Does life have a purpose? Does it ‘matter’ what you do? Is purpose a purely human idea, or is it out there in the world? Is the distinction important?
This month’s topic is ‘meaning’— it may seem like a rather dull and circular subject, since we all have some idea of what it means to mean something, but hopefully I’ll be able to show you why the very fact that we take such knowledge for granted, is important.
The tip of the iceberg lies around the simple question: can you point to meaning? That is, can you show me some purpose or meaning that is out-there and not just in-our-heads? This is important because, whether you recognise it or not, we are all programmed by society (and/or the structure of the languages we use to think with) to believe ‘purpose’ exists; that there very simply is a distinction between some things, some ways of life or some ideas, that are ‘meaningful’, and those that aren’t.
Whether or not you’re living a ‘worthwhile’ existence, whether you’re achieving something ‘meaningful’ with your life, whether what you’re doing has any point— all these notions hold very powerful sway over how we live our lives, the decisions we make, our happiness, our ability to appreciate things, how we treat others and their behaviour or creations, and generally how time is ‘spent’… So, it makes sense to spend some proper time considering whether the idea even makes any sense; to decide whether it’s “meaningful to talk about meaning”, and to what extent notions of meaning or purpose are constructive and healthy in our lives.
Therefore, some of the topics we’ll be looking at this month will be:
The fundamental nature of meaning; as in, to what extent it is a ‘real’ thing or purely a tool for communication.
The personal, emotional, and global consequences of our belief or reliance upon meaning and purpose.
Typical ‘philosophical’ (fancily labelled and more formalised) responses to meaning in life– such as the Nihilism (there is no meaning), Existentialism (we forge our own meaning), and Absurdism (Y.O.L.O.) that coagulated out of the rising conflict in the 20th century between the individual, emotional need for a sense of ‘place’ and deeper meaning, with the seemingly cold and chaotic worldview of science, logic, and two world wars.
Trans-logical responses to the issue; i.e., responses beyond words and intellectual games, such as those offered by art and spirituality.
And more, or maybe less– it depends how much input I get from you folks! This is a topic that affects everyone differently, and is fundamental to our lives, so we all have valid, unique, and valuable responses to it: the more you participate in the discussion – the more art or ideas you send to me (for the blog or even just privately) – the more beneficial and constructive the discussion will be.
I’m with the existentialists on this one: you are responsible for the authenticity of your own existence– so take the reins and get involved!
Looking forward to it as ever,
Hi King, I love it!
Will share this with my network and thank you for the food for thought.
Meaning for me is feeling and my intuition. I thought about this topic a lot and the meaning and purpose of what I do. I came to the conclusion that it is not in particular the thing I do, but the how much room there is to grow my personality and discover my full potential. And if this thing I do turns out to give me the space to fulfill this feeling of fulfillment and self actualization, it gives what I do meaning. Or at least I am thinking that way these days haha… That may change pretty soon again.
In the big picture it does not matter. Cause we live in our own reality and all will pass. But humans want to feel positive emotions and the longing for a happy life is the driver to find meaning. We want to enjoy a happy life while we are alive… however being alive doesn’t mean we are conscious.
I could go on and on about that and get lost haha…
Thanks for this I’ll share with my network and curious what’s to come from your blog. Also let’s catch up soon. Miss you and Kimmie.
Thank you so much for your response! And a beautiful one at that. “Feeling and intuition” is precisely what the site needs to hear more of– all these words make it too easy to lose track of how life is so much more than ideas, especially topics as big as ‘meaning’. So am I right in thinking you are (in short) saying that self-fulfilment/actualisation and growth is where you find your meaning? It’s also interesting that your thoughts led you straight to “in the big picture it does not matter”, because the thread of self-realisation in the face of ‘nothing mattering’ has been the major theme behind most of the philosophy in the last 100+yrs. With all our new-fangled science making us all feel tiny and just products of chance, there’s been a lot of philosophising over what’s actually worth doing!
If you want some philosophical reading, most of the continental philosophers and existentialists will have stuff on this that might interest, such as Sartre, de Beauvoir, Camus, all of which talk about ‘authenticity’ (positively or negatively) and the goal of forging meaning by living an authentic existence. That word – authenticity – has become a buzzword now, and surprisingly underpins most of modern thought. It’s well worth YouTubing or looking for podcasts on it, as it is actually quite a contentious topic (super short version: claiming something as authentic/meaningful implies other ways of life as less so, and can lead to inflating prejudices and arrogance).
On the flipside however, less over-intellectualised material for this train of thought could be one of my all-time favourite books, “The Enlightened Mind” by Stephen Mitchell, which is a collection of passages from thinkers and texts from a huge range of spiritualities and sources; it gives an amazingly open insight into thousands of years of thought on how to live a meaningful life and be a better person, without all the excessive modern over-thinking!
Personally though, we’re on similar pages – I find my ‘meaning’ from growth, or rather, what I call ‘cultivation’– the overall process of taking in, absorbing, discarding, using, sharing, destroying, et al., that leads to growth. This means I get the warm fuzzies when I’m sat in a cafe reading and writing, as much as when I’m listening to ‘People are Strange’ by The Doors, or helping old ladies cross the road, as long as I’m striving to cultivate a more sustainable and positive existence (I’ll be writing a lot more on this in coming weeks).
Really appreciate the input, and yeah hopefully it won’t be too long as you can use Giacomo’s family as an excuse to come to Italy 😉
Heaps of love x