Excellence Reporter: Graham, what is the meaning of life?
Graham Nicholls: I have often felt it is not the meaning, but the many meanings in life that I believe are at the core of this question. But it seems to me that when we consider the meaning of life, what we are actually asking is what is its purpose and value, and what will give us peace and happiness? So I will try to humbly suggest the perspectives that have given me fulfillment and a sense of value.
To begin, I see the existence of life itself as a marvel, a wonder so powerful that to look for a category or way to define its value is in some ways a mistake. I focus instead more on an appreciation of life. In my view the finite nature of life, like the uniqueness of a great work of art, gives it the deepest sense of value or meaning it could hold. It arises from our conscious awareness, that ability to value the beauty and life all around us. Whether the first spark of consciousness is within us, or an external being, that primary awareness is the source of meaning.
The power of life is not in the way we understand an experience or our consciousness after a glimpse of the numinous, it is in direct experience itself. We are a part of, not separate to the individual character of each moment. Maybe the deepest understanding lies in our ability to have direct experience of reality – consciousness in that sense is the only truth we can really know.
Enlightenment, ecstasy, union, oneness, are all words we use in an attempt to understand that direct apprehension of unfettered consciousness. It is in those states of awareness that life is flooded with meaning, but we are also often left without understanding, without the definitions and roadmap that we ache for. So although we may be able to appreciate the value of life in some form, our questioning of its meaning tends to arise even more when we experience the transcendent.
This raises the question, how do we draw from that state of value, the root of ourselves in conscious experience and reach happiness or fulfillment?
Love is a word that often comes up when we consider this question, I believe because it addresses the clearest and simplest step beyond ourselves. A reaching out with empathy that reflects back our shared beauty and uniqueness. Put another way, it is the step from our direct conscious experience to one of unity or an attempt at understanding the conscious experience of another being.
Compassion too holds many of those same qualities, and spiritual traditions the world over have expressed that meaning comes from the deep knowing and empathy from which compassion is sourced within us. Science has found that when we give and share of who we are, a sense of meaning and ultimately happiness is often created through our actions.
Some might consider that it is only with a deity that meaning can truly be found in our lives. They will reason that without a deity life has no meaning. My understanding is that life would be without ultimate intention without a deity, but not without meaning.
I believe purpose and meaning are found in the most authentic conscious expressions in life. From helping a stranger, or creating music or art, to realising some amount of love or freedom. To know what choice to make in life I ask myself what draws me back, what are the choices or actions that I am drawn back to, again and again, that evoke inner peace or joy.
Those things that call us back are what make us who we are, they are our uniqueness.
In essence, my understanding is that if we practice the many diverse ways we can bring inner awareness (mindfulness, authenticity, oneness) into our lives, coupled with outward unity (empathy, love, compassion) we will arrive at a personal meaning that will bring us to fulfillment and happiness.
~Graham Nicholls is an author and researcher specialising in out-of-body and near death experiences. Most recently he has been an advisor, educator, and experimental participant with The Rhine Research Center (US). He has also organised and conducted experiments with Dr. Rupert Sheldrake as part of the Perrott-Warrick Project, administered by Trinity College, Cambridge. He has lectured widely at venues including: The Institute of Noetic Sciences (US), The Science Museum (UK), The Institute for Neuroscience and Consciousness Studies (US), The Society for Psychical Research (UK), and Cambridge University (UK). His work and life have been featured by the BBC, The Times, The Telegraph, The Daily Express, The Epoch Times, and The Independent, as well as many alternative podcasts, media, and books by other authors.
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