Saturday, August 31, 2013

Meaning of life 4: Mind hunger

As humans we seek meaning, create meaning, use structures of meaning to enhance the experiences of life
and survive the struggles of life. In fact, the human animal needs meaning to survive, just as much as it needs food, water, shelter, and security. Even a very comfortable and pleasant life can, when experienced as meaningless, become a terrible place that suffocates the soul and grates on the mind.

And the most demeaning, desperate life can shine with the brilliance of humanity when invested with meaning. It is our minds which create the actual subjective environment in which we live our lives. The ability to find and create meaning has been one of the most enduring urges of the human mind to construct and transform our subjective lived experience.

We actually hunger for meaning; it is a sensation as real as the sense of physical hunger. The palpably felt need for meaning is not always present. We can go about living our lives quite happily without much concern for seeing meaning in it all. But there are moments – or months or years – of life which jolt us out of our comfortable habits; the ground gives way under our feet; we grasp for something to hold it all together.

Families, communities, schools, societies teach our children and young people the knowledge they need to survive. They pass on all the practical skills needed to provide oneself with sustenance, shelter, security – the basic foundations of survival. But we also teach our children, and one another, a vast amount of knowledge about how to live happily. Living happily is the goal, not just living. Our shared millennia long fascination with meaning is driven by its capacity to enhance the quality of life. It is one of the most vital attributes of our humanity.

The mind craves knowledge as much as the body craves food. Some people have a huge appetite for food, while others eat like mice. In the same way there are those with an insatiable desire for knowledge and others who can live happily with very little knowledge. Like we said earlier - everything exists in a range from slight to intense, minimal to huge, insignificant to massive.

Some people have a low drive, inclination for needing meaning. Most of us have some felt need for meaning in some aspects or at some times in our lives. But the felt need may not always be accompanied by the capacity to see, create, find meaning. When the felt need for meaning runs up against an inability to perceive meaning, the quality of life drops precipitously. Just as in other characteristics and attributes of our immensely divers human capacities, the ability to find or create meaning varies by individual. Some have a low capacity, skill, capability for creation of meaning, while others have better abilities and some are very skilled.

This is one of the attractions toward religions, philosophies, and other systems of meaning. We have preserved the meanings that have shaped and sustained our lives, our cultures, and our societies over time. These are ready-made meanings which many people can apply to their lives, giving them the brilliance and the hope that enhance the individual lived experience.

From systems of meaning to the adventures of meaning: see the next post

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