“The meaning of my existence is that life has addressed a question to me …… or conversely, I myself am a question.” C.G. Jung, ‘Memories, Dreams, Reflections.
For as long as I can remember I have questioned the meaning of life. As a young adult I set off on a quest to find this meaning for myself and I am still doing it. Like an artist who chisels away at a block of stone, refining the image that begins to emerge until it reveals itself in its full beauty, I too am honing the essence of myself and attempting to make meaning of my life. We are all artists creating our own personal masterpieces.
Lionel Corbett, in the book “Jung and Aging” says that ‘one of the cardinal features of spiritual development at any age is the discovery of meaning in one’s life, the feeling that life makes sense, without which one often despairs’. Jung was one of the first psychologists to focus on the importance of looking for meaning and seeing life as a voyage of discovery. If we don’t approach our lives in this way, we run the risk of falling into feelings of desperation as we grow into old age.
I have outlined some tips that may help you develop more meaning – they have worked, and continue to work for me.
Faith – I believe that we have to have a faith in God or a power higher than ourselves. This can be based in a specific religion, nature or inner belief of the nature of God. My teacher used to say that there are many paths to the top of the mountain (God), so you follow the religion that is in your heart. Your journey will be easier and quicker if you stay on the same path and don’t jump from one to another.
Discover your own story and change it if necessary. It has been helpful for me to look back over my life to determine patterns of thinking or behavior that have not worked for me. Write your own myth and learn what deep beliefs (that you adopted in childhood) you have based your life on. Examples of these could be ‘I am not smart enough to do this’, ‘people do not take me seriously’, ‘people do this to me all the time’ or any number of lies that we have told ourselves. Once we are aware of them, we can change them.
Ask yourself how you want the story to end. Once we understand the myth of our lives, we can write the ending. This helps us clarify and establish a meaning . What do you want your legacy to be? How do you want to be remembered? Now you can set about ‘living in’ to your souls’ purpose.
Look at the big picture – do not dwell on everyday life. Meaning and life are strewn with periods of what we could call ‘mundane’ actions – the day to day activities and down time when we may spend an entire weekend reading a good book or dealing with relationship and health issues. It is important to be aware of the larger picture and keep our eyes on the goal (or gold).
Some things that happen to us seem to be meaningless, others we can understand that we caused them to happen because of our beliefs and actions. It is helpful to try and discriminate between the two so it becomes a learning process.
Dreams are a crucial contribution to understanding the meaning of our lives. It is always sad to me that they are treated with such little value when I know they offer the greatest wisdom on our spiritual journey and act as the wellspring of meaning. Jung said that dreams come from the place where body and spirit meet. They are written in the language of metaphor and communicate with us by means of images and symbols. They help us understand our deepest desires and what prevents us from living them.
Creativity and Imagination allow us to play in a way we can discover meaning. Music, art and poetry all speak to us through images and symbols, in the same way our dreams speak. When we read poetry or Shakespeare, we are reading metaphor. The beauty of the language is that it provides us with ideas that capture the imagination and it is this imagination that moves us into new areas of understanding and meaning. Children show us this every day as they play. Play helps them make sense of a complex world and complex relationships. It also provides respite from every day life. Somehow as adults we have lost the ability to play and imagine and as a result our lives can become stressful, boring and static.
Stand up for your values and give them voice. Since our values are so closely related to the meaning we are weaving through our lives, it is crucial that we give them our attention, stand by them and give them voice. There is huge risk in doing this because we all need validation and support. To speak our truth to one person or a group is often an opening where we may meet conflict, abandonment or even rejection. It takes inner strength and focus to handle this, as well as practice, until we can speak from a place of our own authority without worrying about the outcome.
It is important to understand that meaning is personal to all of us. What is meaningful to one person may not be meaningful to another and in this lies the beauty of life. We all have to find our own unique path and the above pointers may give you some ideas if you feel ‘stuck’ or unsure of the next step.