The meaning of life

Tree of life, Palace of Shaki Khan, Azerbaijan

How can we eloquently speak about life’s most precious and deepest aspects? Can we really say life is like this or like that? Can we fully describe what a sunset feels like, or can we fully convey our (my) mixed-up emotions when we hear about a devastating earthquake in Nepal? Even more basically, can we even begin to describe what it feels like to exist as a human being? It is easy to describe the parts of a car – we have a whole vocabulary for this – but the sense of existing that we all know and take for granted is more iffy.

It is almost as if the more basic and essential something is, the less easy it is to articulate, with complex and superficial matters being much easier to pin down.

In many spiritual teachings there is a notion that everything is illusion, that ultimately nothing really matters and life has no inherent meaning. Ironically, I have found these teachings to be helpful and liberating. Yet other teachings say that individual people do matter and loving and caring for each other is essential to spiritual (and non-spiritual) life. I also agree with this. But aren’t these two statements contradictory and mutually exclusive? It does seem that way, but in my experience both are true at the same time without any contradiction. It is only when you express it in words that it seems paradoxical.

For example, what is the purpose of a tree? What is the meaning of a tree? You could say a tree’s purpose is to absorb carbon dioxide and release oxygen that we then breathe, but that is merely a description of one aspect of what a tree does and not a purpose or meaning as such. It is also viewing a tree through the limited viewpoint of how a tree can benefit human beings – and a tree is much much more than a mere human servant. No, I say that a tree has no meaning or purpose whatsoever. It merely is. So, does that mean a tree is meaningless? No! On the contrary, a tree is precious and full of meaning.

What is the meaning of a tree? The tree itself is the meaning!…Or rather a tree is inherently meaningful, just by being what it is (just as you are inherently precious, simply for being what you are).

I think anyone with an open heart will intuitively sense this deeper meaning inherent in a tree (or in a person).

To stretch this tree analogy further, if you’ll let me, there are many ways we can talk about trees: in terms of oxygen, in terms of water transpiration; we can talk of its beauty and majestic splendour or how it has evolved to use sunlight and water to convert soil into wood. These are all stories, the scientific story being just one of many possible stories. Each of these stories (scientific, artistic, poetic…)  has its own value, but no single story or combination or stories captures the totality of a tree. A tree is multidimensional, and it is also a unified whole – all at once. Life is like that, for me: dazzling, complex, knowable but also at the same time unified, whole and mysterious.

The strangely amazing thing is when this unity is perceived, life takes on what I call a magical quality: life becomes easier, fluid, and more playful. Things, including ourselves, are not as solid as they once seemed. Suffering and neurosis dissolve as they arise, the sense of being an individual person in charge of one’s own destiny is no longer believed in.

Life is seen to be precious beyond words. We are filled with love and reverence: for the earth, the universe, its creatures and one another. We start to understand and speak the unspeakable language of poetry.

I started by asking if we can fully describe life. A good retort could be ‘do we have to describe life at all?’. My personal answer is no, we don’t need to describe life at all. We can just keep our mouths shut and that would be fine – it really would.

Yet all I can say is that, at present, I find myself drawn to talk about this Mystery that is inherently meaningful, and share it. I don’t really know why. I do know I will ultimately fail, as this-here-now-life-spirit cannot ever be adequately described. You could say the entire thing is ultimately meaningless on one level, and that’s kind of true.

You could also say the very process of communication itself is inherently meaningful regardless of how effective it is. Or you could keep your mouth shut and not bother with all of this. For now, I’ll just keep on writing and talking, and maybe someone somewhere will find some meaning within it all. Or not.

Do you catch my drift or have I completely lost you? What do you think?

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3 thoughts on “The meaning of life

  1. People who don’t know or love themselves keep searching for an alibi, fetish, or substitute outside of themselves – such as ‘meaning’. Of course, that doesn’t work. There is only one remedy: find your beliefs about yourself and the judgments they are based on, and acknowledge them as yours. They then go poof, just like the different moments of your day.

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  2. Namaste! To me there need not be a meaning to anything. The magic of sharing the mystery of life, gratitude, love, happiness, peace, bliss is enough for me.

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