Thursday, May 29, 2014
Now, don’t get too excited. I know many of us are waiting to know the answer to this question. It’s a question which has been around for as long as thinking people have existed.
Indeed, one of my patients spent a fortune in a life-quest to answer the question. Ultimately, he obtained an audience with the Dali Lama’s mentor. He asked the sage spiritual philosopher the question, “What is the meaning of life?” My patient was told, “Life, my son, is a deep well.”
That did not satisfy my patient and he somewhat angrily responded with disbelief, “You mean I spent all these years and money to learn the meaning of life is simply a deep well?” The wise, elderly spiritual philosopher (For the purposes of simplicity, let’s just say he was the wisest man on earth.) responded sincerely, “You mean, it is not?”
The above of course, is a parable. It means that at the end of this article, you really won’t know the answer to the question posed in this article’s title. But, you might be just a little closer to answering the question for yourself.
Let’s return to childhood. For Christmas or your birthday, you receive a new board game. You understand that before you can enjoy the game with your family – before you can win at the game, you have to understand the purpose of the game.
If we apply the importance of knowing the objective of a game to our experience of life itself, we can see that unless we understand the purpose of our existence, we may not be successful in life.
I’m certain you have heard that when we die, those of us with the greatest number of “toys” is the winner. That would suggest we are all materialistic in our nature. In other words, the purpose of life in this scenario is to accumulate expensive possessions. Yet, most of us laugh at this because we understand “things” don’t truly bring happiness. Further, though we may own these items for a period of time, they get passed on to others after we die. Surely, there is a greater meaning for our existence than accumulating possessions.
This article is being written on Memorial Day. Actually, the incentive to write the article came from watching the many stories of fellow humans facing extreme adversity, suffering in a variety of ways and often giving up their lives. On Memorial Day, we officially honor those people who sacrificed their lives for our country’s freedom. We also honor those that were prepared to make that sacrifice even though they somehow managed to survive. But, if we look at this human behavior (demonstrated repeatedly throughout history) from another perspective, it seems to prove that some of us find meaning in life by actually being willing to die for some larger good.
Does being human mean we have the capacity to give up one’s life for an ideal or concept that involves a larger good? Is this capacity to transcend self-interest and self-survival the main characteristic that separates us from lower life-forms?
This characteristic has a name. Its name is “love.” Love enables humans to put the well-being of other individuals or the larger good above our own self-interest.
Thus, if we are different from lesser life-forms in that we have the capacity for love, does it not follow that the purpose of life would be to experience what it is to love? Ironically, succeeding at life and experiencing love might mean we have trained and prepared ourselves, if necessary, to give up our life.
“Shrink Think” is the pen name of John F. Abess, M.D. Dr. Abess is a psychiatrist in the medical community of Charleston, South Carolina. He enjoys practicing psychiatry and finds people fascinating. His creative outlets include writing and being a musician. His greatest treasure is his family. Dr. Abess is also a consultant to individuals and corporations. His website is www.abess.com