We all know the meanings of the expressions ´life´ and ‘human life´ because we are good examples of both. We may not know how it originated and how it works, but we do know that human life is the biological wonder we go through: you feel yours, I feel mine. As different as our experiences certainly are, you and I have the same idea of the ‘meaning’ of ‘being alive’. Is that the meaning of life?
If we take the word to a more abstract level – what is the meaning of my life – the matter becomes complicated, and by a lot. Every human – our remote ancestors, you and I – has always been wondering about ever since when we acquired consciousness and decided to sit down to mull over the much more difficult question: Why are we here?
In the search for answers, thinkers have proposed many conjectures arising from the stubborn logic that we often apply. In contrast, animals and plants, which do not reason, just live their life. Whether they are enjoying or suffering the experience, we have not heard their comments as yet.
Biologist Richard Dawkins argues that there is no difference: The purpose of life of any alive being – plant, insect, vertebrate or person – is to empower the body as a survival machine of the DNA molecular chains in their never-ending multiplication process. Expressed with less erudition, we are here to ensure the permanence of species. There is no difference between the objective of our life and that of monarch butterflies, blue whales or the palms of Cartago (Colombia); crudely spoken, human life has no particular purpose or meaning.
Are there other less frustrating interpretations? Leaving aside the religious approaches, the meaning of ‘my’ existence cannot arise from rational analysis or the known laws of the universe. If there was any theory that was different from the skeptical interpretation of the English biologist, philosophers would have postulated it by now or, alternatively, scientists would have already discovered it.
The direction of ‘my’ life is not revealed with EEG or scanners, nor comes from assessments of ‘out there’ opportunities versus my ‘in here’ skills. Nor do personality tests help and there are no predefined destinations in astral charts or karmas to check with spiritual teachers. For my earthly journey there are no instructions pointing the route to follow. “There is no road, lonely wanderer, the road is made as you march”, beautifully said Spanish poet Antonio Machado.
The map of our route comes about spontaneously, from moment to moment, in the silence of the mind, while we remain aware of life as it unfolds. When it is not so, among our conjectures and our mental noises, we are invaded by all the conditionings (the mental formations that the Buddha defines) – cravings and addictions, aversions and phobias, uncompromising affiliations and discriminations – which have been planted in our head by our culture and, worse still, that have been hard coded in us by media and advertising. The ‘meaning of life’ resulting from such flaming cocktail revolves around permanently hunting things (wealth, power, heavens, knowledge, accomplishments…) or endlessly evading their opposites (poverty, powerlessness, hells, ignorance, failures…)
How do we stop mental formations? How do we silence our mind? Observing its motions… Earnestly, attentively, impartially, as the Buddha teaches. When we ask a restless mind about its noises, it becomes silent. (What are you thinking? Nothing…) Then we may become aware of the breath, body, sensations… This, so easy and so cumbersome, is mindfulness, which, with the continued practice of meditation, we can make it become a habit, a way of living.
The creativity of great novelists seems to allow them to jump over ordinary logic because, when they get into the ‘head’ of their imaginary characters, perhaps they silence their own mental formations, thus being able to recognize truths that our conditioned minds commonly overlook. Defines American novelist Henry Miller: ” The aim of life is to live, and to live means to be aware, joyously, drunkenly, serenely, divinely aware.”
When this crude lustful writer typed such a mystic sentence (Tropic of Capricorn – 1939), mindfulness meditation, the wonderful tool to strengthen our faculty of awareness that is so popular now, was unknown in the West. Then concludes this columnist: If in a statement about the most complex subject of our existence, the masterful Buddha and the controversial Henry Miller, two figures that could not be more diverging, suggest a similar approach, well… Around that common ground must walk the meaning of life.
Atlanta, April 2, 2015