My first thought when asked this question was “42,” a nonsensical answer that Douglas Adams popularized in his novel Life, The Universe, and Everything. While it may seem flippant, I agree that we really can’t know the ultimate meaning of life. It’s unknowable. A mystery, one that’s better left for the great mystics, or even to God. But it doesn’t stop us from asking the question or wanting to know the answer.
To me, a more practical question is, “What gives my life meaning?” Now that’s something concrete enough that we might be able to derive an answer. For most adults, we might look to the components of our daily lives for an answer:
- Family, friends, and romantic relationships
- Religion, spirituality, or faith
- Travel or recreation
- Being creative
While fine for most people, these things constitute only the surface layer of “meaning.” Let’s dig a little deeper. If we rephrase the above list in a way that better represents the values underlying each item, we might come up with something like:
- Developing healthy relationships
- Being loving, kind, and compassionate
- Deepening our connection to our Higher Power
- Being of service
- Exploring the depths of our human potential
- Exploring and expanding our talents and creativity
- Experiencing life to the fullest and having fun
- Creating security for ourselves and our families
I probably missed a few points but I think you understand where I’m headed. Not everyone would agree on this list and not every component of this list will be meaningful for all. I think that most of us, though, would be able to point to a few of these items and say, “These bring meaning to my life.”
Now for the big reveal. I have a secret that may change how you view the concept of meaning in your life, as it has changed mine. A profound near-death experience (NDE) a few years ago showed me what really mattered in my life and in the realm of Spirit.
During a procedure to reconstruct my spine that was traumatized during an accident, I died on the operating table. When that happened, my consciousness shifted to a state of being or realm unlike any we can experience here in the physical. This realm was loving beyond belief, peaceful, connected, expansive, rational, logical, and lighthearted. Through what seemed like months of conversation with a spiritual being of light, love, humor, and compassion, I learned this: what we think of as meaningful in our human life may not be once we return to our spiritual home after death. Things like politics, nationalities, fame, money, and even our formal education don’t matter at the level of Spirit.
What is meaningful at the level of Spirit? Or, more accurately, what carries over from physical reality to our spiritual home?
- Being loving, kind, or compassionate to ourselves and others
- Being of service
- Experiencing and enjoying life to its fullest
- Having fun
- Learning from our lives and each other
- Feeling and expressing gratitude
- Deepening our connection to each other and to our Higher Power
We can’t take our money, fame, or work with us after death. Even if we could, at the spiritual level these things don’t matter anyway. That doesn’t mean we should forget about them in our human lives. If you want to pursue fame as a musician for example, go for it! Just keep in mind that any fame you achieve is for this life alone—you cannot take it with you. What you do take with you is how your music affects others, how you treat those around you on your way to fame or fortune, did you have fun, and whether you are grateful for what you have achieved.
In other words, what matters once we leave this life is how we have lived it, the choices we made, the things we learned about ourselves, how we’ve impacted others, and how much we enjoyed our time here.
This simple insight has reset what brings meaning to my life. Prior to my NDE if you asked me, “What gives your life meaning,” my answer would have been: my work in the sciences, my creative endeavors, and money. Ask me that question now and top three are: being loving and kind, being of service, and experiencing and enjoying life.
So instead of asking yourself, “What is the meaning of life,” and thinking yourself into a corner, try, “What really gives my life meaning?”
~Nancy Rynes is a speaker, artist, and author of Awakenings from the Light (available from Amazon.com). Nancy is a leading voice for personalizing the wisdom of Near Death Experiences (NDEs), developing our heart-centered intuition, and living a life of inspired creativity. Known for her fun, lighthearted, girl-next-door demeanor, Nancy teaches others how to live a more purposeful, joyful, and Heaven-inspired life. She lives near Seattle, Washington.
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