Saturday, October 17, 2009

My Search for Meaning

Here’s a question: if I don’t know the meaning of life, or specifically the meaning of my life then how am I supposed to know what matters? How do I know what skills matter, either technical or intellectual, and by these things I am referring to the quantity of knowledge, of facts that we should be filling our heads with. Should I read a hundred books or ten thousand? Should I know five thousand words or a hundred thousand. How many actual words are there anyway and do I need to know this?

Does it matter if I’m smart? Does it matter if my IQ is high low or in between? Does it matter if I possess the qualities of kindness, warmth and empathy? Maybe it would be better to be cold, aloof and detached? Should I increase my athletic capabilities, my creative capabilities? Do I learn more about the human body or the human psyche? Should I know about rock formations or weather patterns. Do I choose to study Freud and Adler and Jung or do I tackle Aquinas and St. Augustine and Martin Luther? Math or physics? Spanish or French? Engineering or philosophy? Shakespeare or Erica Jong? Oprah or Dr. Phil?

Should I have many friends or few friends? Should I stick to hamburgers and ice cream or is there some benefit to acquiring a taste for (ok forcing myself to tolerate) caviar. Do I drink wine or beer or not drink alcohol at all? Do I try LSD so that I can know the experience firsthand? Do I need to know firsthand the experience of an LSD trip?

The psychologists tell me I must feel my emotions, the scientists tell me I must observe the world around me. What is it that matters, subjectivity or objectivity? Which one of those is right? There are those (the psycho-scientists?) that will tell me I must use both subjective and objective experience. Maybe that person is right. How do I know?

Do I need to take responsibility for my life or can I just do whatever the hell I want, let the chips fall where they may and everyone else be damned. Do I need to plunge the depths of my unconscious or should I merely go through life reacting to whomever and whatever happens to cross my path not worrying about searching for truth, not caring about morality, ignoring every thought and feeling that is generated from within myself?

If I don’t know the meaning of my life how do I make my choices?

Perhaps it is clear to anyone who might read this that I have been contemplating the meaning of life lately. It leads me to wonder if there really IS a meaning to life. What if this is just something that some caveperson suddenly came up with one day, thousands of years ago while writing drawings in animal blood on a cave wall. Who decided that life has to have meaning and how do I know if that person was right?

If anyone has ever read Viktor Frankl's book Man's Search for Meaning they would know that he has determined by his years spent in concentration camps during the holocaust that those who managed to survive the horrors were those that assigned meaning to life. Of course it gave them something to live for, any fool can understand this. But what was their meaning? Were they able to figure that out or did they just make a leap of faith based on nothing that life has meaning? Were they hoping to find some future meaning and that's why they were able to endure or did they find meaning right in the middle of Auschwitz? Was it abstract or was it material?

We are all so hell-bent to find meaning in our lives but has anyone stopped to think that maybe life has no meaning? It is so easy to say that it does or it doesn't but which one of those is right and how do I know? Don't we have to figure out first whether is does or doesn't before we can then make our choices?

Does the existence of God dictate that there must be meaning in this life? Those of us who have belief in His existence look to Him to tell us a) that life DOES have meaning and b) what that meaning is. What if while I'm looking at Him for these answers He is looking back at me saying "Don't look at me sister, I never told anyone that life has meaning. That's something y'all came up with on your own."


  1. "Man's Search for Meaning" is one of several books that inspires me to live differently.

    I struggle to focus my time and attention because I have so many interests but I have not questioned the meaning/meaninglessness of life in a while -just parts of it.

  2. This is all admittedly a bit tongue in cheek because I certainly feel very strongly that there is a reason for all of this. The very fact that this idea of meaning floats around tells me that it points to something. I only wonder sometimes if the idea of 'meaning' actually started out as something else and we have somehow lost the true definition in the translation.