meaning of life

What is the meaning of life? How many billions of times have human beings asked themselves this question? For every instance that this question is asked, there are probably a billion different replies. I saw a bumper sticker as I came into work this morning that said “The meaning of life is to live it.” As bumper sticker philosophy goes, this is probably closest to my own way of thinking. For me, “living it” means trying to be fully aware in the present moment so that life doesn’t slip by while I am pursuing the past or worrying about the future. This is very difficult to do. From the moment I wake up in the morning until I go to sleep, I am usually caught up in thoughts of the past or the future. Of course many of these thoughts are pleasant ones: loving thoughts of my wife and children, a book I’m currently reading, tomorrow’s yoga class, or my summer vacation. But what about right now? When we attach to thoughts, or get caught up in our daydreaming, we are taken away from what is right at hand; the present moment. Every once in a while, though, I get flashes of insight. Athletes call it being in “the zone.” I think this means doing something intently, or experiencing pure joy without reflecting on it. Sometimes I feel this way when I’m swimming. I’m so in the present moment, that I don’t even have time to think, “I’m swimming.” This is an example of pure awareness. Besides living life to its fullest extent, right in the present moment, another meaning or purpose of life, I think, is spiritual development. Humans desire many tangible, fleeting objects that give them temporary joy; money, cars, clothes, expensive food, fancy houses, perfect lawns. But all these things will fade with time. I think that the only thing that you can truly claim as your own is the cultivation of your higher self. But you don’t have to join an ashram to find this. You can find it skiing down a mountainside on a perfect winter day, or going for an early morning run, or baking a cake. Whatever it is you do, as long as you do it mindfully, it can be a tool for your spiritual growth, for your discovery of your true Self. In Buddhism we would even go further to say that the true essence of self is Emptiness. Not emptiness as in negation, but emptiness in the sense that we are all dependent on every other thing in this world for our existence. Instead of “I think, therefore I am, I prefer “You are, therefore I am.” Look at any familiar object on your desk, or the clothes on your back, or the lunch you just ate. Most, if not all, of these things were created by someone else. These unknown people helped you live today. When you’re in the shower, look up at the nozzle. Someone had to go into a mine, pull the ore out of the earth, and shape the metal to make your shower head, otherwise you wouldn’t have been able to take a shower this morning! If we can realize our interconnectedness through mindful awareness in all our daily activities, we just might find nirvana here on earth. This, to me, is life’s ultimate purpose.

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