Dr. Kirk Schneider: The Meaning of Life and the Sense of Awe

Kirk 3 Lithuania 2012.jpgExcellence Reporter: Dr. Schneider, what is the meaning of life?

Kirk Schneider: The core issue concerning the meaning of life in my view is not so much a concept, a thing, or even a person, but the sense of awe, that is humility and wonder or sense of adventure that informs the background of all that we love. To the degree we can experience this sense of awe, discovery, whole-bodied openness to the mystery of simply being, to that extent we can experience any and all in our life as meaningful.

Frankly, I think this holds even if we see life in strictly materialist terms as a random event that just happened to produce a habitable planet, plants and animals, and human consciousness — even if all is some crazy cosmic accident, it is still incredible and awe-inspiring, and this is the part that too many secular people miss in my view.

When we genuinely open to the tremendous mystery of being, that is with our whole-body experience, and the capacity to be deeply moved, I don’t see how we can get around how awesome it all is, and hence infinitely meaningful. One doesn’t have to believe in a traditional religion or ideology to see and feel this. One simply (and not so simply!) needs to cultivate a profound presence to life, which encompasses our deepest dreads as well as most dazzling desires — the whole astonishing ‘banquet.’

And when we can tune in on that level we can recognize a much bigger picture than the oppressive judgments/identifications to which most of us fall prey. We are those also, to be sure, but we are perpetually MORE, and that’s the crux, the dynamic tension of an awe-filled, meaningful path.” Just ask Stephen Hawking, Albert Einstein, or Viktor Frankl — or better yet read their testimonies and see if you can live their wisdom.


~Kirk Schneider, Ph.D., is a licensed psychologist and leading spokesperson for contemporary existential-humanistic psychology. Dr. Schneider is the president (2015-2016) of the Society for Humanistic Psychology of the American Psychological Association, recent past editor of the Journal of Humanistic Psychology (2005-2012), vice-president of the Existential-Humanistic Institute (EHI), and adjunct faculty at Saybrook University and Teachers College, Columbia University. A Fellow of the American Psychological Association (APA), Dr. Schneider has published over 100 articles and chapters and has authored or edited 10 books.

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