Inspiration behind this piece:
“Meaning” and “purpose” have different connotations. “Meaning” refers to sense, or coherence. It is a general term for what is intended to be expressed by something. A search for meaning implies a search for coherence. “Purpose” refers to intention, aim, function.
The belief that it is good to give, to be useful to others, to make the world better for others, is a powerful source of meaning. Durant states “join a whole, work for it with all your body and mind”. The meaning of life lies in the chance it gives us to produce, or to contribute to something greater than ourselves. “Dedication to cause” with altruistic underpinnings - one finds meaning by contributing to others.
Creativity. Just as most of us would agree that service to others and dedication to a cause provide a sense of meaning, so too would we agree that a creative life is meaningful. To create something new, something that rings with novelty or beauty and harmony is a powerful antidote to a sense of meaninglessness. The creation justifies itself, it defies the question What for?” it is “its own excuse for being”. It is right that it be created, and it is right that one devotes oneself to its creations.
Irving Taylor suggests that creative artists who have worked with the greatest personal handicaps and the greatest social constraints may have had faculties of self-reflection so highly developed that they had a keener vision than most of us of the human existential situation. Consequently, they suffered more keenly from a crisis of creative efforts. Beethoven said explicitly that his art kept him from suicide. At the age of thirty-two, in despair because of his deafness he wrote, “little kept me back from putting an end to my life. Art alone held me back. Alas, it seems to be impossible for me to leave the world before I have done all that I feel inclined to do, and thus I drag on this miserable life.”
The creative path to meaning is by no means limited to the creative artist. The act of scientific discovery is a creative act of the highest order. Even bureaucracy may be approached creatively. A creative approach to teaching, to cooking, to play, to study, to book-keeping, to gardening adds something valuable to life. Work situations that stifle creativity and turn one into an automaton will, no matter how high the salary scales, always generate dissatisfaction. Creativity overlaps with altruism in that many search to be creative in order to improve the condition of the world, to discover beauty, not only for its own sake but for the pleasure of others. Creativity may also play a role in a love relationship: bringing something to life in the other is part of mature loving and of the creative process.
The hedonistic solution. A philosopher asked members of an undergraduate class to write their own obituaries. One segment of the response was characterized by such statements as: here I lie, found no meaning, but life was astonishing. Or. Shed your tears for those who have lived dying – spare your tears for me for I’ve died living. The purpose of life is, in this view, to live fully, to retain one’s sense of astonishment at the miracle of life, to plunge oneself into the natural rhythm of life, to search for pleasure in the deepest possible sense.
Three categories of life meaning. Though Frankl stresses that each individual has a meaning that no one else can fulfill, these unique meanings fall into three general categories: (1) what one accomplishes or gives to the world in terms of one’s creations; (2) what one takes from the world in terms of encounters and experiences; (3) one’s stand toward suffering, toward a fate that one cannot change. Throughout his writing Frankl asserts: “Meaning is something to be found rather than given. Man cannot invent it but must discover it”. Once a sense of meaning is developed, it gives birth to values. – which, in turn, act synergistically to augment one’s sense of meaning. Survival in extreme circumstances depends upon one’s being able to find meaning in one’s suffering.
With accelerating frequency people complain of a lack of a sense of meaning in life. Citizens of the pre-industrial agricultural world were beset by many life problems, but today’s malady of meaninglessness does not seem to have been one of them. People in earlier ages were often so preoccupied with the task of meeting other more basic survival needs, such as food and shelter, that they were not afforded the luxury of examining their need for meaning. Citizens of the pre-industrialised world had other meaning-providing activities in their everyday life. They lived closer to the earth, felt a part of nature, fulfilled nature’s purpose in plowing the ground, sowing, reaping, cooking. Their everyday work was creative as they shared in the creation of life amongst their livestock and seed and grain.
I am reminded of an old psychology text where I once saw two pictures, juxtaposed. One showed children playing with one another in all the freshness and spontaneity of childhood exuberance and innocence, the other, a crowd of New York subway travelers with vacant stares and mottled gray faces dangling lifelessly from the subway straps and poles. Under the two pictures was a simple caption: “What happened?”.
Compilation of Work of Irving D Yalom
I invite you into my vision of earth and the fine balances that exist within the spiritual realm. Trust in the spiritual battle and love will prevail.
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