This book is for people who consider the subject of the meaning of life extraordinarily important. As a discussion, it is written not only from an intellectual perspective; it is inspired by the vital need for an answer to the question, “What is the meaning of life?”
When we ask this question, we are not directing it to the past, nor to philosophical or religious doctrines, or to books. We are asking it of people who are living this life; people who, for that very reason, must find an answer to it.
Asking ourselves this question shakes up our mental structure, a structure which has helped us develop values that protect us from meaninglessness, absurdity, and life’s injustice. We have built it up with splendid effort, using materials that were developed in previous generations. We have built it up with the unspoken norms of our times and have dressed it in trendy theories. For many people, this is synonymous with living, and that’s okay.
But is it really okay? What is the meaning of life?
The question shocks us. And so we change the subject: we redirect the question into familiar channels, invoking classical models, the sharp taste of words with obscure meanings, enigmatic phrases, and theoretical abstractions. It’s easy to pull out the piles of dust-covered books we have read and to wave our academic credentials.
But the question remains. It’s alive. It eludes our thoughts and penetrates our flesh and bones.
Is there a vocation of meaning? Is it possible to avoid the only certain reality, which is our basic ignorance? Is it possible to prevent this quest from becoming desperate, making us unbalanced and marring the simple joy of living?
What happens when the need for meaning is felt as a vocation? Everything changes. Reality informs me in a different way—events have another language, they speak differently. I myself am different. The outer shell of what is established and conventional falls away. Quick answers, trite explanations and the easy road are no longer possible. I see everything in depth and relief. Time becomes intense and vital. Nothing changes outwardly but I change, even to the roots of the awareness of who I am.
So then I ask myself if, perhaps, what’s really important here is not a new explanation but the question itself, as a point of focus that won’t be resolved by purely theoretical answers or solutions that are really evasions. Because asking a substantial question doesn’t mean questioning life itself. Asking in this way is a way of living, an attitude toward life that always leads to a deep way of searching, sincerity in our values and honesty in our fundamental responses.
It’s not easy to reduce our train of thought to simple words and easy self-evident reasoning. It’s even harder not to get trapped in abstraction and unreality, entangling ourselves in a subjective and partial point of view; deceiving ourselves with the apparent certainty of pure reasoning that, though it may be developed correctly, is no more than conjecture if given as evidence. It is, however, a fascinating adventure, in which we discover that freedom as an idea transcends the constrained concepts to which we usually reduce human freedoms. Freedom, we find, is more than the ability to work, think or feel without obstacles. It becomes our point of departure, after which we rediscover reality. For it allows us to let go of the instinct of self-defense and justification and be able to ask continuously, up to the ultimate consequences of that question, “What is the meaning of my life?”
1. This article is the Introduction to the eBook Renouncement and the Meaning of Life by Jorge Waxemberg, published on the Cafh website. Click here to access the entire book: http://www.cafh.org/english/publications/publications.htm The Introduction was re-titled for the purpose of publishing it as a Feature on www.SeedsofUnfolding.org.