The Search For Meaning

(Written 17-18 December 2014)

Why does the thought of the purpose of life being to contribute to evolution and the elevation of consciousness and the movement towards love fall dead on my ears? Though writing that did light me up a bit.

What’s the meaning of this moment? Is meaning something we purely create and agree to? Is each possible meaning ultimately equally-agreeable to us? No. That would mean that we are blank slates, which we are not. Besides- that’s more or less an obvious one. I’m not sure there’s any amount of convincing that can be done to get me to believe that watching television is a noble pursuit, for instance.


Actions Reveal Beliefs

The idea that actions (rather than words) reveal beliefs also should seem obvious, yet for some reason it floors me. It has shaken my world. For example, I believe that driving a car with a combustion engine is bad for the environment and should be best avoided, but I drive on a pretty regular basis anyway. So does the belief that I need to drive overpower the belief that Driving is bad, or do I simply not have the belief that Driving is bad? Does this question even matter?

If I have so much shame around eating why do I continue to eat? The belief that I need to eat overpowers the belief that Eating is shameful/bad. Oh. That seems so simple. But it’s so hard to accept. If I’ve been eating just fine for the last year and a half, then have I really believed that Eating is bad? I don’t know. I think the hamster wheel in my brain just stopped running.

I think I am happy about this. This feels weird but I suspect it will fit well. But I’m not sure that I’m thinking accurately. Maybe I’m overgeneralizing.

I constantly tell people that I’m stupid and I think I’m stupid. But if I proceed with attempting to speak intelligently, and I still write everyday and took Advanced Placement (AP) classes all through high school and now am attempting an associate’s degree in a year... Well, if I’m making an effort at those things then surely some part of me thinks I am able and worthy of achieving them. So then do I really think I’m stupid?

Whoa. This is a wild ride, man.

Of course, “stupid” can be a loaded term that goes many ways. Usually I call myself stupid when I make decisions that I deem unfavorable or when I fail to meet my potential. At least in social situations I usually call myself stupid when I don’t do something, such as talk to a particular person. I call myself stupid when I fail to act in accordance with my supposed beliefs.

Ding dong, you guessed it: if I failed to act on a certain belief, then do I really believe it?

Whoop, there it is. I think.

But this makes me wonder if I believe anything. But maybe I’m being unnecessary right now. Maybe this is a whole bunch of mental masturbation.

Of course, since I am writing this I must believe it to be totally necessary. So even if I think I’m being stupid by continuing… well, that’s too bad, because in actuality I do not believe the act of my writing to be stupid. I’m likin’ this.


Where Do Beliefs Come From?

But what constitutes action? Is it just behavior? Or is an intention an action, too? How about a thought? Words spoken? Feelings?

The action-belief relationship isn’t fixed—otherwise we’d all do the exact same things for the rest of our lives. There must be some force which changes them. Do actions change beliefs? I’ve thought that beliefs change actions. Do they change simultaneously? If so the force which changes them must be neither one of them. Right?

When I was writing Building Trust with the Universe I wrote up (though didn’t publish) a simple chain of how we are motivated to action. It looks like this:

Thoughts and Experiences <--à Beliefs > Larger context > Purpose > Vision > Goals > Projects > Action

I believe I explain some of the finer details in the article; for now, focus to the left side.

What this means is that your beliefs and your thoughts and experiences feed into one another. Neither belief nor experience can take precedence over one another because they need each other to exist. This premise, of course, implies that there is consciousness, which makes perfect sense in a subjective reality (which I discussed in that article, as well as You Always Get What You Want).

Basically, you are always experiencing, and you experience through the lenses of your beliefs. Your beliefs are reinforced and shaped by your experiences.

Thought can be considered a type of experience, but I’ve thought it- along with feeling- to be the building blocks of belief.

Your thoughts, feelings, and experiences can challenge your beliefs. You might believe that the moon is purple, then you look outside to see a white circle in the sky. Experience has disproven your belief.

But where the heck would you get a belief like that? You can say that, but how would you really believe it? The belief must have arisen from sufficiently-convincing experience.

I’m wondering now whether beliefs are this separate abstract thing in our minds which control our lives. They now seem to me inextricable from experience. I basically said that already, but I’m feeling differently now.

If this reality arises from consciousness then reality can only be belief. Beliefs, in this case, represent concepts we agree to, like what the color “green” is.

But there has to be a line drawn somewhere—doesn’t there? How else would belief change? Might the answer be that Consciousness precedes belief? Does consciousness determine action, or does action reveal the consciousness? Or both? I think both. But does action determine consciousness? Yes, it certainly can change consciousness. Does consciousness reveal action? No, but you can take a rough guess at what actions someone will take based on their consciousness.

But now I’m assuming consciousness and action to be separate. Are they really? In essence, no. It is only in an objective reality in which they are separate.

Silly me. I’ve parted from my own belief in subjective reality!


Doing What Works

You know, I’ve noticed that whenever I stray from the subjective reality model things become more complicated for me. There are a lot more things to worry about and I’m doing things wrong and I can’t put all the pieces together. As crazy as and intense as subjective reality can get, somehow it just makes the most sense. This is so because it is the purest of reality models—it is as close as we can get to the truth. Or at least, so I think.

It seems that Truth is generally accepted as what works. I used to cut myself because it worked well enough for my ends, and I thus bought into the truth that I need to do this because it works. As time wore on it worked less and less, and now I don’t heed that truth any longer.

How does the truth of what works change? How can we know what will work best for us if we are always doing what we deem to be best? That’s right—you are always doing what you believe works best, even if on the surface you think that a 3-hour meal is suboptimal. I suppose this is right where the idea that actions reveal beliefs clicks in.  J

Perhaps my last question, then, is the same as one I asked earlier: How do actions and beliefs change? The question of How can we know what works best for us? seems easier to answer. The answer that comes to mind is simple: experiment. It is the Realness principle of Adventure. Those five little guys always come in handy—I guess that’s why they’re principles.

But the process of experimentation isn’t so straightforward. Sometimes we try something new, get an amazing result, and then go back to our old ways. This is the whole surface-problem of dieting: people try it for a while, lose weight, and then they go back to their old diets and regain all the weight. What the heck do we do that for? Clearly we are not logical beings. If we were, we would immediately integrate the new ways.

What happens here? Experience (action) is insufficient to change belief. Why? Is that all that happens? Some professional public speakers still attest to being afraid even after hundreds of speeches. Why? How many experiences would be enough to relinquish fear? What’s going on here?

When you experience a feeling (e.g. fear) but act in spite of it, what does that mean? Does the feeling suggest anything about your beliefs? If so, then the belief which fuels your feeling gets overridden by the belief which fuels your action. But if feeling is not an action then it has no grounding in belief. I think I’m spinning in circles here.

Let me go to a question I meant to ask a few paragraphs ago. Why do we need to do what works? What’s the point? This is basically what I opened the article with: Why do we need to live more optimally? What for? Why do we need to evolve? Why do we need to move toward love? Why do the Realness principles or trust in the universe or any belief systems matter at all? Do we simply make them matter? Are we wired to detect certain meanings “out there”? Am I not getting something?

Does it all arise purely from contentment? You know—do what works because it will make you feel better? I don’t think so. Developing consciously certainly makes life feel better, even if you must hurt in the process.

But are we merely trying to attain some feeling? Is that the best that can motivate us? I mean, what if living more consciously sucked? What if it felt absolutely shit-tay, and never felt rewarding? Would we then be champions of personal stagnation? Would I instruct you on how to continue doing exactly what you’re doing?


Where Does Meaning Comes From?

Evolution and consciousness are ideas I learned from “out there,” so how can I be sure of them? Well, aren’t all ideas? Even social conditioning came from “out there”—that’s why it’s called social conditioning. All beliefs have some grounding in “out there.” Experience and belief feed into each other—remember?

I think I’m overcomplicating this. Perhaps suboptimal beliefs have led me astray.

What meaning is there in this moment? What meaning is there to me filling space with unnecessary questions? Always I can answer the first question with I am engaging with life. That sounds quite nice to me! But it’s not the only interpretation, and it may not be the best.

Can you give an explanation for following some purpose which appeals purely to logic? Or can purpose appeal only to itself?

Why do we like certain qualities? Why are certain things appealing to us? Why are some traits and actions called “good” and others called “bad”? Why are certain entities considered as progress and others as stagnation? What makes progress “good”? Is this all learning?

One thing I can say is that all ideas have some necessary grounding. They did not arise out of fluff and thin air. Monogamy, for instance, may be becoming increasingly silly to Americans and the idea might seem unnecessary to the polyamorous. But surely monogamy was seen as the optimal way to fulfill some need or create reality in a supposed optimal-way. Correct? I’d like to think so.

Still, why do we need to live the “best possible life”? Well, do we need to? Who said we do? Only we can say that we do. So why would I agree to that? Again, just for a feeling? For a sense of life becoming easier? I don’t want to believe that that is ultimately what I am after here. However, it certainly is a nice motivator.

Maybe I again am parting too far from subjective reality. Perhaps I must simply accept the idea that consciousness is primary. I mean, I’d have to use consciousness to deny that anyway. Once you accept this idea your focus can become much, much more polished. It’s easier to see what you have to do.

In The Valid Path I stated that the best life intersects what you most wish to experience, how you can best serve, and how you can grow most. In How Do You Shine? I suggested that your highest aim and best action is self-expression, which is really to express the universe through yourself. In Building Trust with the Universe I say that optimal motivation arises from a context(s) which makes sense to you. I suppose now  I am asking where the mechanism by which things makes sense comes from, and whether it is to be heeded. I am asking where meaning comes from.

Somehow the answer almost always is consciousness. Is that a cop-out, or is there still something I’m not getting? In Building Trust with the Universe I suggest that inspiration from the larger consciousness system cannot steer you wrong, depending on how you interpret and act upon it. Basically, then, I suggest that purpose must resonate with the elevation of consciousness. Because meaning is related to purpose it must resonate as well.

If meaning comes from consciousness, and everything- including us- is consciousness, then we must be both creators and detectors of meaning. This reality consists of everything in relation to everything. It is consciousness in relation to itself.

There still lies the issue that developing consciousness feels wonderful. If it didn’t, would I be so sure that this pursuit is valid? To clarify, I know that growing isn’t exactly comfortable a lot of the time. To be courageous is by definition to be afraid. But the result is usually that with growth means increased abilities and awareness, which means that you generally suffer less and enjoy more. Of course, as you progress you are met with new, higher-level challenges, but survival and emotional wellness certainly come more easily to you.

Humans are always doing what they believe will be rewarding. Even if they are supposedly punishing themselves there is still some reward which they seek through that punishment. They think the punishment will improve their lives somehow, whether for the short-term or the long-term. When you punish a child isn’t the point to reform him, so that he develops a conscience and acts “better” in the future? Isn’t behavior-modification the sought-out reward?

If all we seek out are rewards, are we just a bunch of slobbering, Pavlovian dogs who ultimately have no conscious say in what we do?

I think I merely have been trying to reject a context which makes sense to me. Of course survival and emotional wellness are more easily met with growth. Of course life would become easier, and you more able to handle life.

Progress, to me, is the essence of the meaning of life. To progress is to express life. Perhaps I have simply bought into the context of conscious growth for too long, but it certainly makes a heck of a lot of sense to me.

Certainly the meaning of “progress” and the existence of evolution are things I have derived from “out there,” but what’s so bad about that? It’s impossible to separate myself from “out there.” It’s not, here’s me with my life purpose and there is life over there. Instead, we are one. My life purpose must be directly related to this life.


Finding What Makes Sense

Certainly the premise that actions reveal beliefs allows for a variety of interpretations. Of course, it’s not just within this context: the meanings humans can assign to an entity (e.g. a person, a situation) are endless. But not all meanings are equally valid to us. As I said earlier, I simply cannot accept the idea that watching TV is a noble pursuit. That meaning does not make sense to me.

One thing you can do to see what interpretations are valid to you is to use foresight to strip whatever you’re thinking about regarding meaning. Just erase all the thoughts you’ve been having about a certain entity, which can even be life itself. Then you feel intuitively for meaning; this means you silence your mind and allow for the first answer you sense. It may not come to you in words, and it has to feel right to you. It’s a snap-judgment. So far I’ve gotten relatively positive answers, such as Engaging with life and Love when I test this out. When I use this method on me writing this article the meaning I get is exploring ideas.

The intuitive meaning is briefly stated yet powerful. It makes sense to you on an emotional level, which is ultimately where all things make sense to you. To truly believe something you must believe it on both a logical and emotional level.

This is why simply telling you why you should compost will not move you to do so. It must make sense to you intuitively to do so. It doesn’t matter how good of a logical argument for protecting the environment I pose—it is ultimately up to you to interpret the meaning in a way that makes sense for you and to accept that meaning. This may take repeated exposure to the idea, exposure to the idea in different ways (e.g. you try it for yourself), and thought about the idea. Your beliefs must change to accommodate it somehow.

When a suggestion is planted in your mind it takes effect because it already makes sense to you on a deeper level. A suggestion is some piece of information which you act upon, whether immediately or in the future. Think of post-hypnotic suggestions, which are commands given during hypnosis and are meant to be followed after the hypnosis session ends. A suggestion “coming to realization” is a suggestion being acted on. You might not realize a suggestion has been planted in you until the conscious thoughts and actions start taking place.

Perhaps the process of it coming to realization is you steadily accepting it on a logical level. Intuitive acceptance on its own is too abstract and far-off from what we know for us to accept it right off the bat most of the time. This is how we remain unaware of our suggestions for some time.

We must develop a context which makes sense to us logically to implement these suggestions. Of course, the context you develop on a surface level resonates with what you believe on an emotional level. It must be this way. Emotion almost always precedes logic, as it is much quicker. You just don’t totally realize that you already hold the beliefs you are accommodating; rather, it appears to you that you are developing new beliefs.

But if action reveals beliefs, there are many cases in which emotion appears to be behind logic. What I mean is that logic is more oriented toward progress, in these cases, than is emotion. Being trapped in any bad habit is a good example of this. You want to stop but you do not. Obviously it is illogical for you to continue the habit, but emotionally it makes sense for you to.

What is going on here? How do you change the emotional understanding? Do you just have to fight it with all the logic you’ve got? No- logic on its own is much weaker than emotion on its own. That’s how the habit persists.

I think what you must do is use logic to appeal to- rather than fight- emotion. This means that you strip away all the crazy meanings you have running around in your head and you go to a context which makes sense for you on both levels. Meanings which you are able to strip away do not make sense to you on both levels; otherwise they would persist.

Basically, then, what I am asking you to do is find where your logic and emotions are congruent. There is rarely a need for logic and emotion to fight one another; it is when we place them in the combat ring that each becomes degenerate. Come on—we all know by now that cooperation trumps competition. Competition means to separate and destroy. Cooperation means to come together and synergize.

The synergy created by cooperation can never be created alone, in a mode of separation. Perhaps this is why the context which makes sense for me resonates with forces outside of myself. My life isn’t just about me—in fact, it’s about serving the universe (which by extension includes myself).

I don’t always serve myself well, but in those instances I do my best to learn how I can be better. That’s how I can write about the relationship between logic and emotion—I look to instances when the relationship between them, for me, is struggling. To me all I do is meant to ultimately serve this context. Of course, my actions may suggest beliefs which lie outside the context, but the general belief that I must grow seems to me to encompass all those supposed-incongruent beliefs. In this way I maintain relative- though far from complete- congruence.


Get Naked

If actions reveal belief what makes us incongruent? I have said it before—it must be consciousness. Specifically, I would like to say, the collective consciousness. Again- it is everything in relation to everything. It’s all that stuff “out there” that spurs you on to think differently and to change. It does so because it wants you to change. The more you accept this, the more you see this.

I think rejecting the idea that actions reveal beliefs puts logic and emotions at odds, and you become frustrated. For me this looks like telling myself I should be beyond this or I should know this and be able to do this, darn it. I’ve worried that accepting this idea would mean to write off intention and become forever-stagnant, but somehow accepting this idea just feels easier. Perhaps it is the simple alignment with honesty, which always feels relieving.

Besides- I know there is a place for that 3rd force, consciousness, which will not let me stagnate. By my context which makes sense to me and resonates with consciousness, I think I need not worry about stagnation for too long.

Stripping away meaning momentarily with foresight isn’t the only way to dissolve meaning. You can physically move away from environments you are used to into those you are less used to, or even which are totally new (“novel”) to you.

This is what Victor Frankl’s book Man’s Search for Meaning arose from. Frankl was imprisoned in various concentration camps during the Holocaust. When he was taken away from his home all the meanings which he had gotten used to were cast away. In this stripped down environment he was left only with the essence of what made sense for him.

The word naked appears many times in this book; it is in stark nakedness that man can perhaps find what is meaningful for him. I suppose this is why people meditate and go on retreats. It isn’t about doing and being nothing, however- though you can try those for short periods. Really I think it’s just about getting away from all those logical meanings running around in your head. You get so used to them that you accept them, but are they what you really believe?

When I was at last transitioning out of depression I spent a lot of time running in the woods. Whether you consider that massive action or nothingness is up to you. The point, though, is that in the woods all the things which I saw and thought everyday to make meaning out of life no longer mattered. In the woods I was a naked (not totally) animal, just like all the other creatures there. I was Floating Through Space, man. It was out of this new place- perhaps out of this nothingness- that sensible meaning steadily arose for me.

I think there is a perfect blend of stillness and completeness to this situation. In the woods a lot of my typical human concerns don’t matter. Yet there still is excitement there; it was through these runs that my anhedonia phased out and I steadily was able to feel pleasure again. Frankl says that the ability to feel pleased must be relearned steadily after a period of apathy; this was his experience.

The first sign of this relearning for me was an adrenaline rush at being chased by a bird. That might sound stupid, but that thing was big- it jumped out of a bush and blew up like a pufferfish. It started running a few steps after me and I sprinted away, though I think it stopped once it realized how much bigger I am than it. Even in my state of indifference I had to think, What the hell! and smile. :)

Some time spent alone can be useful for finding sensible meaning, but you don’t always have to be alone. Of course, it was through time with friends that I “rediscovered” (really understood for the first time) love. This is not a concept I can totally conjure up on my own in solitude. Perhaps I can discover love for the Earth and love for myself- which were also found, to a degree, in the woods- but I suspect the most powerful love is to be found in our human relationships. I suppose that is just the meaning which makes the most sense to me. ;)

On top of that, the “new” place you go to doesn’t have to be totally barren of human meaning, such as a concentration camp or a forest. You could go to a new city by yourself, for instance. There are no expectations of you there—not even of yourself. You don’t know your way around or what you’re doing. Maybe it is the conscious effort required for exploring novelty that helps us to find true meaning. In that case, you could try a new activity on your quest for meaning, too.


Ending (which is also the beginning): The Search for Meaning

Frankl says that life’s meaning is an unconditional one. This means that true meaning for you will hold constant across different environments and activities and across time. This is why you must go out and engage with this world to find meaning—even if that engagement looks like going somewhere quiet.

Perhaps the key here is variety. If your typical environment is one of noise and busyness, then surely the woods would provide you with sufficient variety. Keep acting, keep thinking, keep exploring different environments and meanings (i.e. perspectives) and see what feels right to you.

This, of course, is a lifelong process, but certainly there is a line between having no idea of your context and having a relative grasp of it. I have crossed the line to the latter but still am refining and clarifying further, and I always will be. Who knows- I might totally overhaul this context and purpose someday. In time it may make sense to me no longer. I don’t suspect this to be the case, but, well, how can I be sure? I suppose time will tell.

Is it necessary that you first suffer and make so-called “mistakes” to cross that line? I can’t be certain, but I think these two can bring great clarity and direction. Without having suffered overwhelmingly for a few years I’m not sure I would be here writing this right now. Certainly my website would not be called “Living a Real Life.” Surely I value honesty and connection with others because I have struggled so immensely with them.

Certainly it was my suffering which led me to this specific direction. Without it, what meaning might I hold? Would I still accept social conditioning for the most part? Would I just be mindlessly floating through college hoping to attach myself to some major in time? I don’t know, though I suppose that too is a form of suffering (and “mistake”-making), from which clarity should one day arise.

Of course, I still do suffer at times. Not at all like I used to, as suffering holds different meaning for me now. Now when I suffer I know that I am making my way toward learning, which is at the heart of this context of growth. Thus I do not abhor suffering like I used to—at least, not always.

I have less unhappiness about being unhappy. For me there is joy in sadness. When I suffer I know I am alive. It means that I care. Even if I suffer unnecessarily, such as from incorrectly placed/incongruent meaning, I still can learn from the event. An emotional charge tends to facilitate and quicken learning.

Perhaps the simplest way to explain how to find meaning is to practice the Realness principles. Be honest with yourself about what you believe now. Be open to making mistakes, to suffering, to ways you’d like to express yourself, to new information. Adventure to new experiences, to new environments, to new ways of thinking. Use foresight to strip away incongruent meaning and reunite logic with emotion.

Perhaps most of all, love the journey. Love this life. Ask yourself what you love. Allow yourself to love, and pursue that love. Love yourself. Develop a context which resonates with love. Love applies here as both a verb and a noun (a feeling). Act with heart. Allow yourself to smile as you take the wild adventure that is this life, and as you create and align yourself with the meaning of this life.

Whatever meaning you find, make sure you love it.

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