How do we lead fulfilled lives? What is the meaning of life? What is our purpose? What happens after death? Why is there something instead of nothing? These are a few of life’s existential questions. We believe that asking the big existential questions is our minds’ way of bringing our attention to our core longings for love, learning and play, just as thirst and hunger are our bodies’ way of bringing to our attention our need for drink or food. Meaning-making is an essential part of what it means to be human. Robert Kegan, the Harvard psychologist, writes in The Evolving Self (1982) that “it is not that a person makes meaning, as much as that activity of being a person is the activity of meaning-making.” Meaning-making is a compulsion, an imperative, rather than something we choose to engage in. Part of the reason we’ve created so many stories, tales, myths, philosophies, religions, and worldviews is to abate the dread that envelops us when we confront the big questions.
Regardless of the type of meaning or purpose, meaning is the product of the process by which we try to understand and come to terms with our environments, our realities, and find ways to better interact with and live in them. Religions, philosophies and traditions are all part of humanity’s effort to understand how to live a good life full of meaning and purpose. Indeed, all human endeavors are attempts at meaning-making. The earliest human and hominid remains show signs of meaning-making activity, such as art and symbolic artifacts. This meaning-making is a powerful concept that, more than any other, explains the entirety of human history and the rich diversity of human thought.
“As far as we can discern, the sole purpose of human existence is to kindle a light of meaning in the darkness of mere being.”
“Meaninglessness inhibits fullness of life and is therefore equivalent to illness.”
“The Absurd is the product of a collision between our human desire for meaning and the blank, indifferent ‘silence of the universe.’ Here we are: poor creatures desperately seeking meaning in a seemingly meaningless world.”
“What one man calls God, another calls the laws of physics.”
“Life has no meaning. Each of us has meaning and we bring it to life. It is a waste to be asking the question when you are the answer.”
“Don't let us forget that the causes of human actions are immeasurably more complex and varied than our subsequent explanations of them.”
“[Religion is] an audacious attempt to perceive the entire universe as a humanly significant system of order.”
“We are predisposed to see order, pattern, and meaning in the world, and we find randomness, chaos, and meaninglessness unsatisfying. Human nature abhors a lack of predictability and the absence of meaning. As a consequence, we tend to “see” order where there is none, and we spot meaningful patterns where only the vagaries of chance are operating.”