A-  |  A  |  A+  

Meditation and the Meaning of Life

 

Question

Will meditation help me discover the meaning of my life?

 

Answer

No. Our lives have no meaning. (Sorry.) Mediation can help us find peace and harmony with life, even in difficult times. Finding out how to live in sync with life can be a profound feeling. Some would call it finding their purpose. But I think it's a misnomer. Life has no purpose to be found.

 

Elaboration

There is a widespread belief that everything happens for a reason and that each of us has a special purpose as if we were God’s or Life’s secret agents sent into the world to fulfill a special mission. We discover our life’s purpose by discovering our mission and getting on with it.

The notion of life purpose is appealing. But it’s fragile.

We read of young children being gunned down in their classroom in Connecticut. Or we receive a terminal medical diagnosis. What's the purpose of that? If we think everything has a purpose, our spiritual life can be shattered by harsh realities. We can slip into the dark cell of cynicism.

Instead, I'd suggest the reason some things happen has nothing whatsoever to do with our wellbeing. Life has no ultimate purpose. It just is. The universe itself has no purpose. It just is. Where would that purpose come from? Outside the universe? But if the universe is the totality of all that is, there is nothing more.

The Buddha said we can go crazy trying to answer these questions.

When some say the feel their life purpose, perhaps they are feeling deeply connected with life. Their inner flow and rhythm is in sync with the flow and rhythm of life around them. Their healing and growing is in sync with helping the world heal and grow.

This distinction is important. So let me unpack it a little.

The universe has been around for billions of years. It contains billions of galaxies. Our galaxy has billions of stars. Our planet has billions of people. What are the odds that the universe pivots around my life? What are the chances of all this hinging on what I do?

Pretty slim.

On the other hand, we all arose out of the universe. The atoms in my hand came out of stars. This is literally true: the only process powerful enough to push light elements like hydrogen and helium together to make heavier elements like oxygen and carbon is the heat and pressure inside a star. When a star explodes these heavier elements are scattered. Eventually some became the planet earth. Some eventually became my hand. We literally are made of stardust.

We arise out of the universe literally and poetically. We would not be here were it not for all the material and forces that go into creating a human organism. We are part of it all.

Some people claim that life begins at birth. Some say life begins at conception. Both are wrong. Life doesn’t begin. Life is passed on. The egg and the sperm that came together at conception were alive before conception. They arose out of the body of a man and woman. And their bodies arose out of men and woman and other creatures back to the start of life on earth a few billion years ago. We arise out of the process of life itself. And life arises out of stardust.

Our particular life organism can cease living. All life organisms cease within a hundred years or so at most. But the life forces within us began billions of years ago and have been passed on to the body we inhabit. Our life started billions of years ago. We probably don’t remember it. But our life started long before this organism was put together.

When we live in ways that are harmonious with things larger than our organism, we feel our deepest nature. We feel the larger life from which we emerged. It is a deep and mysterious feeling. Some call it "life purpose." I understand the feeling. I think it is deeply real. It’s just a poor label.

I’d rather call it "living harmoniously with life" or "sensing our true nature." Life includes death, pain and confusion. We’d rather cut those out and just hang onto what we like. But imagining there is a special purpose to our life will not get us what we like or avoid pain, suffering and death. We’re better off if we embrace it all. We’re wholer, saner, less neurotic and more in touch with reality if we embrace all that is natural to life and all that is natural to us.

And then, from this wide open embrace, we might ask, "How do I feel drawn to serve the larger good?" The question is not, "When do I feel driven by guilt or obligation to help some poor creep?" It is "How am I heartfully drawn to be part of the larger life around me?"

Let’s not worry about whether it is something we can accomplish. It’s not another item for our to-do list. All that matters is being able to move in that direction. Then we are moving in life’s harmony. Then our life is in harmony with all of life. Then we feel our worth, dignity, goodness and true nature. Then we feel the breadth and depth of the engaged heart.

Meditation can definitely help us find that harmony. We are happier and more enriched when we are in sync with life and our true nature. Meditation can bring is there. But that's not a purpose. It just is.