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The Answer to the Meaning of Life is… Multiple Choice! Part 1
by Vaishali, author of “You Are What You Love” and “Wisdom Rising”
Reality. This crazy little thing called existence. What is it? Most likely, Lilly Tomlin gave the best celebrity answer in her one-woman show. She described it as little more than a collective hunch. Of course, she also described reality as a crutch for people who can’t cope with drugs, and a leading cause of stress. And here I thought it was something complicated. Start with a collective hunch, throw in some drugs, and add a dash of stress. I got it! Reality is college life in the 1970s!
For the sake of this discussion, it is not important whether or not we fully comprehend or even agree upon the scientifically approved definition of reality. The mechanics of reality, quantum or otherwise, are immaterial. What is paramount is the meaning and perspective we freely give to reality. From a purely existentialist point of view, reality is an indestructible freedom – a freedom of choice. You are free to choose your attitude, perspective and the meaning of your life’s situations, challenges and relationships. The entire content of your life is completely predicated upon the imbued meaning you freely chose to give it. It is a daunting task; so much is riding on your choice. A choice most of us are not even aware we are making, much less have so much invested in.
The definitive expert on the meaning of life is Victor Frankl, author of the classic, Man’s Search For Meaning. In his book, Frankl even goes so far as to say that choosing the meaning of reality is a pre-requisite for good mental health. He states that therapy and living an “examined” life can help us grow beyond our baggage and inner wounds. However, without choosing life-sustaining meanings, our minds will never heal or be completely whole. Great! More pressure. Now if you make a foolish choice you put your relationship with quality mental health in a precarious position. I guess that explains why so many of us have “issues.”
Three existential philosophers from Texas, ZZ Top, ask the practical question, “How could anyone be so unkind as to arrest a man for driving while blind?” Their subtle point is to consider how much of the time you are even consciously aware of the navigating choices you make that drive your life. How deliberately conscious are you of the meaning you attribute to the events of your life, or even of the world in which you live? I suspect that most of us are so distracted and caught up in the movement of our everyday existence that taking the time to choose the meaning of our life’s lessons as they unfold and present themselves simply gets overlooked.
So what choices are worth making and what choices are not worth making? After all, if the quality of our human growth and our perceived value, power and worth are a direct by-product of the meaning we freely choose, then the prime objective of a successful life would be to consciously make wise choices.
First let’s consider what happens if we decide not to make a choice – that is a choice that is not worth making by the way. How many times do you see senseless acts of violence on the news or witness an insensitive act by someone? The usual thought response is, “I could have lived without this inconvenient occurrence in my life.” When we fail to harvest meaning from the events in life, we plant the seeds of being powerless, a victim, worthless, miserable and unhappy. Meaning provides the distinctly human ability to cultivate depth of character and gives us access to the strength to grow beyond any limitation.
To illustrate this, a man came to Frankl completely distraught by the death of his wife. She had died a few years earlier, but the man just could not get over her death. Frankl asked the man what would have happened if he had died first instead of his wife. The man answered that his wife would be struggling to move forward, as he was now. Frankl suggested the meaning behind the man’s suffering was that he was going through it so his wife did not have to. The man then responded, “Okay. Now I can move forward knowing I am doing this for her.” Nothing in the man’s life actually changed, except he now had a meaning for his suffering, which made it bearable and provided him with a means to evolve beyond the stagnation of grief.
There are an incalculable number of things in life that we cannot control or change. Without applying meaning, we have the accumulation of pain and suffering without a means of transcending it. If no attempt is made to find meaning, then what we have in fact chosen is an absence of meaning in our personal experience of reality. Welcome to the void. Whenever we create a “quality meaning” vacuum in life, the emotional and psychological aspects of our existence start to erode and diminish. Ultimately this will affect the physical. As Frankl points out, the ability to choose meaning in our lives is what makes us distinctly and uniquely human. So whether we derive life-enhancing meaning, or suffer from a lack thereof, our choice is going to affect every aspect of our reality.
This entry was posted on Wednesday, February 1st, 2012 at 5:00 pm by davidp and is filed under Usable Metaphysics. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.