Ten Ways to Breathe Meaning into Existence


"Heroic Landscape with a Rainbow", Joseph Anton Koch (1768 - 1839), Austrian

Andrei Tarkovsky, in his diaries, said that human life as a whole does not have a clear purpose because then, a human would be slave to that purpose. Unlike animal or plant, whose life has a clear purpose - to reproduce, a human being can willingly "exit" the biological purpose and live another sort of purpose and life. However, this vastness of options for purpose that humans have often also leaves them confused and purposeless - what is to be done, what to choose among all of those options? To find a purpose can be even harder if life is deemed as meaningless. How to bring, see and find meaning in life and in existence as a whole? Even though this post's intention is to give means towards meaning, remember the Dostoevsky's words and "love life more than the meaning of it".

1. See Everything as an Experience Initially it may sound like cliché but I shall try to explain it n ia way that offers something more than a simple motivational quote you see on your instagram feed. Hmans don't just use words randomly, our words have a meaning, and with that meaning also come the images, the expectations and sentiments behind the word. When us humans use word "experience" it is more likely that we see something as an opportunity for expansion, for development, exploration and growth. It also shifts us from the passive mindset through which we see ourselves as passive victims of our circumstances. When seen as an experience, even hard circumstances can be seen as an opportunity to prove one's strength, resilience and skill. When life and existence is seen as an experience, we also drop many of the scripted expectations we have of life and suddenly life becomes this constant unfolding, everything is new and everything is a journey. 2. Use Your Individuality to Connect not Alienate If you are an individual with niche interests, hobbies or lifestyle, you may often feel isolated from other people. However, there is another pattern I had noticed - many people who are deeply individualised also hide that, and in that not giving a chance or opportunity someone who might hare their passions to reach out. Instead of seeing it as a way to alienate, communicate that individuality - post your interests on your social media, speak your maybe unusual perspective in a class, in a debate and very often even if people don't agree or are not sharing your interests, they may still enjoy connecting with you. True interests and hobbies bring meaning on their own and being able to "spread" that into the world can only be an additional benefit. 3. Establish Structure We daily see people on social media who through memes, posts and pictures relate to the concept of living completely chaotic lives. This chaotic living has almost become a norm for much of the youth. However, humans do not strive in boundless open fields, they strive in structures. No matter how hard it is, try to establish a structure, starting from small - doing that one thing every day at the same time, then add another thing, then another, until the whole day gets a form rather than being randomness. We see meaning in structures because structures seem to be directed towards something, that out of them something actually happen and more importantly that in them, we create, we build. 4. I-to-Thou Not I-to-It Martin Buber's book "I-to-Thou" is a classic of philosophical anthropology and a favorite of many. In this book, Buber describes two ways in which we can relate to the world. World for us can be an "It" - a thing to exploit, to use, to take advantage of. Relating to the world as an "It" is to relate to it through ego and therefore see it as an object. When we do this, we are full of expectations and assumptions and more than seeing the world in its fullness, we fall into own biases, and we see nothing but the repetition of them. Often as a result, we get mad and angry. Relating to the world as a "Thou" is to see it as a being and once again, as an experience. There is a part of the book where Buber says that upon seeing a tree, we can try to not even label it as a tree. We should for a moment forget to think what family it belongs to, how big are the leaves, but to simply connect and see a being, a life form. Approaching it without expectations, we allow it to reveal itself in fullness to us. In this, the meaning comes on its own, because at that moment, everything, a tree, a bee, speaks to us in a language that is not verbal but that we still understand. 5. Create a "Mood" or "Atmosphere" Recently, on the Twitter and Facebook page for my blog I have made a short post on how to make your life resemble an Impressionist painting (Read here). We all love to gaze at these paintings but realising why we love it is more important. And we love them because they show a life that is almost an image of heaven - be it Muslim, Christian paradise or Buddhist Pure Land and its realms, we often imagine our paradises as full of beautiful gardens, full of sunshine, ripe fruit, laughter and purity. Impressionist paintings bring those tender dreams to the canvas. It can be an Impressionist painting or something else, but look for the "mood", for the visual that speaks to you and try to find a way to bring it into your life. This creates meaning as it creates bonds between seemingly pointless items and details of our lives. Suddenly, in case of Impressionist paintings - the bread and the flowers and the fresh soap connect to create this unique, complete whole. None of them exist in a vacuum, but all of them play a role in creating the atmosphere.

"Along the Lake", Edward Dufner (1827 - 1957), American

6. Be Present We do not have to sit with our legs crossed and straight back in order to meditate or be mindful, every moment of life gives the opportunity for that. Our thoughts and emotions very often drag us into past or into future, and in doing so, we often miss the entire life that's happening right in front of us. We become more engaged in the thought of life and how we feel about life than the life itself. It can be a morning coffee or tea, or cooking a lunch, but try at that moment to have all your focus onto that thing and if some thought or feeling appears, let it come and go, without thinking about the thought or feeling about the feeling. Every moment easily becomes meaningful when we are present in it. 7. Live in Virtue Without Expectations Very often I hear people say that they refuse to behave in certain way because "nobody else does" and because the "world is ugly" and all kind of similar ideas. Whenever I hear this, Father Zossima's speech from Dostoevsky's "Karamazov" comes to my mind - when he says to stay away from such thoughts and that this is "devil's speech". For where would the humanity be if everyone thought in this manner? Principle and virtue is to be lived because it is truth, not because it brings us certain benefits from the external world. Our will to stay true to them no matter how much world tries to "turn us ugly", with time can become a source of great individual strength, of persistence of staying with truth even if everyone lives in a lie. Even if we suffer for it, the meaning shall be born, even in suffering. 8. Live for Something Other than Yourself “And now listen carefully. You in others-this is your soul. This is what you are. This is what your consciousness has breathed and lived on and enjoyed throughout your life-your soul, your immortality, your life in others. And what now? You have always been in others and you will remain in others. And what does it matter to you if later on that is called your memory? This will be you-the you that enters the future and becomes a part of it.” - "Doctor Zhivago", Boris Pasternak A similar thought to the Russian novelist was expressed by Spanish political scientist Ortega y Gasset by saying that love is a gift only for those who have the courage to live outside of themselves, for someone else. The thoughts of these two men would appear to be in complete opposition to values of our world in which we are constantly told to never compromise and to cut off people from our lives whenever they have to say anything that is not a hymn of our greatness. Yet, very few meaningful ,beautiful and constructive things come out of self-absorption and self-obsession. At the core of so much mental despair is inability to think about anyone but our own selves, to be engaged in anything but our own thoughts and feelings. Find something outside of yourself to live, be it a person, a project, it does not matter. Dedicate yourself to this and very soon you will, like Pasternak said, see you exist outside of your thoughts. 9. Accept that Nothing is Permanent One could wonder how could the fact that we accept that nothing is permanent bring meaning and not lead us towards despair? A lot of our despair actually comes from resisting change and for having a hard time to accept that things are no longer what they were. And yet everything changes - our surroundings, events, our happiness, our sorrows, our own identities, our own lives. From simply one second to the next, time destroys what was and creates what is. Understanding that nothing is permanent will have us understand that this moment will never be again - there may be similar moments, there may be more beautiful or uglier moments, but this specific moment will never be again. When we know this, being present and seeing meaning even in the most mundane of things becomes very easy because every moment becomes something that in the history of entire cosmos, happens only once. Another important aspect of this is that it will give us wonderful ways to deal with everything that comes in life. We understand that sorrow is not eternal, but neither is happiness. We understand that our spouse may sometimes be unpleasant and hard to like, and yet another day amiable and easy to like. In understanding that all of these come and go, we also understand that which is always there, and that is our true self which is always present, always aware of the experience and sensations but never identified with experience and sensations. 10. Have Faith We live in age of cynicism and nihilism. Try to stay away from these mindsets as much as possible because very soon they become a poison for the mind. If humanity had been like this, we would have never left the caves. Always have hope and faith and when you do not, try to find it or create it, even illusionary faith is better than despair and defeat of the spirit.

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