Seldom does someone ask the big question, “What Is the Meaning of Life”, at a first meeting, but in 2017 a new acquaintance did just that. She said it’s her way of moving beyond the ‘getting to know you’ phase and engage someone more deeply. It caught me off guard. I wasn’t able to respond in the way I would have liked but asked if I could give it some thought. After we parted, the question kept spinning through my ever-present mind-traffic. Just what she expected.
My three year old response feels appropriate during these times. Like the many open-ended unknown questions in our midst, I wanted to give it my full attention, tap into other available sources, and formulate an answer I felt was appropriate from my small corner of the world.
One lighter response comes from A Whack On The Side of the Head by Roger von Oegh, a workbook on creativity in a chapter that poses the same question.
THE MEANING OF LIFE
- Life is like a banana. You start out green and get soft and mushy with age. Some people want to be one of the bunch while others want to be the top banana. You have to take care not to slip on externals. And finally, you have to strip off the outer coating to get at the mat.
- Life is like riding an elevator. It has a lot of ups and downs and someone is always pushing your buttons. Somethings you get the shaft, but what really bothers you are the jerks.
- Life is like a poker game. You deal or are dealt to. It includes skills and luck. You bet, check, bluff and raise. It includes skills and luck. You bet, check, bluff and raise. You learn from those you play with. Sometimes you win with a pair or lose with a full house. But whatever happens, it’s best to keep on shuffling along.
In her extensive piece, Robin expands our mindfulness of a meaningful connection to and with the natural world.
“While it's true that words are simply vessels for meaning, without meaning of their own, many cultures imbue the utterance of words with spirit because they originate with the breath, with the mystery of life itself. In her book Becoming Wise, Krista Tippett writes, "The words we use shape how we understand ourselves, how we interpret the world, how we treat others. Words make worlds."”
In other words, we can’t easily give ‘the meaning of life’ meaning. It is more - more than we as human beings can grasp, for we don’t have the language, the depth of empathetic understanding needed to formulate meaning. And more and more I realize that we as a western society are severely limited in our ability to imagine such correlations?
I tried her approach on for size. It feels good. It feels appropriate. It feels right especially now, when we don’t have the words about the unknown.
Is it the inability to grasp a fuller, deeper narrative? Is it a mystery? Can the ‘meaning’ be defined as a mystery? What is the meaning? Is there a meaning? I’m not sure. Do we give it too much meaning as thinking human beings? Do we try to provide purpose and reason when there is only cradle to grave? Is trying to give it meaning - our downfall? All of the above.
What I do see is that the interrelatedness of all that surrounds us is what we need to acknowledge, for that is where the meaning is – in both life, and growth, and death.
This reflection may not answer the meaning of life question, but it certainly stopped me long enough to put thought to it and allowed me to play with and secure my own position - at least for today.
This question is one I use often when interviewing individuals about their life. How about you? Reply via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject line – The Meaning of Life.
Until next time,