e.g. anxiety begets more anxiety and depression begets more depression. Which just might be the reason why so many people have such a hard time getting out of anxiety and depression (and jealousy and hate and so on). These painful states of being are not quite self sustaining, though, because we do still need to add energy and attention to them to maintain them, and so even in this area they reveal their phoniness.
The Differences Between Real and Phony States of Being
So how do we distinguish between real alpha-and-omega states of being like loving, being creative, helping, learning/expanding, playing and, on the other side, phony but (kind of) self supporting states like depression, anxiety and jealousy, not to mention shame, hate, neglect, unworthiness, isolation and the like?
Well, other than noticing that they’re unpleasant and don’t exactly seem to be brimming with meaning, we can simply check to see if they can be negated and dispelled by the truth (absolute reality, that-which-is). Or, to put it differently: if they can be let go of.
The rule of thumb is this:
We can only let go of things that aren’t real. When something is real in a more absolute sense it is not possible to let go of it.
Rather, you actually get more of that which is absolutely real.
Try to let go of genuine joy, love or inner peace, for example, and all you’re going to get is more joy, love and inner peace! Because they’re actually real.
Letting go of depression, anxiety, shame, neglect, jealousy, unworthiness, isolation, hate and the like, on the other hand is entirely possible. Once you let them go, they’re replaced by … yes, you’ve guessed it: joy, love, inner peace, wholeness and other states of being that are actually real.
The Big Finale: The Meaning of Life
By now we’ve got all the information we need to give a short and clear answer to the question of the meaning of life. In fact, we can give several answers, all of them true.
So. Are you ready?
Here we go …
The Meaning of Life: Take ONE
The meaning of life is not just a state of being, it is THE state of BEING.
Are you remembering to interpret what you read not with your mind, but with your intuition, your gut, your heart?
The Meaning of Life: Take TWO
Let me try putting the point differently:
The meaning of life is to BE. Pure beingness.
Can you just BE? Just exist, without all the noise of thoughts, beliefs, needs, fears, negative emotions and so on?
Maybe you’ve experienced pure beingness while being somewhere in nature? Perhaps watching a magnificent sunset? Or during meditation? Or while having mindblowing, transcendental sex? Or even just enjoying a true masterpiece of art or performance?
Those magnificent moments when reality overwhelmed your thinking mind and everything else, too, and left you in a speechless state of awe, wonder and pure appreciation? Just being!
Well, THAT is the meaning of life. Those moments aren’t just moments, you know. They’re a state of being. THE state of being!
This “beingness” makes perfect sense in and of itself.
The Meaning of Life: Take THREE
Let me try putting the point in a third way, the one that is perhaps the easiest for our minds to comprehend and relate to:
The meaning of life is the experience of existence.
Which is first and foremost the experience of states of being, particularly the inherently meaningful alpha-and-omega states of being like loving, creating, giving, playing, growing, and so on. And most particularly the state of just being – pure beingness.
The clearest and strongest expression and experience of this beingness is to:
– experience and express yourself as you truly are
– experience others as they truly are
– and experience life itself as it truly is (that-which-is).
Infernal Noise-makers and Artificial Limitations
Existence in and of itself is enough. The experience of existing makes perfect sense in and of itself.
But we don’t realize this, because we’re living in:
– our overactive minds
– our (apparently) fragile bodies
– fear of not satisfying our needs
– the roller coaster ride of our emotions.
And we’re limited by our:
– inflexible beliefs
– rigid cultural norms
– old habits.
All of this is basically noise, like static on a radio.
And yet, we’re choosing to listen to it. To live our lives in it, and by it.
We’re discussing the static, relating to the static, even dancing to the static!
We can’t experience the clear, meaningful signal of life and pure beingness because we’re too busy listening to all the noise!
Creating Ever More Static
In fact, we’re creating more noise all the time: we have an ever growing supply of media and we consume them, not only on television and computers at home and at work, but on smartphones that never leave our sides.
(When I take a walk in the city or look at people in public transportation I see them, but hardly any of them see me. They’re almost all nose-deep in their smartphones. And what are they doing? Ingesting noise!)
We never give ourselves any peace. Never any time to just BE.
So we almost never have the experience of meaning.
And unconditional love, inner peace, happiness and all the other inherently meaningful states of being become mere glimpses, blips on the radar, moments of meaning that pass all too quickly because we’re tuning our radio back to the static.
Creating Fences, Fake Identities and Faux Relationships
Also, the beliefs, cultural norms and old habits that we subscribe to are fencing us in, limiting our beingness as well as our expression of ourselves. They’re limiting our interactions and experiences.
These beliefs, norms and habits are forcing us to pretend to be something we’re not, and to relate to both ourselves, others and life itself in artificial ways.
Instead of being the norm, genuinely authentic people have become the rare exceptions that prove the rule. Sadly.
Instead of relating to others and life itself in an authentic way here and now, human being to human being, and human being to life, we follow artificial rules and scripts, many of which were created so long ago we no longer know why they even exist. And, of course, we “relate online” rather than in person.
None of which makes any sense, but all of which consumes our time, attention and energy, indeed even our money.
Is it any wonder our lives seem meaningless?
Finally: So How Can We Experience More Meaning in Life?
That’s an easy question to answer:
Reduce the amount of static, become authentic, and increase the amount of inherently meaningful experiences.
Do’s and Don’ts
• Cut down on your media consumption – drastically. (In particular, completely eliminate everything fear-based, such as horror movies or the so-called “news”).
• Learn to let go of your beliefs, norms, needs and habits. Start, perhaps, by learning to let go of thoughts and feelings, and then move on to the other, more important things.
• Find out who you really, truly are at the most basic level. It’s not enough to understand it intellectually (e.g. by reading about it), you need to understand it on many levels (intellectually, emotionally, energetically, bodily, etc.), so experientially realizing who you really are, e.g. by going on inner journeys, is the most efficient way to truly learn.
• Don’t identify with your mind, your body, your needs, or your emotions. And certainly don’t identify with your culture, beliefs or anything else that’s man made. We all have preferences, obviously, but we don’t actually need anything to identify with. It is enough to just BE. But if you do feel the need to identify with something, choose to identify with your essence/soul, or consciousness, or life itself.
• Become a genuinely authentic person. This is a choice. It seems scary, but isn’t, really.
• Interact honestly and authentically with others.
• Learn to move your “perspective on life” (world view, or the way you see yourself and life) from that all that’s relative (personal reality) … to … that-which-is (a more absolute and real version of reality).
• Teach yourself to “hear”/sense your intuition – and then trust it without question.
And last, but certainly not least:
• Increase the time, energy and attention you spend on inherently meaningful states of being, including:
• Loving, feeling love towards yourself, towards others and towards life itself.
• Creating, being creative in any and all ways.
• Choosing, using your free will to make autonomous decisions.
• Growing, learning, getting better and expanding who you are – in any and all ways.
• Helping, doing your part, giving, doing “good”, expressing love.
• Fulfilling needs to the level of “enough” (but no more than that).
• Experiencing (basically what we spend our lives doing).
• Playing (a playful attitude, experimenting, trying out new things, having fun, humor).
• Being, being alive, being consciously aware, being authentically yourself.
• Being whole and in balance (unity, oneness, spiritual enlightenment, nirvana, harmony).
Odds are, that if you follow these instructions you’ll get a lot more of that which we humans really, actually want – love, freedom, inner peace, wholeness, happiness, empowerment, development, harmony, balance, joy, or of course, meaning.
Good luck with it – and please remember to have a good time while doing it. After all, since having a life experience is why you’re here, you might as well make it a good and meaningful one, right?
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