Alternate Perceptions Magazine, January 2020
The Meaning of Life
by: Dr. Greg Little
Where did we come from? Why are we here? Where do we go? These are questions all people have contemplated at one time or another. As some people get older, they think about these questions even more. Others, not so much. However, in one sense it all boils down to a simple question: What is the meaning of life?
In the book “Freedom to Change” we, (meaning me and coauthors Kim & Stan Prachniak) tried to give a practical answer to that last question. It is simple: Your meaning to life is whatever you make it to be. That means you can choose your meaning. You make your choice through your actions. It can be money, power, sex, work, family, pleasure, spirituality, or countless other things. It’s up to you. It can be giving or taking. But it certainly changes over a lifetime. Think of it this way. What was your meaning of life at age 8, or 18, or 30? It changes as we change. In “Freedom To Change” we gave three truths about human nature. Those truths are the essential biological drives underlying our day-to-day existence. These are 1) Survival; 2) Reproduction; and, 3) The drive to make life more pleasurable and easier. The last two of those (reproduction and seeking an easier life) essentially serve the first one—survival. Of course, you can choose something else, but the biological drives have been placed into us via heredity and nature.
One of the things I have come to realize is that some ancient cultures struggled with the same questions. They looked at the world and tried to make sense out of it. They tried to understand their place in nature. But many of them arrived at very different answers. Perhaps that was partly because their world was different than what we live in today. All of the old cultures struggled with survival. They had to gather sufficient food, gather wood on a daily basis for fire, build their own shelters, and do what they could to exist in a natural world that was occasionally predictable, but nature was often unforgiving and at times chaotic. To many ancient Native Americans, the purpose of life was answered in what they saw as their role or purpose in being here. They were in a chaotic world that had a multitude of forces at work. Nature always took its course—with everything—and that meant that things changed. They saw their role as adapting to change and creating and maintaining an essential balance with all things. Harmony with nature and everything that surrounds us was their purpose. It was essentially all about living a spiritual life in a universe where everything that existed was a form of spiritual essence. That meant that all of the negative emotions, resentments, and destructive impulses had to be resisted and brought into harmony. The Navajo, for example, believed that when we die we leave behind all of our wicked deeds, thoughts, and emotions behind to wander on the Earth as a ghost. It was crucial to forgive and maintaining harmony/ balance was the fundamental task assigned to humans.
As we enter a new decade, perhaps it is wise to assess our place in the world and take a look at how we live in a balanced or unbalanced way. The world is chaotic, filled with polarized beliefs and feelings, and few of us strive to be in harmony. In an ancient belief-system manner, we can ask ourselves a simple question. Are we, as individuals, going to leave behind a powerful ghost, driven by wicked feelings and behaviors, or do we manage to assist the world, and the universe, in maintaining harmony?