The Meaning of Life
May 8th, 2022
Life is getting harder. Things keep getting worse. The world seems to be falling apart. Why?
Life is hard because we’ve forgotten why we’re here. Existence is not meaningless. It has a clear purpose. The reason we are here is the reason for the entire universe. When our society and our personal lives are in line with that purpose, life is easy. When, instead, we push against it, we go against the current. We swim against the tide.
The universe is not only meaningful; it’s also not a machine. It’s not governed by fixed laws. Rather, it’s a dream we are dreaming together. The reason we are having this dream is, quite simply, for fun.
Fun (a.k.a., enjoyment or joy) is felt as some combination of two basic feelings: love and curiosity. Love fosters unity while curiosity creates diversity. For example, a person can enjoy travel and they can also enjoy coming home. A diverse yet unified world allows for both.
Technically speaking, diversity comes from differentiation while unity comes from integration. Together, differentiation and integration create complexity. Another word for complexity is intricacy. The universe is always becoming more intricate. By becoming more intricate, it becomes more interesting, more delightful. The world becomes more wonderful. We experience more joy.
To live in alignment with this universal purpose is to help the world to grow in complexity. To live well — and have fun — is to find unity in diversity. To do so, it helps to understand how the world works.
The universe is built out of awareness. To be aware is to know. When you’re aware, you know what is going on. You know what life is about.
Awareness knows what it is. It is self-aware. Since it is self-aware, it calls itself “I.”
Awareness is like an eye. Imagine the universe as a single eye. When this eye sees itself, it can appear to have split in two. Each half calls itself “I.” It calls the other half “you.”
When this eye sees itself, it’s like looking in a mirror, except that with a mirror, you know that what you’re looking at is just a reflection. Here, each eye knows that the other is also an eye, that the two are identical, and that together, they make up the entire world.
Now picture the universe as consisting of an apparently countless number of eyes. Each eye sees and is aware, but each sees that much less and is that much less self-aware. We no longer see or know everything, including who we are and why we are here. The world appears to be split up into countless different things. This is differentiation.
When you know — or remember — that parts of the universe, whether we think of them as “beings” or “things,” may appear different but are actually the same, that is integration.
Awareness consists of knowing that things are both different and the same. This is as simple as imagining the universe as one great body, with different organs, tissues, cells, etc., but all functioning as one organism.
To see existence as one great organism is to see it as being organized. The universe (which means “one turning”) is indeed a living system. It has awareness. It has fun.
Civilization is the currently dominant human system of organization. Under civilization, we have forgotten the point of life. It’s no longer very much fun.
In the course of human history, civilization has swung to different extremes of differentiation and integration. These poles have manifested as capitalism and communism.
In capitalism, there has been too much differentiation. Capitalism has been variously referred to, by proponents and/or critics, as hyperindividualism, neoliberalism, or separation. I like to call it “apartment.”
Under communism — actually, socialism, a type of nationalism – there has been too much integration: too much emphasis, at the cost of individual freedom, on the state.
What preceded civilization is hunter-gatherer society. In hunter-gatherer culture, one could say that differentiation and integration are equal. Hunter-gatherers are fiercely egalitarian, which means that for them, individual liberty is paramount. Nobody should ever force anyone to do anything, including children. There is no government, no coercion.
At the same time, everything is shared freely. Communism was originally modeled on the sharing aspect of hunter-gatherer society. The personal freedom part, however, was lost.
The difference between capitalism and communism has been characterized as “carrots vs. sticks.” Capitalism uses the promise of reward to motivate positive action. Communism uses the threat of punishment. Both communism and capitalism, however, start from a dim view of human nature: that people will, unless cajoled or prodded, be selfish, i.e., individualistic.
Civilization as a whole is indeed based on individualism, that is, on violence. It is a system of domination, wherein those who succeed are those who impose their will on others. We see ourselves as an individual species, with the goal of dominating every other species, collectively called “nature” or “the environment.”
The difference between civilization and hunter-gatherer culture is not a difference in view, that is, in belief. It runs deeper than that. Beneath belief is attitude, emotion, a physiological stance. That stance can be either love or fear.
Love and fear are associated with integration and differentiation, respectively. They are “opposite” only in terms of scale. You love, that is, care about, what you identify with. This a matter of degree. A capitalist identifies with the individual, be it the individual person or a corporation. A communist identifies with the state. A hunter-gatherer identifies with the world: not just the planet but the cosmos. Civilized people identify with anything less than that.
These are, admittedly, simplified characterizations. The point is that you either identify with the whole, the universe, or with a part, commonly referred to as the ego. You believe (in your mind and body) either that you are the entire universe or that you are just a part of it.
Again, this self-concept is more than just an idea. It’s the difference between fear and love. In fear, I care only about only myself, that is, the part of existence I identify with. In love, I care about everything, which we can call “the world.” The difference between fear and curiosity is simply a lack of awareness. This difference is crucial, as fear literally causes cancer: division, imperialism, artificial scarcity, waste, competition, and war.
Psychedelics can put us in a state of identifying with the whole. This has been called a unitive or mystical experience. We awaken within the dream.
In civilization, the mystical experience is usually temporary. However, since humans are extremely social creatures, unity or oneness is actually our natural state. We naturally live in love, not self-protection. We are not obsessed with safety, security, or control. After all, if you are everything, which I like to call “God,” what do you have to lose?
Lacking this awareness, civilization is based on violence. Consequently, socialization, the process of learning to fit in, is inherently traumatic. We are all, to some extent, traumatized. Since we live under the constant threat of violence, we are continually in a low or high grade state of fight-or-flight.
For the unitive experience to be a continual one, for humanity to return to kinship with the rest of creation, and for there to be peace of Earth, we must remember who we are and why we’re here. This is a somatic process: it must take place in the body, not just the mind. For that, we need to take what the Lakota call the longest journey: from the head to the heart.