Many years ago when I worked in the Sociology Department of the Vancouver Public Library, I came across a book called “Man’s Search For Meaning”. I never read it, never even took it off the shelf to get a sense what it was about. It was just the title that stood out for me. The idea of our search for meaning.
Not that long ago, I remembered the title and looked the book up online. I was disappointed in some respects to discover that it was about Viktor Frankle’s experience in Auschwitz. Not that there’s anything wrong with that but I had always assumed that the book was a much more general study on the perpetual hunt for meaning and sense in this life. The reason I looked it up again was because of my own search for meaning over the years, and the recognition that this is a part of our humanness; to find meaning in our daily lives and purpose in our existence. I wanted to know more about where that search comes from and why it is and I was hoping the book might give me a starting point. The book is still amazing and offers great insight and wonderful thoughts about the meaning of life, don’t get me wrong. It just wasn’t what I thought it would be.
When you are without a religious framework to explain your life on this earth, as I am, you are left wondering if your existence is anything more than just a random fluke. And perhaps it is. But that is a very unsatisfying conclusion to come to. Human beings have evolved a consciousness awareness that no other creature on this earth has. My cat doesn’t wonder why she’s here and what the purpose of her life is. She simply lives it. Oddly enough, sometimes I envy her. So this past week when a member of my extended family passed away, it brought back those age-old questions; why are we here? What are we doing here? Are we just born, live our lives and then die? And even more importantly, what is the point of my being aware of all of this in the first place?
For years I would say to myself that everything has meaning, that every life has a purpose and we’re here for a reason. And I believed it whole-heartedly. I also believed in some kind of higher power, God, if you like, even though I didn’t belong to any particular church or religion. So even though I didn’t have the answers to the big questions, I was satisfied that I didn’t have to. But when I had a major paradigm shift in my beliefs back in 2000, that context was suddenly gone. Once I caught my father hiding the Easter eggs in the back yard, I couldn’t believe in the Easter Bunny any more either.
For awhile I missed it. The phrases that automatically came to mind like “there’s a reason that happened” suddenly didn’t fit my new model. I didn’t even have a model, I wasn’t sure how to put life in context and I was always looking for something to fill that empty void.
I notice that about myself; my mind is constantly looking for patterns, for connections, for underlying causes. We all seem to do that. When I wrote about my recent visit to emergency, I heard from all kinds of people. Most of them were trying to figure it out for me, trying to possibly explain what might be going on with my heart. Some of them had similar experiences, or knew someone who had. And of course, I myself was on the hunt for some kind of explanation, researching symptoms, analysing what had occurred before the incidents. What is something I ate? Something I did? Was it stress?
Biologically speaking, there’s a darn good reason why we are so analytical. Our lives have literally depended on that since human beings began. We had to think of new ways to survive, to eat if our source of food was suddenly gone, to protect ourselves from bad weather, to heal our physical wounds. Either figure it out, or die. We still experience the effects of “fight or flight” in stressful situations, where our bodies suddenly become acutely attuned to our surroundings, adrenaline kicks in, in case we have to run, blood pressure goes up, digestion slows or stops, among many other physical symptoms. All so we can save ourselves from a potentially dangerous situation.
Homo sapiens survived because we figured out how to. But are we only here because we got the combination right? Yes I think so. However, I also think it’s up to us to procure purpose or create meaning from this amazing gift we have been given. The fact that we are here is literally awesome. How these bodies of ours survive, heal and even thrive is astounding. The idea that we came into being only after eons of shifting, colliding and changing particles blows my mind. I am the result of billions of years of trial and error.
So I don’t want to waste the time I have left, I want to make sure I experience every moment, good, bad or mediocre, and find new was to appreciate the very real miracle of life.
I’ll keep you posted 🙂