I think one of the most fundamental questions we come to ask in our lives is “what is the purpose of my life?” which can be transcribed into “How meaningful is the life I am living at the moment?” This is a personalization of the more general and philosophical question “What is the meaning of life and everything?”
These questions often arise when we are going through major life transitions or y-points in our lives where crucial decisions and drastic changes have to be made. When we go through big changes our reality bends and shifts because we are breaking away from our old worldview and leaping into a new one. Big changes and moments of temporary crisis often bring with them deep questions about the meaning of life and our role and identity with the changing world around us.
It is not easy to answer such questions for the simple reasons that the answer to such questions lie exclusively within us and not outside of us. Things and situations in our lives have meaning because we attribute meaning to them. They do not have meaning by themselves but depend on our perspective, reality and system of beliefs. The same thing may have deep meaning for me but can be meaningless to you or it may have different meaning to one person at different times in her life depending on her experiences, motivations, beliefs and perspectives.
But how can we give more meaning to our lives? I’m sure we all asked ourselves this question at one point whether explicitly or otherwise.
Happiness and self-realization depend on how much our lives are enriched with meaning and purpose. A meaningless existence is certainly not a wholesome and happy one.
Unfolding the bigger picture
Very often meaning is equated with knowing our true purpose, our mission and goals in life. This is true at some level. By knowing and embracing our role in the big picture of life, we find a lot of what we experience as more meaningful.
Our purpose however is not always clear to us at all times because it is sometimes cluttered and hindered by negative emotions, misconceptions and wrong sorts of habits and beliefs.
Here are a few approaches that help us deepen and enrich our connections with ourselves and with others, align ourselves with our inner purpose and open our hearts for the joys of living a meaningful and happy life:
1. Pop the question
When things go against plan and unexpected or unwanted situations happen ask yourself these questions: “How can this relate to the purpose of my life?” “How can it help me?” or “How can I create harmony from it?”
By asking these questions we are pointing our awareness to that situation in a way that stimulates answers and solutions as to how it can align itself and be in harmony with the general momentum of our lives instead of letting it stall our motivation. In simple words, it is making a seemingly adverse and meaningless situation into a positive and helpful one, hence meaningful.
Very often, because our actions are not aligned to our purpose and intentions they become aimless, rudderless, unintentional and without power.
Effectively this strips away meaning from our interactions with the world because by being stuck in repetitive patterns of behavior we become like automata instead of consciously creating our lives with intention.
Living consciously and having our actions aligned to our intentions is what ultimately vests our lives with meaning. Hence, when faced by situations that appear meaningless or full of friction, ask yourself the questions above and this will help you consciously direct it to another angle that can bring forward those elements that are in harmony with your mission in life and discard those that are irrelevant or unhelpful.
It might not be the easiest thing at first but as most other things being aware of it and practicing it helps.
2. Get in touch with your Spiritual Side
The Spiritual dimension of the Self is very often neglected, doubted, trivialized and cynically debunked. Our present way of thinking is a historical by-product of a generally materialistic and reductionist era where mind, consciousness and spirit are reduced and flattened to some material process or mechanism.
This has disenchanted our world by rejecting our beliefs in the cosmic forces beyond our current observation and disconnected ourselves from the microcosm of our inner spiritual realities. But the truth is that we are more than we think we are.
We occasionally get glimpses and insights of our spiritual selves through life changing experiences, deep contemplation or brief moments of clarity but we then forget about it in our day-to-day life.
When we face our spiritual side with attention, courage and acceptance, the extra dimension of our spiritual awareness brings with it a totally new depth and meaning into our lives.
This doesn’t mean we have to turn into monks or ascetics. We just need to at least do something that gets us in touch with this dimension.
Walk in nature, meditate, pray, look at the stars in awe, contemplate, be inspired, practice Tai Chi, forgive and let go of your emotional attachments – are all things one can do to touch the spirit and expand consciousness beyond the seemingly flat world of appearances.
3. See objects as objects
We are deeply attached to things. In our worldview we see things and situations around us as concrete reference points of our reality. Our reality is constructed around the world of objects. They have meaning to us in varying degrees of depth but this meaning fluctuates over time according to our changing viewpoints on their value and importance.
What we think as an inseparable part of our reality today is only a flash of memory another day. Hence the meaning we attribute and attach to things is volatile, perishable and relative.
This often has the effect of making us lose perspective of the deeper meaning in life. By attaching ourselves to things we anchor our reality to them but since they are always changing their value we sometimes lose our bearing on what is really meaningful in life.
The bottom line is see things and objects as what they really are: things that come and go. Your path in life has a more permanent existence hence more meaning.
4. Say Hi to the Universal “I”
We all have a concept of the self, the “I”. Most of us identify the self with our thoughts which is separate from our environment.
Thoughts however can be fleeting, fragmented, distorted, aimless and self-destructive at times. By identifying ourselves with thought we fail to see the whole picture of ourselves. In reality the self goes beyond thought. It transcends thought. We get a hint of this in moments of clarity or mindfulness when we can perceive an undercurrent of still awareness – a glimpse of our true being outside of thought.
Also, the conception of self as separate from the universe around us forces us to view life with suspicion and judgment. When things go wrong something or someone is to blame. The universe seems to be conspiring against us.
Actually the opposite belief should be held that the universe is conspiring to help us because we are an integral part of it. We are an extended reality of the universal consciousness.
When we think that we have the power and the responsibility to change things because we are active participants in the expansion of life and the universe then we will perceive our life with greater meaning and purpose.
5. Love, love and love more
Love yourself, love others, love life. Love is the biggest creator of meaning in our lives. There can be no meaning in life without love. Love enriches our experiences and connections with the world by giving strong emotional significance to all our endeavors.
6. Play hard
Play with things and ideas – be enchanted by the world around you. Do something different each day. Create personal space for your creativity and play. This can have many forms – visual and performing arts, physical expression, childlike games, poetry, music, pottery, crafts, just observing nature, collect items which inspire meaning to you (pebbles, leaves, flowers, whatever), or just silly fun!