Nicolae Tanase: Teri, what is the meaning of life?
Teri Degler: Many years ago I saw a brilliantly colored poster emblazoned with a quote by Tolstoy: “The sole meaning of life is to serve humanity.” This saying moved me profoundly, but even in those days – heady, idealistic, and impassioned as they were – I sensed it was, perhaps, a bit over the top. What’s more, I later discovered it was not only a very loose translation, it was also taken completely out of context.
Still, even all these years later, something about those words hangs true with me.
This is not because I believe serving humanity is the “sole” meaning of life, but because I’ve come to believe it hints at a fundamental truth about the nature of the universe.
I’ve spent a good deal of my life as a writer researching the lives of the great saints and mystics from the world’s various spiritual traditions. When these men and women describe their mystical experiences they almost always talk about a sense of union or a “oneness” with the Divine. It is not just that they say they saw the Divine; they make it clear that they have experienced an actual merger with it. In many cases, this is expressed not just as a Union with God – or whatever name they give the divinity – but as a Oneness with all humanity or even all things.
When the 12th century visionary, St. Hildegard of Bingen, wrote about what she called “a reflection of the Living Light” she said her soul – clearly permeated and at one with this divine light – “rises up high into the vault of heaven and into the changing sky and spreads itself out amoung different peoples, although they are far away from me in distant lands and places.” A couple of centuries later, the Kashmiri saint Lal Ded put it succinctly when she describes reaching Samadhi: “I diffused the inner light and within, without, all was light.”
If this is so – and mystics from virtually every time and culture have said it was so – we have to accept that we really are all One. It is only a small step from realizing we are all One to realizing it doesn’t make a heck of a lot of sense for my left hand to chop off my right hand. But it does make a lot of sense for my left hand to reach out and help my right hand whenever it can.
The world is racked by poverty, war, and pollution because we have forgotten this. So what is the meaning of life? To remember it.
~Teri Degler, award-winning author who has eleven books to her credit, including The Fiery Muse: Creativity and the Spiritual Quest (Random House of Canada). A long-time student of yoga philosophy, mystical experience, and the divine feminine known in yoga as kundalini-shakti, Teri teaches creativity workshops in the United States and Canada. Her freelance writing on topics ranging from environmental activism to parenting have appeared in Family Circle, More Magazine, Today’s Parent and many other publications. Her books have been translated into French, German, and Italian, and her latest, The Divine Feminine Fire: Creativity and Your Yearning to Express Your Self, (Dreamriver Press) became a # 1 Amazon Bestseller in Canada in two of spiritual categories.
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