Theology: Meaning of Life Essay
What is the meaning of life? is probably the most-asked philosophical question by humanity at large. Common answers include: happiness or flourishing; love; compassion; pleasure; power; knowledge, understanding, or wisdom; and being blessed, or achieving union with God or the divine; or simply that there is no meaning to life. Philosophers, religious authorities, artists, scientists, and countless ordinary people have thought a great deal about the question. In fact, the very concept has become such a cliche that it has often been parodied. What does it mean to ask what the meaning of life is?
When people ask for a meaning of life, they are asking for lifes purpose, justification, or goal not a meaning in the sense in which words have meaning. The definition of life is an interesting issue in its own right, however, especially as relating to artificial and extraterrestrial life. We can also separate this question into two different questions; one about the objective purpose of life, and the other about subjective purpose of life. The subjective purpose of life varies of course from person, and need not be considered any further.
Many deny that an objective purpose of anything is possible. Purposes, they argue, are purely subjective. Others claim that life has an objective purpose, though they differ as to what this purpose is, or where it comes from. Topics that one might contemplate, related to the meaning of life, include: What kind of life is worth living? What should we, as individuals, seek to do or be in our lives? This is a basic question of ethics, particularly virtue ethics, which asks how we should develop our characters. Is there a goal toward which society, or the cosmos, is attaining?
Many religious believers hold that the world will be transformed or redeemed in the future by divine intervention such as the Second Coming of Christ, or the end of the Hindu Kali Yuga. Some secular belief-systems, such as Marxism, have also held out a telos or ideal end-state of society, toward which adherents might strive. Is there a goal or purpose I myself am meant to fulfill? Some persons feel an individual sense of destiny or purpose, whereas others do not. Many regard this sort of sense of purpose as psychologically valuable, but of no metaphysical import.
Can I find satisfaction in my life? How so? Utilitarianism considers happiness or satisfaction to be the purpose of our lives, but different philosophies have widely varying definitions of satisfaction. Epicurus saw satisfaction as moderation and freedom from fear. Gautama Buddha saw it as the release from suffering caused by desires and needs. Harry Browne wrote a libertarian self help book on finding happiness through freedom. Religion itself, it is often suggested, is a response to humanitys search for meaning or purpose.
Indeed, the realm outside life itself referred to in the previous passage could be interpreted as the religious or spiritual realm. Most people who believe in a personal God would agree that it is God in Whom we live and move and have our being. The notion here is that we do or ought to seek a higher purpose that will give our lives meaning. One particular perspective on how religion answers the purpose for human life is given in the Christian story of creation: That the purpose for man is to Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it
Gen 1:28 Indicating that the propagation of the human race, the care and restoration of the earth, and the control of our environment are the three goals God has set for man. Another perspective looks at the history of what God has taught man, and then summarized. However, this does not help the non-religious person in dealing with the question What is the Meaning of Life? when it is asked in a philosophical context. It is not a complete answer to say Believe, and you will understand, as this relies on faith in the delivered truth rather than logical or rational justification.
Islams viewpoint is that God created man for one purpose only and that is to worship God. I only created jinn and man to worship Me. (Quran, 51:56) Purely theological answers raise other questions. For instance, if we exist to obey, how does obeying improve us? If we live to worship God, what is Gods purpose? Even for the religious, dogmatic imperatives may not be satisfactory. Life is a Mystery to be Lived Jafree Ozwald Life is a mystery to be lived, not a problem to be solved. ~ Osho There are three basic responses to life. The first is resisting what is.
Our body contracts, tightens in and constricts when we feel threatened, out of control or hurt in some way. The second is allowing what is. This is an experience of trust, release and expansion. We interpret life as a safe, loving and nurturing place, and we relax, let go. Our lives feel open and spacious. The third, which contains components of the first two, is a neutral non-identified response. When we are truly detached, we have no opinion, and are free from all forms of judgment and limitation of any experience that arises. One of the greatest blessings to humanity is your sensitivity, your consciousness. ~ Osho
In each of these responses is the possibility of discovering your own awareness. So that we may essentially be able to experience more of our own existence. If you take a close look and notice, all three of these experiences happen to you everyday. On some subtle or intense level, your bodymind will contract with suffering, expand with joy, or not really have any particular response at all. It all depends on where your awareness is fixated on. Wherever your attention goes, the experience flows. If you are attached or avoiding certain people, thoughts, feelings or experiences you will create some form of suffering.
Transcending suffering means embracing and releasing each of the three conditioned responses, immediately as they arise. Life is the school, love is the lesson. ~Bumper Sticker Our moods, attitudes, and personalities are formed by our perception of reality. The color of the blue sky may be very calming and soothing to some girl who is lying on her back in a warm field of grass, being absorbed by the deep blue yonder. An air traffic controller may not even notice the sky has any color at all, as he is panicking about two planes trying to land at the same time.
A young child may not even know what the color blue is, and can be looking at the sky and not even see that there is anything there at all. If I create from the heart, nearly everything works; if from the head, almost nothing. ~Marc Chagall Where we focus our attention determines what we will experience. However, the essential key to life mastery is being present and open to experiencing each new moment, whatever it brings. Being aware of your bodys signals that are always telling you when you are attached or in avoidance of anything.
Just being an open vessel to experiencing life, in all its flavors and colors, we let go or needing to always be in control and start to flow with the river. High and low experiences will continuously happen through us. Yet whether we choose to resist the negative or hang on to the positive is what determines our freedom. Life is not measured by the number of breaths we take, but by the moments that take our breath away. ~Author Unknown How often have you found yourself gripping with anxiety or fear over some situation you thought was going to happen yet never did?
Its an everyday occurrence for many people who are caught in some form of over-identification from our hype-driven society. We all have been trained, programmed and conditioned to react (instead of responding consciously) to information that we hear, feel and see with an unconscious yet instantaneous contraction. Several years ago, many scientists did a study on human perception and found that we spend only 2% of our time in reality (the present moment). The other 98% of our time is spent in illusions our mind creates about the past and the future. We are completely missing the reality that is really happening now.
Research done on people whove had near death experiences has shown there are two questions that are always asked at the pearly gates of heaven. #1 What did you contribute? #2 You compared to you, how much of your potentiality did you use? ~ Elisabeth Kubler-Ross Every one of us (to some degree) has an inner drama addict who is unconsciously addicted to hearing about the latest town gossip, what terrible things are happening in the world, and even gets sucked into the thrill of watching some stressed out dramatic movie. We feel lost if life starts to become repetitive, dry or predictable.
So we tend to create this tension in our mind by getting overly involved with drama around us and end up creating more problems for ourselves than were there previously. This unconscious saboteur programming, is what happens when we step out. When we avoid certain thoughts and feelings in our bodies about the life situations we are really in, we tend to replace them with these other dramatic illusions. We would rather live our entire lives in this illusionary dramatic world rather than let it go, face the unknown and live completely in the unknown, a state of formless non-identified Reality.
The price of our vitality is the sum of all our fears. We are on the homeward journey. Everything in your life is grist for the mill of that journey. ~ David Whyte My message to you today is that everything you experience in your is part of your path to awakening. All roads lead to Rome, and all paths lead to Enlightenment. Life is a mystery to be lived, enjoyed, and celebrated. Your future will contain both painful and pleasure full experiences. Yet how you choose to respond to this circumstances is always up to you! When you decide to dive heart-first into each experience fully, you will have the life you always wanted to experience.
Your heart will be open, the mystery of life is revealed to you in each moment completely and perfectly as it always was. So be aware when you are judging what someone may say next, or attempting to hold onto something that is already gone, your true unlimited self (that is exuberant with life) can only be found in this present moment. This presence that you are is this radiant source of bliss. It is the only place you can discover true freedom in your life. The here and now is the only place we will ever find it. Collecting Sacred Moments Annie B. Bond, Ph. D
Most of us get occasionally frazzled, overwhelmed, or drained; some of us may feel as though weve lost touch with ourselves in some very real and dismaying way. Contact with our larger self provides just the antidote we all need. When we can take the perspective of our Larger Self, we can see what is sacred to us, in our life, and in the people all around us. In fact, it is just when life seems most difficult that it can help most to remember ourselves by doing what the author calls collecting sacred moments, the luminous moments that shine through the ordinariness of life.
These help us by reminding us that we are more than the person struggling to get through the day. Sacred moments dont have to be huge or dramatic. When the author asked one client to recall a sacred moment from the previous week, she said, The first thing I think of was waking up real early last Thursday. I was all alone, and I could be still, and drink my cup of coffee and look out the window at the trees. That was a sacred moment for me. She also remembered another, during the pre-dinner hour when her children, like most others, are apt to be cranky, but instead her husband took the time to roughhouse and laugh with them.
Sacred moments dont have to be perfect. Another woman remembered forty-five minutes stuck in a traffic jam with her husband as sacred because they used the time for a good talk instead of getting tense or fighting. Sacred moments show us what we value. When we remember them and string them together, they become a sacred retelling of the life we are living. Appreciation is an important aspect of the Larger Self. As Brenner says, Ive found that the conscious act of appreciation has tremendous benefits. In fact, appreciation appreciates.
That is, whatever you appreciate gets larger and becomes more manifest in your life, giving you even more to appreciate. Finding what there is to appreciate is like watering a seed that will grow and improve your life. It helps you to stay connected to yourself. It helps you to keep the bud of your spirit open, without shriveling into resignation. Create Your Own Sacred Space Sacred space is a place you create that is yours alone and in which you seek sanctuary from the daily hubbub of life. It is a place where you come to seek guidance, to be nurtured, and to honor those who assist you.
Find out how the Native American Quero Apache create sacred space. You will be surprised how simple it is to make this spirit-honoring, nourishing place for yourself. One way to create sacred space is to create an altar that holds items that you feel especially drawn to, feeling empowered in their presence. Or your sacred space may be as simple as a candle. If you choose to create a visual manifestation of the Medicine Wheel the author suggests gathering eight items that each represent an attribute of the directions of the compass: South, Southwest, West, Northwest, North, Northeast, East, and Southeast.
Place these items in a circle in a sunwise direction. In the center place a candle, which will provide a focal point during your prayers and meditation. This altar can be a permanent fixture or one that is placed out only when you desire to seek as state of prayer. This sacred space represents your spiritual essence, and even if you are unaware of it at the time of construction, the items signify the guides that assist you in these uniquely powerful directional energies. Sacred Moments: Influencing our Stress and Well-Being Elisha Goldstein, Ph. D & Stefanie Goldstein, Ph. D.
The great lesson from the true mystics, from the Zen Monks, and now also from the Humanistic and Transpersonal psychologists that the sacred is in the ordinary, that it is to be found in ones daily life, in ones neighbors, friends, and family, in ones back yard, and that travel may be a flight from confronting the sacred this lesson can be easily lost. To be looking elsewhere for miracles is to me a sure sign of ignorance that everything is miraculous. (Abraham Maslow) I am a Psychologist and mindfulness teacher in the bay area and have studied and practiced the art of cultivating sacred moments in daily life.
I came to this through my own journey of realizing that I was so bombarded by so much stimulation and information and felt a pull to automatically rehash the past or spin our wheels over the future that I felt I was missing the life that was in front of me, in the here and now. I grew up with a rabbinic father who would come home after being with various people on their death beds and he would share with me their thoughts. If I just had it to do over, I wouldnt have spent so much time in the office, I would have been more present with the people I loved.
I felt there was a sacredness or preciousness to life that I wasnt paying attention to as much as I wanted. Its difficult to recognize the preciousness of life when were not attending to it. I had to look at my life. Not surprisingly, I noticed that our media, which has become eye candy to many, more often than not draws us into negative content that fills our minds. In my research on cultivating sacred moments in daily life, I found that there is a rising amount of stress in western society that appears to be due to the increasing complexity of responsibilities and events (i. e. , 9/11).
Well, stress is a precursor to anxiety, and over 19 million Americans are afflicted with some type of anxiety disorder today. Furthermore, disorders such as anxiety critically impact quality of life and well-being. Although current research is working towards discovering factors that influence well-being, there is still a pattern of sidestepping the qualities of sacred moments in reference to mental health and well-being. With the fields persistent emphasis on techniques toward mental health that do not explicitly involve the sacred and the transcendent, it seems critical to continue to tap this area for its value to our own lives.
To back this up the need for this in our society, an electronic search of Psychological Abstracts in psychologys last 100 years reveals a 14 to 1 ratio of psychological articles about negative emotions versus positive emotions. The imbalance in research of negative versus positive makes it ever more important to ask the question, what does it mean to live the good life? The good news! There is resurgence in the world of focusing on this very question! Religious scholars to philosophers to modern day psychologists have pondered the perennial question of what it means to live well.
In the past few decades there has been a considerable surge in interest and research on the phenomena of well-being. The academics have distilled two different types of well-being through the years, subjective well-being (SWB) or happiness and psychological well-being (PWB) or existential well- being that have emerged as the most prominent concepts in mainstream psychological research. SWB focuses more on positive/negative emotion and life satisfaction while PWB is concerned with meaning, purpose, and existential issues.
Through empirically validated studies, research in each field has created a way to measure these constructs of well-being. Empirical research suggests that, in considering an approach to pursuing a lifestyle conducive to good overall health and well-being, an important factor is cultivating a sense of sacredness in ones life. Recent studies show a high positive connection between the way we think and feel in relation to the sacred and well-being. Some studies suggest that connecting with the transcendent and experiencing a transcendent sense of self foster well-being.
Other studies find that well-being is positively correlated with a sense of support from the transcendent in areas such as marriage, parenting, healthy family relationships, and sustaining physical health. Robert Emmons and Michael McCullough applied a new intervention that focuses on fostering gratitude and linked it to life satisfaction and a sense of purpose in life. Furthermore, our thoughts and emotions associated with the sacred have positive connections among themselves, implying that when experiencing one aspect, others may be felt at the same time.
These studies underscore the concept that there is a significant positive connection between what are considered sacred components of life and well-being and a negative connection to stress. It can therefore be argued that an intervention cultivating these sacred components may increase well-being and reduce stress. Sacred Qualities and Sacred Moments A large body of theory has described a broad spectrum of experiences that may or may not be considered a sacred moment. The key aspect of a sacred moment, as defined and described in the study that I did, is that it is a moment in time that is imbued with sacred qualities.
What are sacred qualities? Good question. For the purposes of this study, sacred qualities were defined as having two components: (a) they inherently possess spiritual qualities as defined by Lynn Underwood and the World Health Organization, such as gratefulness, feeling of connection with and support from the transcendent, sweet- sadness, awe, compassion, and/or a deep sense of inner peace, and (b) they are imbued with descriptive qualities such as precious, dear, blessed, cherished, and/or holy.
Consequently, for the purposes of this study, sacred moments are defined as day-to-day personal moments that are imbued with sacred qualities, which seem like time-outs from daily busy-ness, where a sense of stillness arises or occurs and where concerns of the every day just seem to evaporate. In other words, in order to experience a sacred moment, the moment needs to be imbued by the individual with these sacred qualities. Although extraordinary mystical experiences could also be considered sacred moments, the focus of this research was on those more ordinary day-to-day experiences.
So how do we cultivate them? A core aspect in cultivating these moments is being able to attend to the present moment. Different methods have been developed over the last decade to help the individual control attention, including; hypnosis, biofeedback, and gestalt therapy. However, mindfulness seems to be the most popular and easily accessible path to becoming present in the moment. Mindfulness has been defined as a method of focusing attention on the present as it occurs. Learning how to train the mind and body to be in the present moment is critical to being aware of what is sacred in the moment.
Find an object that has special meaning to you. This could be tangible or intangible. One participant in my study found a plant, another used clouds, another used a family heirloom, and yet another thought of a memory. Take a few moments to become present and then slightly shift your attention to this sacred or precious object and begin to intentionally attend to it slightly slower than usual. Notice how it looks, feels, sounds, smells, and if its food, tastes! Then notice the thoughts and emotions that arise, acknowledge that they are there, and let them be.
It is always good to be guided in a practice, but this one you could also experiment with on your own. What I found after studying 73 people around the country was that they were able to cultivate these moments for 5 minutes a day for 5 days a week for 3 weeks and it had a significant effect on their stress levels and well-being. It suggested that cultivating sacred moments could be used as a therapeutic intervention in our lives. One man explained how, through this process, he was able to experience sacred moments for the first time: [I experienced sacred moments] through this process.
I never noticed any spiritual moments before this [the words] unique, holy and worthy of reverence was not within the scope of my intellectual reaction of things. To be able to pray was something that I was not willing to [do]. Because of the groundbreaking nature of weaving spirituality into psychology this study was then published in the Journal of Clinical Psychology. Psychology is becoming more interested in those moments that transcend and include the ego, are non-ordinary, and are personal. Arthur Hastings, a leading Transpersonal Psychologist points out:
These experiences are usually defined as going beyond the ordinary sense of identity or personality to encompass wider dimensions of the psyche and the cosmos. This can include experiences of intense love, enhanced perception, a sense of merging into a more comprehensive identity, spiritual and religious experiences, psychic awareness. . . . Other definitions suggest that transpersonal means optimal health and well-being, holistic development of the self and the psychology of transformation. Belief Mark Crimmins, Talk About Beliefs (Cambridge, MA: MIT, 1992)
Belief is the psychological state in which an individual holds a proposition or premise (argument) to be true without necessarily being able to adequately prove its main contention to other people who may or may not agree. The relationship between belief and knowledge is subtle. Believers in a claim typically say that they know that claim. For instance, those who believe that the Sun is a god will report that they know that the Sun is a god. However, the terms belief and knowledge are used differently by philosophers. Epistemology is the philosophical study of knowledge and belief.
A primary problem for epistemology is exactly what is needed in order for us to have knowledge. In a notion derived from Platos dialogue Theaetetus, philosophy has traditionally defined knowledge as justified true belief. The relationship between belief and knowledge is that a belief is knowledge if the belief is true, and if the believer has a justification (reasonable and necessarily plausible assertions / evidence / guidance) for believing it is true. A false belief is not considered to be knowledge, even if it is sincere. A sincere believer in the flat earth theory does not know that the Earth is flat.
Similarly, a truth that nobody believes is not knowledge, because in order to be knowledge, there must be some person who knows it. Later epistemologists have questioned the justified true belief definition, and some philosophers have questioned whether belief is a useful notion at all. To believe something is to hold a thought or opinion based upon evidence or an experience admittedly not assumed to be common among all people. The existence of evidence that causes one to believe is often intangible and may or not be based in fact.
The action of believing someone might be based upon history, trust, and experience that might not be readily available to everyone. Because each individual has the potential to experience life uniquely, it is necessary to develop the art of believing in order to relate to other people, places, or things. Without the ability to believe, it would be impossible to experience in any form a place you have never been.
For example: just because we have never been to Mars doesnt mean that most of us dont believe that it is there. Believing is the action of sharing unique and personal experience; i. e., this pie is great, you should try it. Believing is relating to someone or something outside of your self; i. e. , You say it was horribly cold outside?
How awful! Believing is the development of relationships between you and a desired result; i. e. , If I want to be president someday, I must study hard, make lots of friends, and hide all of the evidence. Believing is the assumption or recognition of existing relationships, i. e, a relationship between a sailor and the sea. Two control modifiers that accompany the concept of believing are skeptic and gullible. These two concepts are the pipe and valve of believing.
To be completely gullible is to believe everything. To be completely skeptical is to believe nothing. To believe something is to relate to it. Even with the use of skepticism it can be difficult to escape the influence of something. For example, before the first UFO sighting, there was no belief and no need to relate to the idea. Once exposed to the idea, if it is not instantly and totally dismissed it becomes part of your world through believing, even if controlled with skepticism. Disbelieving something is still an expression of the believing action. Believing starts with the exposure to a concept or thing outside of your self.
Sometimes such exposures can be painful, i. e. , the experience of great loss. The desire to not believe can be strong. The act of not believing is the effort to disassociate or to not relate. Life is the process of relationship. Perhaps the reason faith (the practice of believing) is so important to religions is because believing is the method of relating to things out side of your self. Believing is a process of internalizing things that are outside. Likewise, believing is assumed to be imperfect and therefore practiced by those seeking to relate to a concept or thing outside of themselves.
Those that practice faith think that the process of believing will change their current condition to better match that thing in which they exercise their faith. Belief and Faith Jacques Ellul Out of the single verb to believe come noun forms for two radically antithetical actions: belief and faith. Belief provides answers to peoples questions while faith never does. People believe so as to find assurance, a solution, an answer to their questions to fashion for themselves a system of beliefs. Faith (biblical faith) is completely different. The purpose of revelation is not to supply us with explanations, but to get us to listen to questions.
The person who listens to Gods word is the only one to hear it; he or she is separated from the others, becomes unique, simply because the tie that binds that individual to God is unique, unlike any other, incommunicable, a unique relationship with a unique, absolutely incomparable God. God particularizes, singularizes the person to whom He says, I call you by your name (Isa. 45:4). Faith separates people and makes each of them unique. In the Bible holy means separated. To be holy is to be separated from everyone else, to be made unique for the sake of a task that can be accomplished by no one else, which one receives through faith.
Believers find encouragement and certitude in the presence of others the certitude that those others really believe and so community life fills up the existential void. Multiplying the number of liturgies, commitments, and activities gives believers complete satisfaction in the midst of them they have no need of questioning the truth or reality of their belief; activity keeps them busy. But in this situation you can imagine how intolerable the diversity of beliefs becomes. There must be neither doubt nor uncertainty, for that would be radically destructive. So diversity cannot be tolerated.
Diversity is always a source of further questions, of self-criticism, and thus of possible doubt so belief is rapidly transformed into passwords, rites, and orthodoxy. Belief is reassuring. People who live in the world of belief feel safe. On the contrary, faith is forever placing us on the razors edge. Though it knows that God is the Father, it never minimizes His power. Who then is this, that even wind and the sea obey Him? (Mark 4:41). That is faiths question. For belief things are simple: God is almighty. We normalize God. We get comfortable with Gods power.
It is faith alone that can appreciate the immensity of God, and His true nature. The doubt that constitutes an integral part of faith concerns myself, not Gods revelation or His love or the presence of Jesus Christ. It is doubt about the effectiveness, even the legitimacy, of what I do and the forces I obey in my church and in society. Furthermore, faith puts itself to the test. If I discern the stirrings of faith within me, the first rule is not to deceive myself, not to abandon myself to belief indiscriminately. I have to subject my beliefs to rigorous criticism.
I have to listen to all denials and attacks on them, so that I can know how solid the object of my faith is. Faith will not stand for half-truths and half-certainties. It obliges me to face the fact that I am nothing, and in so doing I receive the gift of everything. One never moves from belief to faith, whereas faith often deteriorates into belief. You cant get to faith by way of any old religion, or belief, or some vague spiritual exaltation, or aesthetic emotions. It is not better from a Christian viewpoint to believe than not to believe, to have religion than not to have it. There is no road from belief to faith.
You cant transform a conviction of the value of rites into the act of standing alone in the presence of God. The reverse is true: every belief is an obstacle to faith. Beliefs get in the way because they satisfy the need for religion, because they lead to spiritual choices that are substitutes for faith; they prevent us from discovering, listening to, and accepting the faith revealed in Jesus Christ. Faith shatters all religion and everything spiritual. On the other hand, the passage from faith to belief is always possible and always a threat. It is the downhill slide to which the church and the Christian life are always subject.
Faith is constantly degenerating into multiple beliefs. No phrase expresses this imperceptible change better than to have faith. When we take possession of faith and claim to be the proprietor of faith, we naturally think we can dispose of it as we wish. The only thing we are really entitled to say is that Faith has me. The rest is mere belief. Faith is neither belief nor credulity, neither a reasonable acquisition or an intellectual achievement; it is rather the conjunction of an ultimate decision and a revelation, and bids me bring about the incarnation.