Without any doubt, I am a curious person. I always want to learn more about everything. That’s why I love school so much, because no matter what subject it is that I am studying, I am in love with the process, which is one of the most important things according to famous author of Eat, Pray, Love, Elizabeth Gilbert. (I couldn’t read the book, not my style, but loved the TED talk about creativity.)
“Creativity itself doesn’t care at all about results – the only thing it craves is the process. Learn to love the process and let whatever happens next happen, without fussing too much about it. Work like a monk, or a mule, or some other representative metaphor for diligence. Love the work. Destiny will do what it wants with you, regardless.” – Elizabeth Gilbert
Experience life through your mind
So basically, I am in love with the process of learning, mostly because I love life. I am amazed that everything gets to work out together without us having to intervene, and that’s why I love to learn about natural sciences. I am amazed at how we interact with each other, how we organize ourselves, and that’s why I love human sciences. I am amazed at how we can create more than what nature gave us, how we innovate, and that’s why I love artificial sciences.
Thinking, reflecting, understanding is one of my main goals. On some days, I wish I could know it all, but most days, I understand that the pleasure does not come from possessing some knowledge, but can only be felt through the transmission of it. Receiving knowledge, and then sharing it, is therefore the only way we can truly enjoy it. Just like books or money, knowledge has to be passed by in other to bring joy.
Learning and sharing knowledge is a great way to experience life. Reading books for example, or talking to people, gives us the chance to discover life through our imagination, or their experience. You get to think about your own experience, and what you want your life to be like. You can pre-test some things, and prepare yourself in consequence. Be aware however that we are very bad at predicting our own happiness, as Dan Gilbert showed us in The surprising science of happiness.
Getting caught in the rationalization trap
By now, we all agree: seeking knowledge and sharing it is a great thing. We need to be thinking about what we want in life, from life. For Confucius, learning and thinking, and more precisely moral education, was very important, as it was the means by which we could rectify the situation and restore meaning to language and values to society .
The problem with thinking is when we start to believe that everything can be thought out, rationalized. That life is indeed understandable from this point of view, from the mind perspective.
I got caught in the rationalization trap in high school. The more I was trying to figure out with my head the purpose of life, the more I was trying to find meaning, the more I was getting depressed. I became a kind of nihilist against my own will. It was one of the darkest periods of my life.
The reason I was struggling so much is now clear to me: the meaning of life cannot be defined by words, cannot be understood by your mind. It can only be felt through your heart, as love is not something we can quite understand yet, and might always stay that way.
To Confucius (I am in my Chinese philosophy phase these days), who said that we may learn wisdom by three methods, first, by reflection, which is noblest; second, by imitation, which is easiest; and third by experience, which is the bitterest, I would reply that the bittersweet method is the one believe works the best, as there is indeed a little bit of sadness in everything, but that through life experience, we also get a wisdom that we cannot get only through reflection.
My intuition got confirmed again this week as I was reading David Servan-Schreiber’s book, “Notre corps aime la vérité”. When talking about finding meaning in life, he mentioned that there is four ways to nurture our life and find a purpose to our human experience, most of them related to relationships, since it is more than often how we find satisfaction for our emotional brain.
To find meaning we first have to show up. Not only with our mind, but also with our body. We have to be there physically to sense, taste, touch, get caught in the present moment, laughing or crying, experiencing pleasure or pain. Being connected to our body, our breath, exploring sensations, is one way to find meaning in the very present moment.
“Yoga Sutra 2.18 – Prakasa kriya sthiti silam bhuta indriya atmakam bhoga apavarga artham drisyam.
The seen is of the nature of the gunas: illumination, activity, and inertia. It consists of the elements and sense organs, whose purpose is to povide both experiences and liberation to the Purusha.” – Yoga Sutra 2.18, The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali
By experiencing the world through our senses, we can eventually liberate ourselves from the domination of the material, learn to distinguish what is impermanent from what is permanent, to simply enjoy what is there to be enjoyed.
“The mighty adepts of yoga who emerge as Jivanmuktas (liberated souls) from the evolutionary cycle do not merge into God and become indistingishable from Him by losing their identity for ever. They become free from the domination of the Gunas and illusion of Prakriti and yet retain all the knowledge and powers which they have acquired though evolution.” – Stanley Hubbard, commenting on Yoga Sutra 2.18
Our emotional brain is also conceived to regulate our emotional relationships. Passionate love, with a big L, is one fascinating way to find meaning into our lives, but all kinds of love appear equal to me when it comes to finding meaning. How easy isn’t to stop thinking and rethinking about your purpose on this planet when looking straight into the eyes of your loved one, or while holding your child’s hand?
“The best thing to hold onto in life is each other.” – Audrey Hepburn
We are social animals. We need to feel that we are part of a group, that we contribute to something bigger than ourselves. Working, volunteering, teaching, are all ways that help us make sense of our human experience. To find purpose, we must get out of our comfort zone, of our own personal bubble.
“What matters is becoming bigger than yourself. Once you do, you learn that you have a purpose in life.” – Leo Babauta, How To Find Your Life Purpose
Helping others is one of the keys to happiness for Matthieu Ricard, Buddhist monk and maybe the happiest man alive.
“Connect your soul to the Universal Soul.” Len Blum kept on repeating that sentence throughout our practice, making us for example try hand stand first the way we would always practice it, and then with that connection through our feet up to the sky, connecting our soul to the Universal Soul. And yes, I felt the lift.
When feeling alone, remembering that we are part of something bigger, which could be a sort of God or simply nature, is a great way I believe to find meaning. Take a second to think about the vast Universe, all the planets, the stars, our miniature Earth in the middle of our small galaxy, and our small person in the middle of it all. Isn’t wonderful that we get to be there? Isn’t a miracle? That might not make a lot of sense, but it still full of meaning to me.
“Spirituality is meant to take us beyond our tribal identity into a domain of awareness that is more universal.” – Deepak Chopra
Next time you start wondering about life meaning, what about thinking with your body, your heart, and not so much your head?