Disclaimer: This is my humble offering after many years of thought and prayer. If you have found your own meaning, please leave it in a comment. I welcome any and all perspectives.
As I was lying sleepless last night, I realized that, though I discovered the meaning of life many years ago, I never shared. That was rather irresponsible of me, don’t you think?
Are you ready? Drumroll, please…
The meaning of life is the experience of it.
Shall I end there? Leave it for you to consider without explanation? I can do that.
If you want to see if this belief has value for you, my reasoning follows.
I believe that a person’s spirit has a life separate from the physical body, and that spirit lives after the body dies. As evidence for the skeptic, I offer the truism, The spirit is willing, but the body is weak. The older I get, the truer that is, but it has been a reality all of my life (re: ballet, PE, and dieting).
Now take the next step–the spirit is eternal. Think about that. Eternity is a really, really long time. As in, past the time when our sun supernovas and swallows the solar system. As in, past the time when the universe has stopped expanding and collapsed into that miniscule point of extreme volatility before the next Big Bang.
That is a lot of time to fill. What are you going to do with all that time? God’s got it covered, no problem. Creating worlds, stars, galaxies, and universes; possibly other earthlike places with beings constantly asking for stuff. Even if he just considers my prayers, he’s a busy guy. But what can our spirits do with all that time? I don’t know about you, but my spirit is my most active component. My mind is going all the time, and my feelings are out of control to the point of overwhelming.
We have experiences with physical existence that we cannot have any other way. Seeing the world with its beautiful forests, rivers and oceans (and, be honest, horror and ugliness). Smelling aromas of wonderful meals and fragrant roses and gardenias (and stinking landfills or dirty diapers). Hearing bird song, the wind through the trees, melodious music (and traffic, sirens, or screaming children). Tasting a Thanksgiving dinner or a 4th of July picnic (or spoiled milk and fish with Brussel sprouts, a personal distaste). Finally and most importantly, touching the hand of a newborn, or the velvet nose of a horse, or the smooth finish of a beautiful wood carving (or being burned by too hot water, getting a splinter from an old rake, stepping on a gravel driveway barefoot). Remember, the ecstasy of joy is informed by its comparison with the devastation of sadness (see Disney movie, Inside Out).
Love with the physical component makes our lives richer than possible with a solely spiritual connection. Romantic love is enhanced beyond measure with touch, and not just sex (though sex with love is pretty good). Hugging, holding hands, even standing next to each other at a party are true expressions of abiding love. Rocking your child, holding his or her hand while you walk, cuddling with a book before bed–these are experiences that defy description. Greeting extended family with hugs, sharing joy and grief, sitting at the kitchen table with beloved aunts, uncles and cousins into the wee hours of the night. Cherishing that elusive face-to-face time with precious friends. Belly rubs with a dog. A purring cat on your lap. Being home in your favorite chair.
Love also comes with a bite, doesn’t it? Loss of spouse, child, parent, dear friend, or beloved pet. The heartbreak of separation, whether it’s divorce, leaving your childhood home for the last time, sending your child off to college, or ties severed because of irreconcilable differences. Futile empathy for the pain and suffering of the world that you have no ability to relieve.
Joyous or horrific, all of this defines you and shapes who you are to the deepest recesses of your soul. It sticks to your spirit for all eternity, defining and enriching your existence beyond any possibility without having a physical life. That is a great gift, isn’t it? To offer your eternal life a greater meaning because you have actually experienced the wonders of creation in all of its magnificence. To know as you witness God’s artistry that it goes beyond the overview of its grand scheme to layers of miniscule detail that take an eternity to fully realize.
I often wonder if we have a choice. After all, free will is a basic component of our relationship with God. Does He offer the opportunity to come into the world or not, and spirits choose to live or remain free of the slings and arrows of physical existence? I wonder if some spirits are afraid to take the chance of a hard life, or are just happy in the spiritual realm and say “Thanks, but I’ll pass.” I wonder if some souls love living so much that they choose to do it over and over again to pile up as much experience as possible (see “old soul”).
The bottom line is, what does this all mean to my life right now? The answer is not hard. Whether I have two days, two years or two decades, I need to cram in as much living as I can. Right until the very last breath, I can seize what life has to offer, as much as possible to take with me into eternity. If I can travel, drive, or even walk, I can still experience the world first-hand with all of my senses. If I become incapacitated, I can read; watch tv; surf the Internet; listen to music or books read aloud. I can have relationships, listen and learn about the world through the eyes of others.
Part deux of the bottom line is, what does this mean for you? What if you’re not the kind of person to rush out and seize the day? While this is your own question to answer, I can propose a thought or two. Live the way you are most comfortable and happy, but with the awareness that every moment you have is precious, even if you spend it on the sofa in your pajamas. If your contribution to the greater good is daily prayers for others, then that is a mighty contribution indeed, and not one to be taken lightly. If it is true that your spirit chose to come into this life, then maybe it can tell you what it wants and needs to take with it into eternity. Your living will likely be different from mine, but the meaning of it is the same.
The meaning of life is the experience of it.
P.S. If you don’t believe in God or the separate existence of the soul, not to worry. This idea can be even more important for you. If this life is all you have, then you are wise to get all you can out of it. Experience as much as it has to offer. Live with the goal of being satisfied that you made good use of it when you reach its end.