Excellence Reporter: Dr. Lomas, what is the meaning of life?
Tim Lomas: Whenever I dwell on the question of the meaning of life, my thoughts feel like they’re becoming heavy and immobile, as if made of lead. Something about the question seems to resist any attempt to capture it in words. It is as if my mental labels form a crude, dead-weight net, while meaning is a fleet footed animal spirit, always darting away and resisting entrapment.
But then, as I reflect on this ability of meaning to evade being pinned down by me, I begin to feel that this is just as it should be. I find myself cheering its escape, realising that its beauty and luminosity would be diminished if I were to trap it in a word or a sentence. It is infinitely more dynamic than that, a quicksilver illumination, leading us through the darkness, but always just out of reach.
And so, it feels like the question of the meaning of life is somewhat like asking, what is the meaning of Mozart’s Moonlight Sonata, or a Rothko tryptic, or a goal by Messi. I’m not sure that these have a meaning per se; however, this does not diminish them, but on the contrary, greatly elevates them.
The notion of ‘meaning’ implies signification; the word ‘love’, for instance, merely points to the indescribable experience of love. It ‘means’ love, but it is not love itself. In contrast, the Moonlight Sonata does not ‘mean’ anything – i.e., signifying or pointing to something beyond itself – rather, it is complete and perfect unto itself.
I feel the same about life itself. It does not ‘mean’ anything, in the sense of being a name or a sign for something else. It just is: unfolding like some eternal, unwritten symphony, playing out through the ages. And then all we can do is to contribute as best we can to the music, becoming the most beautiful and harmonious melody we are capable of being.
~Dr. Tim Lomas is a lecturer at the University of East London, where he is the co-programme leader for the MSc in Applied Positive Psychology and Coaching Psychology. Tim completed his PhD at the University of Westminster in 2012, focusing on the impact of meditation on men’s mental health. He is the author of numerous books and papers, covering topics including mindfulness, Buddhism, gender, cross-cultural psychology, and neuroscience. His latest book, entitled ‘The Darkness and the Dawn: The Value of Sadness and other Negative Emotions,’ will be published by Piatkus in Autumn 2016.
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