Excellence Reporter: Mark, what is the meaning of life?
Mark Van Buren: This question has produced billions of answers over the many years of human existence, which makes one think, could there be an inherent ONE meaning everyone can align with? I’ll be honest, I’m not going to give you some feel-good, it’s all going to be ok, type of answer. This would simply be an attempt to cover over the groundless, uncertain, ambiguous, and mysterious nature of our human condition. Instead, I’d like to briefly explore where meaning could be found and how we can experience it directly.
Does life have meaning? Or is it a completely meaningless accident? The debate and dichotomy could go on for eons. One thing is certain though. I think we can all agree on one simple fact: Here we are. Now. Experiencing this world through our five senses. If meaning is to be found it must be here and now. Where else could we look? Where else could it possibly be?
Great! We’ve narrowed down the search to this very moment. Now what?
As I’ve previously explained, a simple cheesy quote or statement won’t do justice. Meaning is not found in words. It’s like trying to find nourishment and satiation by eating the menu at a diner. Pictures of food are never the actual food itself. Explanations of meaning will never be the actual meaning, but instead would simply be nothing more than an idea that WE bring to life, just as it is.
I feel we must let go of the ideas of meaning and non-meaning altogether, to allow the true meaning of life to reveal itself in every given moment. A meaningful life is not found in hokey-pokey ideas, happy quotes, or human labels but rather in the direct engagement with the present moment – embodying completely the temporary expression of life as it is this very moment. This means the meaning of life is not static and unchanging, as we all hope it to be, but rather fluid and dynamic.
If this moment of life is you walking down the street, than the meaning of your life is just simply walking, fully experiencing every step, sound, sight, smell, etc. In that moment the entire cosmos is walking down the street. It’s the only thing there is. Anything else would be a memory, anticipation, or another addition brought in by your mind.
So although it may not seem that grand of an explanation (although it really is because every moment is the entire universe), the meaning of life is simple. Be where you are. Do what you are doing, as fully and authentically as possible. As paradoxical as it sounds, letting go of finding meaning will slam you face first into meaning itself.
Do birds need “meaning” to sing? Does the sun need “meaning” to rise in the sky every morning? As Lao Tzu once write, The Tao that is spoken is not the true Tao. Any meaning we impute on life is not True Life, but rather a small-minded interpretation of the inexpressible.
So stop searching, stop talking about it, and just be what and where you are right now.
~Mark Van Buren is the author of A Fool’s Guide to Actual Happiness, and is Bergen County’s go-to guide for all meditation and mindfulness-based training. With well over a decade of experience in the field, Mark instructs meditation workshops, lectures, professional development days, corporate wellness classes, and silent retreats in a practical, yet accessible way. He offers simple tools and practices that can reduce stress, help with anxiety and depression, manage pain, and transform the many difficult aspects of life.
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