A close friend brought up the question last night of where, in the end, the meaning in my life will reside. This weighs on every generation, I’m sure, as it ages: we try to summarize how we've lived and what we've done, and understand what it all means. Why we've lived; what the actual significance of the trajectory has been.
I live in a house surrounded by serious books that attempt to explain this. I write about it myself. Some of the books are pretty good; and some of what I write is, I hope, at least respectable. The house also has many objects with imparted meaning; art objects, personal objects, ancient objects, natural objects, religious objects. Each one of those aspects — art, personal, ancient, natural, religious – is an assigned aspect that emanates from within me.
Without me, the object does not—cannot— have that character.
Without me, the books don’t get read and the pieces don’t get written.
So I am responsible for all the meanings. External events don’t assign them.
Last night I had many dreams that signified meanings of various kinds. In one of them, my sister Sarah was still very much alive; in another one, there were disturbing allurements; in a third, subtle esoteric adjustments were made to the physical mechanism by which I breathe.
So life is durable; there are temptations; and I need to remain connected to myself. There are some potential meanings for what were otherwise somewhat confusing dreams.
I awoke with an understanding I've had for many years: the meaning of life has to be imparted by an inner, an organic, relationship. Sometimes this understanding is more innate than others because the way it's connected in me is stronger; at other times it's a softer, less noticeable background current. Yet there's always a current of life that flows into Being through the physical body; and that prana—that life force—is what animates Being— and of itself already imparts meaning.
It has always been my impression that meaning comes first, in the context and through the presence of this life force which imparts Being. Meaning is, in other words, already organic and innate. We already start out with our meaning.
So maybe I tend to confuse things. What concerns me, perhaps, is not just meaning — which is already a given — but valuation.
During the conversation, my response to my friend was that all the meaning in our life derives from the love that we have for one another and for God. There is meaning to the extent that there is love. Yet love is not just a meaning; it’s a valuation as well. To love means that I value the other.
I went to bed last night questioning exactly where my valuations lie. One of the things that strikes me is how responsible to others I need to be in the context of love. This is the heart of it. I need to intelligently and mindfully offer myself to others and support them. This is complex and difficult in the context of a life which begins in me — as it does in almost all of us, I think – as an essentially somewhat childish, egoistic element that above all wants for itself. That's much of what drives the economic, social, and political engines we exist within... but does it have to drive me, myself?
Shouldn't I be me first—concentrate on having an intelligent center of gravity for value—and then make decisions from there?
Sorting that out and putting it in its right place has a lot to do with discovering valuation and creating what I would call right meaning. Because, after all, it’s not just the meaning of my life that concerns me at this age. It’s the question of discovering right meaning; that is, meaning with a right valuation, one that measures with love, and not with my usual selfishness, rejection, or anger.
Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.