Find The Meaning Of Your Life

a beautiful flower depticing our ability to find the meaning of your life

You can find the meaning of your life – in the simple sentences you use everyday.

Meaning in life is a purely psychological construct. Our body does not seek meaning; it seeks food, water and touch. Our mind, on the other hand, seeks associations of experience from which meanings arise. The meanings in our life are created in basic sentences which we often don’t recognize because they are so simple. For example, the statement ‘life is suffering’ is more than a simple sentence, it is an equation which generates meaning. The word ‘is’ serves the same purpose as ‘equals.’ For example, you can rephrase 2 + 2 = 4 as two plus two is four. The sentence ‘life is suffering’ can also be ‘life equals suffering’ or ‘life = suffering.’ Or, we could also just as easily say ‘life means suffering’ or 2 + 2 means 4. Equations generate meaning. Many of the sentences we use are equations. Meaning in our life is created by the equation-like sentences we use within our mind.

To get a handle on this idea, think of several sentences you use in daily life which use ‘is,’ ‘are’, ‘be’, ‘am’ or variations of those such as ‘will be’ or ‘has been’ and change them to ‘equals.’ Here are some examples: ‘John is such a jerk he’s always making stupid jokes’ becomes ‘John equals such a jerk he equals always making stupid jokes.’ Or, another example, ‘Sally is one of the most productive workers at the office’ becomes ‘Sally equals one of the most productive workers at the office.’ This can also be written out as ‘John = such a jerk….’ And ‘Sally = one of the most…..’

We form our meanings in life with equations. Many of the sentences we use are equations. But, we don’t see that we think in equation-like sentences because we view these equations as nothing but sentences. Yet, sentences are, in fact, equations when we use the word ‘is’ or its variations (‘am,’, ‘be,’, etc.). The meanings we form in our mind are based on a ‘chain of logic’ which can often be very silly. Silly logic works like this: If you are mistaken and to be mistaken is bad, then you are bad. This is represented as: A = B and B = C, therefore A = C. Technically, this is called a ‘syllogism,’ but you can call it silly logic, because it can get very silly. For example, ‘Housewives are dull and I am a housewife, therefore, I am dull’ is a syllogism – its silly logic. The first sentence, called the premise, may or may not be true. That doesn’t matter. If it is accepted as true, the conclusion will also be accepted as true and we will believe the whole chain of logic, as silly as it is. And, if we believe it, we might find ourselves, if we are a housewife, feeling dull, depressed or lethargic and not understand why. But, let’s say a housewife has different set of silly logic equations such as ‘Housewives are creative and I am a housewife, therefore, I am creative.’ This housewife might find herself living a happy, energetic life because of these few silly logical simple sentence equations housed in the mind. There is meaning in both examples because both examples generate silly logical equations which are the basis of meanings; yet, one chain of silly logic creates low energy and maybe depression while another generates high energy and satisfaction.

Everyone has silly logic equations in their mind. Consequently, everyone has meanings in their life. These meanings are made with equation – like sentences. Some sentences will add a positive spin to our life, others can make our life miserable. If you think you lack meaning in your life, take some time to explore and examine the internal sentence/equations you are using. These equation-like sentences are built up over the years through experience and associations coupled with internalized dialogue and mental pictures. For example, a child may have been frightened by an event, say almost drowning in a swimming pool. The child builds an equation something like swimming pool = danger – or, in sentence form, swimming pools are dangerous. The child may have also learned that dangerous situations are to be avoided. Or, in equation form, danger = avoid. With this chain of silly logic equations imbedded in the mind, now as a young adult, this person would naturally avoid swimming pools because they are dangerous and dangerous places are to be avoided. Or, phrased in meaning terms, swimming pools mean danger and danger means avoid. Many of the meanings we hold as an adult were formed during childhood and adolescence. They deserve some examination and probably some adjustments.

Silly logic equations are not bad; they are just sometimes irrational – a bit on the crazy side. However, they can also be realistic, helpful, productive and useful. In fact, we could not function without them. Silly logic equations are the foundation of all the meanings in our life. Without lengthy, complex chains of silly logic, nothing would mean anything in our life!

The point of this article is to suggest that if you are feeling a malaise, a lack of meaning in life, you need look no further than the simple sentences within your own mind to find the source. Everyone has meanings in their life. The real issue is not so much about finding meaning as much as it is about examining, questioning, challenging and changing the meanings that have already been formed and which may be irrational or…much too silly. As human beings, we have the freedom to make our meanings. We can choose what kind of silly logical equation-like sentences inhabit our mind.

Independence: Some Thoughts on Meta Relationships

 A Jacaranda tree stands alone as if in independenceIndependence You Say?

You are not independent. You are “in-dependence.” Independence is an illusion; it does not exist, anywhere. As an individual, as a society, as a nation, we like to view ourselves are independent. Especially in the United States which was founded on the principle of independence. But, think about it, what are you not dependent upon? Who are you not dependent upon? Dependence is not a bad thing; it has earned a bad rap due to issues of “co-dependence” which refers to a dysfunctional relationship between two or more people. We like to think of independence as freedom. But, freedom is a mental concept that has become distorted to mean no responsibilities, which is a fallacy. Freedom has more to do with our capacity to make choices and decisions for which there are consequences to which we are bound. The natural world, of which we are a part, is a complex web of dependence. We use our freedom to make choices and decisions within the confines of our dependence upon the natural world. Let’s take a look at some of the ways in which we are integrally dependent upon the natural world and other people.

If we consider some of our basic needs, such as food, shelter and clothing, we readily see that without the soil, the rain, the sun and a conducive atmosphere, we would have no food. And, you will certainly agree that we are dependent upon food! Shelter too is based on utilizing natural resources: wood mainly, which comes from trees, which grows in soil, which needs sunlight and rain…and a conducive atmosphere. Clothing comes from natural fibers such as cotton and silk. Or, it is made from synthetic materials which are petroleum based and again part of the natural world’s resources.

One of our more basic needs is physical safety, security and protection. These needs too are dependent upon the resources of our natural environment. Whether it is a fortress built of stone, a spear of wood, a sword of metal, a gun, a cannon, a bomb….they are all built from materials outside of our individual existence, meaning we cannot simply materialize these things from within ourselves. We can imagine tools such as these, and so many others, from within ourselves…but, we cannot materialize them without the aid of natural resources. It has been suggested that “hom0 sapien”, the knowing animal, ought to be renamed “homo faber” the fabricating animal. All of the tools and technology which surrounds us today is a fabrication utilizing the materials available to us…and without which, we would have nothing. We are dependent!

Higher needs have to do with social interaction…belongingness and connection to others. The complex division of labor in society requires that we interact with others; systems of exchange are devised of which money is only one. We are not so much dependent upon money as we are dependent upon exchange. We could not exist in society alone as a solitary individual. We are dependent upon others, and they upon us. The complexity of our dependence can be mind boggling. Just having food to buy at the market, or gas to buy for the car, involves a vast array of people doing varying different jobs. As you sit at your computer reading this article, you are reaping the benefits of your dependence upon a system of manufacturing, production and distribution of goods that dwarfs individual efforts. We are dependent upon the collective activities of society. And, in today’s world of globalization, we are fast becoming aware of our dependence upon the global marketplace, of which we are all a part.

Beyond our needs for belonging and connection with others, we have needs for knowledge. And, here again, we are dependent upon others…specifically, the mind of others, the mind of humanity, if you will. In that regard, we are dependent upon our ancestors, our history…our collective history. Knowledge grows, expands and becomes increasingly complex. We become dependent upon systems of data as well as the storage and transmission of that data. No one person can do this alone. And, in fact, any one person, you for example, is really composed of millions of component parts all intricately connected and dependent upon each other. The cells and organs of the body, the nervous system and it’s subsidiary systems of circulation, respiration, digestion, elimination, immunity….Where is there any independence?

We need a Declaration of Dependence. We need an awareness of systems and how they interact for it is within systems that we exist and it is within systems where dependence is an absolutely necessary functionality. We need a recognition and acknowledgement of Complexity. Complexity Theory states that “Complex Systems is a new approach to science that studies how relationships between parts give rise to the collective behaviors of a system and how the system interacts and forms relationships with its environment.” (Wikipedia).

As an individual, we interact within systems; and the way we do that is through communication. Communication is a means of relationship and exchange, it is a means of understanding and knowledge. In a system of dependence, communication is critically important for without accurate and effective communication we would not be able to function. Our body is a striking example of complex communication in action. Just the mere act of walking requires sophisticated communication between cells, nerves, ligaments and muscles ranging from the tips of our toes to our eyes. Without that communication, we would easily and quickly fumble. Communication is THE critical ingredient in healthy dependence.

So, the next time you hear somebody expounding their independence, think about the complex systems upon which they are dependent to even vocalize their illusory perception and belief of their own independence. In fact, when you hear yourself falling into this trap…catch yourself and recall the truth: we are all in-dependence.

Finding Fulfillment

Iao Stream in afternoon light

Here’s the situation….You want. You want wealth. And health. You want comfort and peace; love and happiness. You want freedom. In a single all-inclusive word, you want FULFILLMENT.

Like most people, you probably think you are not fulfilled. You have too many unsatisfied needs and wants. But, that has nothing to do with fulfillment, that has to do with satisfaction. Fulfillment is something entirely different. Fulfillment is being full, complete, and whole. Satisfaction comes and goes with the waxing and waning of needs and wants. Fulfillment is not dependent on the satisfaction of needs and wants, it is based something much more basic, much more fundamental. Fulfillment is based on the very nature of being. Satisfaction is based on becoming. There is a huge difference between being and becoming.

Becoming is a process. The mind seeks to become more, have more, get more; to become bigger and better…Becoming is based in desire and it does not cease when any particular desire is satisfied because other desires arise. Being, on the other hand, is about the fullness of existence in the present. There is no desire, no becoming. You can become anything you want (or so we are often told). In our culture, there is a tremendous pressure to become someone, do something. Work hard. Struggle. Fight for it. Claw your way up to the top of the heap. Become! And we are told that by becoming we will achieve fulfillment. Unfortunately, from the top of the heap, we see another heap off in the distance; a bigger heap towards which we must strive if we are to become fulfilled. This is a never ending process which is why we will never become fulfilled. But, we can be fulfilled.

Whereas becoming is a process and ever incomplete, being is a state forever filled and full. Being underlies becoming in the same way the ocean underlies the surface waves. If becoming is like waves on the ocean continually arising to a peak and then crashing on the shore, being is the ocean itself. The waves of satisfaction rise and fall while the ocean of fulfillment remains constant. Satisfaction is achieved through becoming while fulfillment is experienced through being. And, since you are a human being, you really don’t need to do anything to be a being. You cannot become what you already are. And what you are now is far more wonderful, far more magnificent, than anything you could possibly become. The moral of the story? Don’t measure your fulfillment based on your becomings. Fulfillment exists in the present moment of your being human regardless of any doings on your part.

Love is Bad

red rose

In today’s adolescent vernacular, bad can often mean good. Even the word sick can mean good. You may have heard some kid saying something like ‘oh, yeah, that movie was bad’ or ‘that guitar solo was so sick’ meaning, actually, that they were quite good. Love is bad.

Our use of language naturally evolves and morphs from one generation to another. Each generation seems to invent new words to represent experience. Certainly, we have become accustomed to a plethora of new words as a result of computers, the Internet and social networking. The entire field of ‘texting’ has devised a slew of ‘words’ such as ‘lol’ that were unheard of a decade ago.

There are some words, important words, words which shape and frame our consciousness, which have been around a long time, and which have a myriad of different meanings. Love is one of those words. Depending on our experience with love, it can be bad, as in bad; or, it can be good, as in good. It can be an ecstatic experience, or one of anguish. But, is that really love?

We can say that love has many levels and many meanings; we can speak of erotic and romantic love, platonic love, familial love and we can even speak of a national love, the love a person has for his or her nation and for whom one would die. There are some common denominators amongst all of these types of love, namely that they are emotional states. Being emotionally based, this experience we call love is intimately connected with such emotional traits as attachment and possessiveness, which can lead to jealousy and even violence. One has to question the validity of a ‘love’ that in any way leads to violence, or, for that matter, anger, frustration, depression or anxiety, all of which are not uncommon experiences in the realms of ‘love.’ There is more popular music, poetry and novels written about the anguish and pain of love, both requited and unrequited, than the joys of love. Consider the lyrics in the popular 1980’s song “Love Stinks” by the J. Geils Band:

“You love her
But she loves him
And he loves somebody else
You just can’t win
And so it goes
Till the day you die
This thing they call love
It’s gonna make you cry
I’ve had the blues
The reds and the pinks
One thing for sure
Love stinks”

Love is bad, in the original meaning of bad. It’s sick, in the original meaning of sick. At least the love we think of, as love, is such. But, perhaps, we don’t know love. Perhaps what we label love is an emotional state of mind prone to anguish and torment which has nothing whatsoever to do with love. Perhaps what we have been calling love is really a kind of dependence, a kind of escape from ourselves and our own petty irritations and disturbances of mind. What better way to avoid our own lack of real love than to immerse ourselves into somebody else and call that love?

So, then, what is real love? Is it a feeling? An emotion? An idea? A concept? Or, is it something beyond all that, something so totally fresh, so totally alive, so completely blissful and so totally all encompassing, that we, in effect, block it out, deny it and fear it. Such a state of being could vaporize all our conceptions of who we are and radically change how we relate to others, and to our self. Such a transformation could cause tremendous havoc in our lives, and that would be bad; and so, perhaps, Love is, indeed, bad.

A Philosophical Antidote for Anxiety

crater lake

A philosophical antidote for anxiety. Anxiety is a symptom of a thought process that is fundamentally based on a philosophy of life. Everybody has a philosophy of life though it may not be conscious, and it may not be genuine. That is, it may be a world-view internalized as a child from the surrounding adults. If a child hears “life sucks” enough, then that child internalizes a world view that… life sucks…

One of the more common philosophical underpinnings of anxiety is that things don’t work out; that little problems are big, unsolvable dilemmas; that small obstacles are huge, insurmountable blockages and that the smallest mistake made is equivalent to the largest failure ever committed, by anyone. These philosophical underpinnings generally manifest as ‘catastrophizing’ thought patterns. If you thought a catastrophe was about to occur, you too would be anxious. However, a catastrophe is, in fact, not about to occur, despite our internalized dialogue to the contrary.

Perfectionism is another philosophical underpinning, which generates anxiety. If we are about to approach a task such as, say, a public presentation, and we believe any mistake is a sign of failure, then a lot of energy goes into preventing that failure from happening, which manifests as anxiety. It should be noted that physiologically, anxiety and excitement are almost identical. The only difference between the two is that with anxiety, we anticipate negative outcomes and with excitement we anticipate positive outcomes.

We think in words and pictures; those words and pictures are not so much based upon what we are experiencing or anticipating in the world but rather how we interpret and translate, i.e., how we filter, that experience or anticipation through our philosophical lens. If we believe that little problems are big headaches, difficult to handle and which can easily become evidence of our lack of skill and capacity, we tend to become very anxious. If we believe big problems are challenges that can be an opportunity to exercise our creative problem solving skills and make us feel competent, we tend to have very little anxiety, and bit more excitement.

Anxiety can actually be a pathway to begin examining our internalized thought patterns and our fundamental philosophy of life, or world-view. Sometimes, anxiety is normal and natural. For example, if you were driving at night, in a heavy rainstorm, with lots of traffic, a bit of anxiety would be helpful. It would keep you alert and aware of potential dangers. Excessive anxiety in such a situation could actually increase the danger and risk of an accident. That excessive anxiety could be arising from internal dialogue and mental pictures of catastrophe, based on a philosophical world view that…. life sucks, that insurmountable obstacles occur, that huge unsolvable problems are inevitable or that “the sky is going to fall!”

When irrational anxiety arises, it requires rational, logical thinking to counter it. This kind of thinking is often referred to as evidentiary or scientific thinking. We need to look objectively at what is going on in the situation, as well as our own competencies and capacities. We need to override the catastrophizing thoughts with evidence to the contrary. Our philosophical world view, built up and maintained by our history of internal dialogue and mental pictures may be deeply entrenched; we may be emotionally attached to it and actually believe it is “the truth.”

In fact, our world-view is not the truth; it is simply what we have been taught to think about the world in which we live. Growing up is, in part, letting go of our childish world-view and adopting a more realistic, adult oriented philosophy of life. As stated in 1 Corinthians 13:11 “When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but, when I became a man, I put away childish things.” An argument could be made that excessive and irrational anxiety is a childish thing. We can grow up. We can change. We can build a sound philosophy of life not based on childhood experiences and catastrophizing or perfectionism but rather based on our potential, our capacities and our competencies. As the great American psychologist William James said: “The greatest discovery of our generation is that human beings can alter their lives by altering their attitudes of mind. As you think, so shall you be.”