Excellence Reporter: Angel, what is the meaning of life?
Angel Millar: It would seem self-evident that the meaning of life is to live life fully. And to live it without compromise so that we might, sooner or later, embody our true nature and become who we were meant to be. But this immediately provokes the question, how do we know if we are acting towards or against our true nature? If, for example, I am tempted by sweet and delicious food, and I eat it, am I living my true nature or true self, or am I going against it? Isn’t it my nature to want that food and to enjoy eating it, after all? Or is it against my true nature because it isn’t good for me, physically, and if eating that type of food becomes a habit, I will fall sick.
Temptation hints at dualism. And, perhaps dependent on our ability to imagine, we are all, to a greater or lesser degree, dualistic. Hence, the heroes of one era are made into the villains of the next and individuals once championed as living saints are revealed to have dark chapters in their pasts.
On a more mundane level, we might want to be fit and healthy but crave food that is unhealthy. Then we eat it and enjoy eating. Then, a moment later, we regret eating it and think of how it has set our fitness regime back. Or, perhaps, we are a proud parent and loving spouse who dreams of running away with someone we barely know (or don’t know at all). Or, perhaps, you are a high-flier in the corporate world but daydream of giving it all up and going to live on a farm in the middle of nowhere.
Working towards embodying our true nature or true self requires us to wrestle with this inner duality and, we might say, our inner demons (which tend to lurk in the unexamined and uncultivated areas of our psyche). In this regard, it is notable that many classical systems of education cultivated the individual in contrary ways. The six Confucian arts practiced by scholars included the war arts of archery and charioteering as well as the peaceful arts of music calligraphy. Likewise, in Europe, into the early modern era, the gentleman learned the seven liberal arts as well as fencing and, possibly, wrestling, for self-defense.
Long before this, of course, the ancient Greek philosopher Plato observed that if a man learned only wrestling he would become too aggressive and uncouth, and that if he learned only music he would become too soft and emotional. Plato thus advocated learning both, along with philosophy. Again, we find that the warrior was often a poet (as was the case with the Viking Egill Skallagrimmson), a painter and calligrapher (as was the case with the samurai warrior Miyamoto Musashi), or considered a mystic (ʿAlī ibn Abī Ṭālib) or saint (Joan of Arc).
In our own time, we are increasingly unwilling to acknowledge our duality. Politically, we believe we are on the side of goodness and wisdom and that anyone who disagrees is on the side of malevolence and stupidity. In regards to our profession, we feel pressured to “pick a lane,” “find a niche,” and specialize. In our free time, we might want to work out or practice music, but don’t want to practice both. We want to see ourselves as a geek or a jock or as intellectual or physical (the down-to-earth type who fixes things, works out, and doesn’t read books). That we have a brain and a body is almost too much for most people to bear. We would be embarrassed to be physically muscular, academic, thoughtful, spiritual, artistic, and able to think rationally.
We said at the beginning that the meaning of life is to live fully and without compromise. But we want to fit in. We are, in other words, preconditioned to be embarrassed to be all we are capable of being. Nevertheless, that is the choice we face: to limit ourselves and develop part of ourselves, so we can find a group to fit in with, or develop ourselves fully (mind, body, spirit; mentally, physically, spiritually, culturally) to become who we should be.
Becoming ourselves requires sacrifice. It requires us to give up what is superfluous and to say no to those temptations that will not only engender poor mental or physical health but that will make it difficult or impossible for us to become all we can be.
Perhaps you think it arrogant to become physically strong, intelligent, free thinking, artistic, spiritual, and so on. But it is, ultimately, an act of humility to God, Nature, the Tao, or however we might think of It. The flower blossoms. The fruit tree bears fruit. We must become who we were meant to be (not because we decided who that is but because we have discovered that it is already there, deep within us, and we want to bring it out). In striving to become the person we are meant to be, we find meaning — the meaning of life.
~Angel Millar is the author of The Path of the Warrior-Mystic: Being a Man in an Age of Chaos and The Three Stages of Initiatic Spirituality: Craftsman, Warrior, Magician, as well as a self-development mentor and hypnotist. You can find out more at angelmillar.com.
©Excellence Reproter 2021