I have noticed a lot of attention directed to meaning of life. Or the meaninglessness of life or for some perhaps, the meaning crisis. It is not new! This discussion, this pondering is the basis for existentialist psychology and philosophy. It has been around for a very long time. What are the elements of my life that create a feeling that life has some purpose, a reason to keep showing up and putting in the best I can bring forth.
The wisdom teachings of the Mahayana Buddhist tradition, states very clearly the purpose of life is to be of benefit to others, to set this motivation every day and make decisions based on that. The only way to do that is to understand ourselves. Why? Because to help others is a really complicated problem. It is a daunting journey, hard work and full of surprise and mystery. One of the Buddhist teachers, Lama Yeshe, who was instrumental in bringing Buddhism to the West, said that all negative karma resides in the unconscious. I thought that this was profound. Why? Because negative karma is based on negative emotions many of us know as greed, hate, revenge, envy, guilt, rage, vindictiveness, spite, malice, well, think of the seven deadly sins and you're on the right path. In a psychological framework, these are often relegated to the unconscious and act themselves out, are unknown and cause trouble. So many wisdom traditions including psychoanalysis and psychological astrology, all come to similar conclusions, but along very different paths. In other words, it seems that all true maps converge and this will be the topic of a series of blogs yet to come.
For now, back to the question of what gives life meaning. The Buddhist teachings say that life is suffering, so how do we make sense of the suffering and even transcend at least unnecessary suffering. GIVING. Now thats a good start. Take ourselves out of the picture. Now this is not to be confused with martyrdom or rescuing, saving people from themselves which is rife in our culture. This only encourages victimhood. For example, in my experience I have noticed within my family, my relationships, and clients that as women we have a very real tendency to want to make things better. Sure, of course we would, bringing children into the world, the feminine aspect is profoundly interested in this. However, it is confused with our own mostly unconscious unmet needs and clouded by a very real desire to be needed and to bring meaning into our lives. This is why the Buddhist psychology of the mind is so accurate, we have to know ourselves to be able to GIVE and BE OF USE TO OTHERS. Offer the world around us something of value, and not add to the suffering of life.
If we are interested in bringing meaning to our lives then to set healthy boundaries is absolutely the most compassionate act we can do for ourselves and others....and often the most painful. Painful because if we draw a line in the sand, others may not like it. We can put ourselves at risk of being abandoned, of being yelled at, of hurting someone, of being hurt. It can all be very scary. But to individuate, step into our potential, into our becoming we have to let go of the expectations others have of us and want us to be for them. It is not easy, but it truly is our only salvation. Sacrificing that which no longer serves our growth, or whoever doesn't want us to be the best we can be, is a very real and necessary sacrifice. It is also important to realise that allowing others to get away with abusive, manipulative behaviours does them a huge disservice. It stops them from growing and it keeps their guilty conscience playing havoc with their overall health. We all know when we have treated someone badly, its just a matter of whether we have the courage to stand up and call it out.
If we scale up, head for that which is on a trajectory of growth, then thats meaningful, because with that comes witnessing our abilities to create change for the better. That then helps to transcend our own pain and tragedies because we can see that small incremental steps done with a moral code, meaning if I get myself together, I won't hurt others, I can actually be a force for good. Now that's meaningful. For example, everything is a path to growth, especially our negative states of mind. When we feel envious of someone, it is especially good to point us to what we are lacking, to what we need to develop most in ourselves to feel fulfilled. It is a painful feeling very hard to bare, but is a beacon to guide us forward.
To watch a small child manipulate their environment to get their needs met is astounding. If left unchecked well we see where that goes, into grown adults who do the same and it's not so easy then to check it.
MEANING STARTS WITH TEASING OUT HOW WORDS ACT THEMSELVES OUT
How much of our lives are taken up with consoling, colluding, grasping, needing, being the receptors of others' states of mind and wearing them, and then it seems these can get confused with feeling empathic, being kind and compassionate, loving. Without understanding where our pathology meets our being a good person in the world, then trying to find meaning in one's life will continue be treacherous and filled with painful episodes of the same story over and over. Freud called this the repetition compulsion. Meaning "the desire to return to an earlier state of things".
To find meaning is to work out the meaning of behaviours and cultural concepts, words we all take for granted but know very little about how they function psychologically and emotionally, because our pathologies get mixed up in them. Importantly too is, how they become confused with our family of origin behaviours, patterns, and unconscious sub personalities.
Next blog for this topic!
What does this mean to leave a legacy? For me, it means what do I stand for? How do I want to be remembered? It has struck me in my own life that as time goes by and I get older, the meaning of everything changes dramatically, thank goodness! Coming to understand the legacy of my elders has compounded, particularly after my mothers death, I became so much more aware of the fact that they had all gone and I was left. I was the elder holding the torch for future generations. Yikes.
Firstly I had many layers of understanding and insight into exactly what has been left to me, which indicates that legacy is not something we understand in the moment but can actually bear itself over time, particularly when a family member dies or has a conversation with you and something comes to light that you didn't know.
I was visiting my father's cousin a few years ago whom I hadn't seen for a very long time. She told me about an aunt in our family who had spent 48 years in the Democratic Republic Of the Congo and adopted over 30 children! WOW! Ok well that's a new story, to me. I became obsessed with finding out more. Just before the pandemic I had made up my mind to go to the small township where she spent most of her life and meet my Congolese family. I had already made contact with a member of the royalty of that province who had invited me, pleased I had made contact and who himself, had be best friends with one of her adopted children!
Plans were disrupted, unfortunately. Point here is: this legacy has changed my perspective. Who else is lurking in my families with stories that help me piece together and make sense of my life? It has been an incredible process to reflect on her courage, her faith and her ability to stand for something that is much greater than herself.