Man has a yearning for meaning: Why am I here? What is my purpose? Is there more than just this one life? Religion and spiritual searching are manifestations of this yearning. The blessing and curse of the rational mind is that we are intelligent enough to frame the question but perhaps not intelligent enough to find the answer.
Tolstoy took a fairly despairing view on it all: “The only absolute knowledge attainable by man is that life is pointless.”
The meaning and the purpose of your life is the meaning and purpose that you choose to give it, even if you ascribe the choice to some outside/divine force. At the end of the day, it is a still a choice that you make. It is vitally important to recognise and take responsibility for that.
A lot of us were indoctrinated as children to believe one thing or another; that our way is the only true way. Thus we feel in our bones that “our way” is exclusively the right way. I have worked in many countries with people of many different cultures and religions. I have encountered good people in different religions; each sincerely convinced “in their bones” that their path is the only true path. So how does one decide? Who, if anyone, is right?
The choice to believe in an afterlife, reincarnation or some such other post-death existence can never ever be more than your choice.
Voltaire famously said about the possibility of reincarnation: “It is not more surprising to be born twice than once.” He has a good point. In the context of our limited understanding before the great mystery of “life the universe and everything (Richard Adams RIP)”, both ideas are equally miraculous and possible.
I don’t propose to answer these questions, as in the words of Alexander Pope: “Fools rush in where angels fear to tread”.
Irrespective of what form your relationship with the great mystery takes, whether you believe in a god, or a universal consciousness, the immortality of the soul, or none of the above, there are some simple things that I have found to be true. The most important aspect is to do the work to develop your personal relationship with the bigger picture, the splendour and mystery of it all.
- Develop your unique talent and do not worry about what others think. “If you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.”
- Make a difference. You make a difference whether or not you want to. Live your life with that perspective. Your actions contribute to the world being a better or worse place. Making a difference will always have more value and meaning than making money.
- Pay attention to the journey, not just the destination. Enjoy and be consciously involved in the process of life. We become so obsessed with goals that we forget to experience live and enjoy what is happening right now.
- Find your own path. Find out what is important to you. Finding your own path is a process, which is helped by an attitude of open curiosity and kindness to yourself. It is a process of discovering the principles by which to want to live your life. Do your best to live by those principles, but don’t become rigid and judgemental about them.
- Accept yourself, and the experiences that made you who are today.
- Learn to forgive.
Be kind and be compassionate. Whatever you might believe, whatever your god, suffering is real; human suffering is caused by humans. It has its roots in attachment and aversion, in desire and craving. Ironically, in our desire not to suffer, we create suffering. Everyone has their story, their tragedy, their hopes, regrets, their fears and their struggles. Remember: “There but for the grace of god go I”
Be grateful: Whatever you happen to believe, the very fact we are here now, alive and conscious, however briefly, is a miracle. What great good fortune, what a privilege! Notice and appreciate both the details and the bigger picture.
Finally, never lose your sense of humour. We humans are at once noble and absurd. The contradiction is hilarious. To be able to laugh at yourself with all your contradictions is a powerful healing balm. Laugh with others, not at others.