Wow, that is quite a presumptuous title for a blog post! The meaning of life, in 750 words or less…
I’m taking a break from talking about my doctorate to share a cascade of hypnopompic insight that emerged as I woke up this morning, probably inspired by listening to Pema Chodron’s When Things Fall Apart during a long drive yesterday.
As you might expect from someone who changed the course of her life after writing her own obituary, I’ve thought a lot about why we’re here. Is there any “why” at all, or do we just get born, live, die, game over? Does it matter what we do while we’re alive – matter to us and/or to anybody else? If we assume that we should do our best to live a “good” life, what does that even mean? Good according to whom – our fellow humans, ourselves, a judgemental God who sits like a cosmic Santa Claus to decide if we’ve been a good enough girl or boy in this lifetime to deserve the ultimate Christmas gift of everlasting life?
Hunter S Thompson, the founder of the gonzo journalism movement, decreed that, “Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside in a cloud of smoke, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming “Wow! What a Ride!”” *
I’m not sure I would go that far, but my very personal view (and I am open to other people having different views) is that human life is meant to be lived richly, in all its messy, glorious variety.
When I wrote my fantasy obituary in the late 1990s, I was inspired by the obits I’d read in the newspaper, particularly those of colourful characters who seemed to have lived many different lifetimes in one, reinventing themselves several times over. They had really got out there and lived the heck out of life.
This idea was reinforced a few years later when I read Conversations with God (Book 3), by Neale Donald Walsch. Speaking as God, he says:
[My] purpose is for Me to create and experience Who I Am through you, lifetime after lifetime, and through the millions of other creatures of consciousness I have placed in the universe… So, your purpose as a soul is to experience yourself as All Of It. We are evolving. We are becoming… Consciousness is a marvellous thing. It can be divided into a thousand pieces. A million. A million times a million. I have divided Myself into an infinite number of ‘pieces’ – so that each ‘piece’ of Me could look back on Itself and behold the wonder of Who and What I Am.
Barbara Marx Hubbard writes in the same vein:
“Whatever we are going through is part of the planetary struggle to evolve.”
Around the same time as Conversations with God, I read Hidden Journey by Andrew Harvey, here quoting what a friend told him about how best to serve their guru, Ma:
To be of use to Ma, you must know everything about your own nature; to do her work, you must have truly understood the world, not fled from it. Ma wants people to be juicy… full of passion and humour, truly human…
Michael Singer taps into this same thread in The Surrender Experiment, in which he recounts the story of his transition from meditator and teacher, to construction company founder, to tech founder, encountering dizzying heights and heartbreaking lows along the way:
“My formula for success was very simple: Do whatever is put in front of you with all your heart and soul without regard for personal results. Do the work as though it were given to you by the universe itself – because it was.”
Beau Lotto in Deviate talks about how we can help our brains become better wired for creativity when we embrace challenge and novelty, uncomfortable as that might be:
“you must constantly step into an emotionally challenging place and experience difference…actively!…actively seeking contrast is the engine that drives change (and the brain)”
Coming back to Pema Chodron, she talks about the eight worldly dharmas of pleasure and pain, loss and gain, praise and blame, fame and disgrace. As humans, we think we want just the pleasure, the gain, the praise and the fame, but those things can’t exist without the pain, loss, blame, and disgrace. We judge some things as “good” and some as “bad”, but actually they’re all a necessary part of the human experience, and paradoxically we cause ourselves all sorts of anxiety and suffering by trying to avoid the parts we have labelled “bad”.
“Letting there be room for not knowing is the most important thing of all. When there’s a big disappointment, we don’t know if that’s the end of the story. It may just be the beginning of a great adventure. Life is like that. We don’t know anything. We call something bad; we call it good. But really we just don’t know.”
So the point I take away from all of these great thinkers is that our main job in this lifetime is not to seek security, but rather to embrace challenges as an opportunity for growth. It is important that we create safety for our children while they are young, but primarily so that they have the emotional foundation of confidence that will later enable them to explore more boldly, rather than to trying to insulate them from the challenges of life.
Once we’re grown, and especially in these fast-changing times, we need to let go of the shore and surrender to the fast-running currents in the middle of the river. We seek to accept what life throws at us – “good” or “bad” – as being exactly what we need to encounter in order to evolve in this moment. If we try to avoid the pain, or take the edge off it through drugs or alcohol or busy-ness and distraction, we’re just postponing the learning and prolonging the agony. Better to dive into fully feeling what we’re feeling, and finding the gift in it. It’s all part of this amazing privilege of being human.
*Thompson himself went out with a bang – literally. Having often remarked: “I hate to advocate drugs, alcohol, violence, or insanity to anyone, but they’ve always worked for me”, he committed suicide at the age of 67 after a series of health problems. As per his wishes, his ashes were fired out of a cannon in a ceremony funded by his friend Johnny Depp and attended by John Kerry and Jack Nicholson.