Searching for the meaning of life is probably the most well-travelled bandwagon in the Universe. What is so fascinating about it? Is looking for life’s meaning really meaningful? Or does our incessant search prevent us from finding what we are actually looking for?
You have probably read dozens of articles or books, some of those my own, on the big subject “What is the meaning and purpose of our life and how do I find both?”.
Ultimately, the question after life’s meaning and purpose is about a very basic need: “What do I do with the time given to me on this planet? What can I do in this life, that has meaning to me, that is important, that pleases and gratifies me?”. Whatever that may be for you. It might be something big or utterly mundane.
One might ask… how much do we actually do in full consciousness during a given day? What carries meaning for us as individuals? How often do we do things “simply” because we always did them like this, because it is expected from us, because we learned to do them this way and not the other? Get up, coffee, breakfast, commuting to work and some 9 to 5 to finish it off. The French call this “Metro, boulot, dodo.”. Subway, work, sleep. Much of our everyday meanderings is routine. And that is a good thing. Many of our experiences and social interactions happen within the relatively small circle of our colleagues, our family, our friends. That is comforting, that is good.
That being said, is it really THAT important for things to make sense and have meaning all the time? Does our yearning for meaning rather result from our need to spin a retrospective narrative about our last day, our last year?
Let’s shed another light on this. Simple and basal. What unites us, no matter who or where we are or how we live, is our pursuit of happiness and joy.
That’s it. To be happy. That is the common denominator.
That perspective is everything but new. Logically. But let’s look at happiness. It is easier said than done. Look at our Western society. Material plenty, little existential hardship, many many options for the majority of people. Does this make us any happier? Apparently not. Mental illness is on the rise. The complexity and freedom of choice of our modern life may be too tough a challenge for many. So who is happier? Modern, Western man or the African farmer plowing his field for 16 hours a day, because otherwise there won’t be anything to eat come fall. We will never now that and it isn’t really relevant either. What matters is our own perspective, our own measure of happiness and joy.
What I am after with this analogy is this: does our ability and freedom to intellectually and philosophically pursue the meaning of our existence actually make us any happier? Or is happiness and meaning rather the result of a direct, mindless and immediate experience of oneself in the here and now, which is so hard to find?
Happiness is no mind-game. Happiness is a feeling. And the raw emotion behind it is joy. And that’s where the problem is… within us. Happiness and joy are the sweets and treats in our emotional food chart. Three hours of laughter… but please no more. Experiencing and sharing happiness… two hours, but then back into the grinder, please. How often did you hear or speak the following sentence at work, at school, among friends: “Again with the big grin, this one. And it’s not even 9. So happy it is pissing me off. That is not natural. There must be something wrong about this guy.”. Sounds familiar?
All good things come to an end we were told. Happiness and joy are not built to last. But is that really true?
To me, joy flows from the moment. From the here and now. Breathe, feel and be. No distracting thoughts. Focus. Being deeply anchored in whatever is right now. No plans, no to-do lists, no agendas. Simply joy. Without meaning, without purpose. There is your happy wanderer.
Being in the here and now, bathing in this source of joy and happiness is something you can learn and cultivate. To the point that it does not go away anymore, ever. Of course you are still angry and sad. Sure, things turn to a steaming pile of shit sometimes. But your source of joy will be there. In the background.
“Background joy” one might call it. Our children show us how this works. Every day. Does gnawing on a spoon for 3 hours make any sense to a baby (ignoring the 50 expensive toys)?Certainly not. But it’s joy and gratitude are plainly visible.
Some practical thoughts. I personally en-joy combining what I am good at with what I want and with what I can share with others. It is more blessed to give, than to receive. Creating something with others gives me bliss. Co-creation. A great source of joy to me is contact to other people. At work, at parties, watching a game, celebrating at a festival. This is especially true for the workshops I give. And then there is the joy of performing mindless repetitive tasks. Routinely, ritually, almost automatically doing the same thing over and over again is great. Pure meditation.
Many people enjoy challenges. Many relish in enacting their life’s story publicly.
Meditation has helped me locate my mind’s off-switch and deeply anchor myself in the here and now. That is all I need. For it is from this place of meaningless joy, of pure being and sheer presence that I act in a way that only amplifies my joy, my happiness and that of the ones around me. Everything unfolds, synchronistically, from the inside to the outside.
Not doing anything thus blesses you most. That is certainly the point, where most people I talk to, yield. Just be and the rest will follow? That is very much at odds with the way we think things are.
But it works. Very well, indeed.
Maybe the meaning of life is about losing it. And along with it any intellectual concept about ourselves and the world. So that something else may surface.
Existence in the here and now.
I AM THAT I AM.
That is meditation.
Have a great week