Rich in significance or implication
What is the meaning of life? The ultimate question
Or is it? We are born, we learn about the world, we go to work, we have a family, we teach them what we can, we see them grow up, and start a family. We retire, we enjoy our retirement, we help look after our grandchildren then we die. Whether or not there is such a thing as an afterlife or god, is not the wonder of humanity, that we even exist, that we have made it through millions of years of evolution, and can even consider whether there is a meaning of life not enough? Probably not.
We all want to think we were put on this earth for a higher purpose, that our lives must have meaning, but is that not because of a general dissatisfaction with our lives? Has the man who loves what he does, loves his family, and loves the planet and his fellow inhabitants, not already have found the meaning of life, which is to experience love and share love? If everyone found this meaning, surely the world would be free of war and destruction, don’t you think?
Many of us confuse meaning and purpose, but I think purpose can be seen quite clearly as Man’s need to spread his genes to ensure the continuity of the species. If our purpose was only to earn money, invent new technologies, and achieve self-realisation, there wouldn’t be anyone left on the planet! So having a child is the greatest purpose we can achieve, and all the animals, birds, insects, micro-organisms, and fish also share this purpose. A built in biological program to continue their individual species.
But that’s where the similarities stop. In the long development of our brains, we have created something called imagination.
The formation of a mental image of something that is not perceived as real and is not present to the senses
Imagination allows us to think outside of our current situation, to consider new possibilities, to dream of fantastic ideas, to think about things that don’t affect our immediate survival. This is one thing that makes us human. This is what enabled us to become craftsmen, artists, engineers, and scientists. We developed the ability to imagine scenarios, and use our skills to make them real.
The imagination is a powerful thing, and we can use it positively or negatively. We can imagine great successes or great failures, but what really matters is that it is not real, until we make it real. It is through this imagination then, that the idea came, that perhaps there was some special meaning to life, that getting up and working as a machine every day for ones whole life wasn’t quite what it was cracked up to be.
You see, Man has always known he was special, and indeed he is, given that he can walk on two feet, is conscious of himself in his environment, has complex language, opposable thumbs, and great tool making abilities. No other creature on earth has all these skills; but this has left him with one problem. If all of these skills set him apart from the animal world, why does he have to work like them every day? For all that Man has, he still has to feed himself and his family, and provide clothing, heat and shelter every day; and there is only one way to do it. Go to work, just like the animals and birds. Every day.
“Surely there must be more to life than this!”
How many of us have said that? I know I have, as I’ve been sitting in a two hour traffic queue getting to work, whilst sitting at a desk pushing paper all day, whilst sitting on the underground, whilst sitting in a two hour queue on the way home. All for what? Some money that pays for our accommodation and food.
It doesn’t seem fair does it? We are the most intelligent species on the planet and through all our technological advances, we still have to work as hard as the rest of the creatures on the planet. But that’s not totally true, is it?
Over the last hundred years, our agriculture methods and food storage abilities have made life distinctly easy. In the developed world, more and more people are doing sedentary jobs, and we are earning enough money to buy our own homes and take time off to go on holiday. Compare that to the lives of our ancient ancestors who had to hunt and gather food. We have it distinctly easy these days. Easy enough to use our powerful imagination to ponder questions, such as the meaning of life.
Are you dissatisfied with your life, do you think that there must be something else, that there must be a more deep, and profound reason why you are on the earth? That there must be a creator who has a special plan in mind for you? Or are you happy to accept you are part of a fantastic cycle of life and death, that keeps this planet alive and healthy nothing more? That you are different to the animals only because of a process of natural selection and evolution?
Do you think that there is a special “meaning” for the other creatures on earth or is that feature only reserved for us humans?
Our amazing brains and imaginations can ponder the question of meaning forever, because there is no scientific test for it! We cannot effectively prove or disprove that there is something more than just existence, but if you think about it, existence isn’t such a bad thing. On the one hand you exist, you are alive; thanks to your father finding a mate, and successfully transferring his genes to you. On the other, you get to experience the beauty of the earth, and all of its inhabitants. You can raise a family of your own, and you can learn about wonderful and amazing things.
And finally, you get to experience love, something no machine we produce can feel. If there ever was a meaning of life it is love. When your parents hold you as a baby you feel it. Without it, you feel empty, as if a part of you was missing. You love your parents, you love many partners through your life (or just one), you love your children, and if you love everyone and everything, you will never again have to ask if there is a meaning, because you will already have found it.
Meaning is love, but meaning is also how we approach life. When we love what we do, when we feel joy in getting up in the morning, when we look forward to each and every day and the challenges it brings, we have all the meaning in the world.
The problem for most of us in modern society, is that we do things every day because we have to, not because we love doing them. I know for sure that if I asked myself the meaning of life a few years ago, it certainly wouldn’t be getting up at 5.45 am every morning for a two hour drive, followed by office stress for nine hours – no matter how much money I was being paid! It makes sense we all do what we love, but unfortunately that’s not always possible.
When we’re young many of us dream of being actors, pilots or great doctors, but the world needs more real workers than it needs thespians on the stage. Somebody still has to work to harvest the crops, to make the clothes and build the houses and the roads, that make modern life so comfortable.
By alan macmillan orr
‘the natural mind -waking up’