Excellence Reporter: Dr. Gustin, what is the meaning of life?
Kate Gustin: To ask any question about meaning is to venture into narrative, language, story, mental constructs. The mind is absolutely fabulous at generating answers to such inquiries; it will pull from individual history, from culture, from personal and collective imagination, from current mood and memory to weave together a thoughtful, coherent response. For this reason, any account of meaning cannot be taken as ultimate truth. There are as many answers to the meaning-in-life-question as there are minds to produce them.
A given answer, however, may still express relative truth quite well. For example, I could share with you the aspects of my own life that have felt meaningful, such as those having to do with connection, love, and kindness. But even that account may get modified if you catch me on a bad day.
Lest we fall into post-modern morass here, I believe there is another way to approach this inquiry. If we were to step away from the mind’s analysis altogether and perhaps substitute “connection with life” for meaning of life, a different experience or knowing would be revealed.
Connection with life as it unfolds in the present holds inherent value, regardless of whether the mind deems it meaningful. Without having to create a verbal/mental representation of our experience (and without having to then evaluate that representation), we can just surrender to life living as us and through us. We become available to experiencing a full visceral intimacy with each moment. Suddenly, divisions – between inner and outer experience, will and spontaneity, subject and object – start to soften. Self-referential thought no longer has to separate us from the larger flow and unity of shared experience.
I would say that this state of being – spontaneous, undivided, unmitigated by evaluative thought – is where it’s all at. This free flow of consciousness is essentially (in my opinion) life’s love for itself coming into manifestation. What a miracle – to not only participate in that, but to actually be that at our core!
~KATE GUSTIN, PhD, is a clinical psychologist practicing in the San Francisco Bay Area. She received her education from Princeton University and the University of California at Berkeley and has worked in a variety of settings over the past twenty-five years as a mental health practitioner. Dr. Gustin integrates the science of positive psychology into her psychotherapy, teaching, and consultation, and leads classes and trainings for students, patients and healthcare professionals. She is the author of the book No-Self Help (New Harbinger Publications, 2018).
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