Humans are unique among all the animals in that we create meaning within society and ourselves. Think about it – just listen to your thoughts. Everyday you are creating meaning between yourself and the external. Our lives are full of symbolic gestures that resonate with the emotions we feel. No other animal species, as far as we know, creates a world of meaning through symbols. These symbols come in many forms – the gifts we give represent the love and care we feel towards those who hold special meaning to us. Our clothes represent ideas of expression congruent with our attitudes – business suits, Prada shoes and dresses, Levi’s jeans and leather boots. We build churches and places of worship to honor the angelic and divine nature of our existence. We have museums that give us looks into the past; art galleries to peer into present forms of expression; we have schools that invoke creativity for the future. Our lives are full of meaning – it is the human inclination to create meaning.
Sometimes we can get so caught up with living life that, as silly as it might seem, we lose awareness of the meaning in our lives. For example, when I graduated high school, the summer before college seemed full of thoughts about the future, the vastness of possibilities that the next phase of life would offer – I was thinking about the perceived symbolism of college. 2 years after entering I was stuck in the semester-to-semester grind of classes, homework, study, research and work – barely able to think about what lay beyond post-college. Then came graduation, followed by the rush of thoughts about a career, advancement, fulfilling some dream. Lo and behold, 2 years after college and I was stuck again in the weekly grind of work, save, spend – work, save, spend – work, save, spend…
Before I knew it, I was old and close to death, looking back at my life wondering where the value, the meaning, of my life went. Had I really lived? Did I fulfill my deepest dreams? What were my deepest dreams, anyway? Not really good thoughts to be having 15 feet away from Death, who happened to come over this morning for tea. However, fortunately – no – I am not old. Nor am I close to death (although I am sure he is a good person) – but I imagine some people might come to thoughts about the value or meaning of their lives as they await Death’s knock at the door.
In all reality, it is quite possible that we live without even thinking about IF life had it’s meaning at all. Ask yourself: “Does your life have meaning, value?” You might respond, “Yes” generally. If asked to elaborate…perhaps now your mind begins to draw blanks, or you think of very obvious things that all people find meaningful, or valuable – “Of course, I have my family of 2.5 kids, dog, 2 cars, 4 bedroom 3 bath house in the suburbs and dysfunctional extended family and friends. Sure my life has meaning because I created all those things and they are valuable to me.”
But who’s definition of meaning, or value, are we living by? DO you really like your 5am alarm, 2.5hr round-trip commute, almost-to-the-corner / window-cubicle with $65k salary for a family of 4, barely saving against the mortgage and credit card debts lifestyle? Sure, you love your family and, for them, you wouldn’t change a thing! That is great and 100% O.K.; if that is the life you find fulfilling. This is the key to creating meaning within our lives: fulfillment; satisfied and content with how life is being expressed.
So the question changes and we now we ask a deeper question. For example: Mr. Black can have a family and find every aspect about that meaningful because spouse and child are endowed with compassion and admiration within the family unit, often times inseparable. Mr. Black find family life fulfilling. He knows that his efforts are to support the healthy growth of spouse and child. But does that mean Ms. White, who is single, working for a company in a remote, freelance capacity who can socialize as needed, find solace during quiet times, and enjoy the freedom of travel at a whim's desire need to define their value of life based on that of Mr. Black? Absolutely not. However, the underlying tone of societal values and conditionings may weigh and tug at the subconscious mind of Ms. White, disallowing a true enjoyment of her lifestyle.
I do not mean to make light and superficial the very deep discussions on personal liberties, sense of freedom, or manners of expression that resonate in our hearts and souls. This is merely an attempt to provoke introspection into one's belief systems, as we may be very well living a facade life of which the outer appearance was built by others - a bleak and disappointing wall - that covers a brilliant and vibrant gem.
Who knows for sure, what one might uncover, as they attempt to verify what, exactly, lay beneath the mosaic wall of socialization and culturalization? Perhaps we will find that the outer is the same as the inner, or there is a modest difference between the two. Maybe some will find a stark contrast. Nevertheless, liberation comes from true knowing and true knowing can only come from earnest questioning and introspection.
So, as confirmed by the philosophers of age, the only true way to create lasting meaning in life - to feel real value - is to uncover the truth of our being. It is when we know this truth that we will be able to confidently express and live as our souls want us to. No more pangs or heavy hearts. No more confused decisions, rather vibrant living according to our own standard.