A rambling post that gets a little clearer in the summary…
It is the perennial question for any kid and curious adult: What is the meaning of life? What is the meaning of my life?
It may be a little different for each of us, but most of us experience meaning around the same things. Survival. Relationships. Providing for ourselves and our family. Offspring. A sense of connection with others, ourselves, life, the universe. A sense of belonging. Making use of our potentials and opportunities. Being of service to those within our circle of us. Being remembered by others. Exploring the evolving fullness of who we are. Exploring what we really are.
In short, it all tends to revolve around two things: Taking care and enhancing the life of this human self and its circle of us. And finding a sense of connection with ourselves and the larger whole.
It is of course important to explore this for ourselves. Where do I experience a sense of meaning? How can I align my life a little closer with it? How can I bring it into my life a little more?
But the question we don’t so often ask ourselves is, what is meaning? How does this sense of meaning come about? What are the dynamics and mechanics behind it? What is the anatomy of meaning?
When I look into it, I find that a sense of meaning comes from a story.
When there is a belief in a story, there is a sense of I and Other, and we take ourselves to be an object in the world. In our case, this human self.
We take ourselves to be an object in the world, so meaning revolves around taking care of and enhance the life of this object, and those within its circle of us. It has to do with survival, reproduction, intimacy, making use of ones abilities and opportunities, embracing the evolving fullness of who we are, discovering who we really are (which we can’t), discovering what we really are (which we can), and more.
Yet, there is always a limit to meaning. There is always a limit to how meaningful something is, and for how long it appears meaningful. There is a limit, because it all happens within the realm of experience, within the world of form. And we never get what we ultimately are looking for within the world of form. It is never quite satisfying enough. And it doesn’t last.
So what can we do? How can we get out of this predicament, or at least learn to live with it?
One thing we can do is investigate it through how it appears in the sense fields, here and now. If I take stories that give rise to a sense of meaning, or any other story around it, what do I find? What happens if I see it as just a thought? What is this thought made of? And what is this sense of meaning? What happens when I focus on the sensation component of it? Is it a gestalt, formed by how sense fields – especially sensations – and thoughts combine? What happens when I notice it as a gestalt?
In this way, identification is released out of these stories and the sense of meaning. We can find a new freedom in relationship to it.
We can even find ourselves as that which these stories, a sense of meaning, and any content of experience, happens within, to and as. That which is already and always free from all of it, so allows it all fully.
In this way, we see meaning more as what it is. Another guide for our human self to orient and function in the world, and – sometimes – discover what it really is.
A story, giving rise to a sense of meaning, which guides our human self. When it is believed in, taken as a final truth, it gives rise to drama. When it is seen as just a story, there is a sense of ease around it. And there is also the freedom to choose meaning-inducing stories that seem more appropriate to our life and situation.
So to summarize:
- A sense of meaning comes through stories.
- The sense of meaning, and the stories giving rise to a sense of meaning, all happens within the content of experience, the realm of form.
- Although there is no end to what we can experience as meaningful, there are some typical patterns, and these arise out of (a) taking ourselves as an I with an Other, as an object within the world, and specifically as this human self, and (b) the biology and culture which shapes this human self.
- Since it happens within the realm of form, there is a limit to meaning. There will always be a limit to how meaningful something is. Also, what appears as meaningful to us changes over time. And the sense of meaning itself comes and goes. It doesn’t last.
- If we explore meaning a little closer, for instance through how it appears in the sense fields, we can see the stories giving rise to a sense of meaning as just a thought, and the sense of meaning itself as a gestalt of sensations and thoughts.
- We may find that there is only the appearance of meaning, but no meaning inherent in what we really are.
- And this gives a fuller freedom in embracing any sense of meaning. We see that it has a function for our human self. It gives a sense of direction, purpose and motivation. It is a guide for how to live in the world, and sometimes as a guide for exploring who and what it is. And any one meaning-inducing story is more or less appropriate, depending on how it works for our human self, and how well it serves as a guide for its life in the world, and for exploring who and what it is.
[…] And it doesn’t last.
As with so many other things, it is – apparently paradoxically – resolved when we discover what we are. When we find ourselves as that which all experience happens within, to and as. That which has no I with an Other. That which is already and always free from its own content, including any sense of meaning.
Noticing what we are, we see stories as just stories. Identification goes out of them. Which means there is also a freedom from being caught up in the sense of meaning, and seeking meaning.
As Genpo Roshi likes to ask folks after they have shifted into Big Mind, and are somewhat familiar with the territory: What is the point? And the answer is that there is no point. Or that Big Mind, including however it happens to show up within the realm of experience, here now, is the point.
And here, in finding ourselves as that which is free from content of experience, including stories and a sense of meaning, there is also the freedom to fully allow it all. (There is really no need or possibility to not allow it all, since the content of experience is no different from that which it happens within, to and as.)
There is the freedom to allow any sense of meaning, from any story. And this meaning then becomes the play of Big Mind, as anything else.