1 | Why we need meaning
“The question of the meaning of life is, to me, the most crucial and pressing of all questions. How can you make even one step in your life without understanding first what human beings are meant to do?”
The replacement of the past religions with the promise of science and technology proved to be dramatically insufficient as far as happiness and meaning are concerned. All we have left now is an utterly senseless rat race: eight billion people rushing frantically to nowhere.
Meaning is the one single key to genuine happiness in a human. It is both a profound psychological key and a vital spiritual ingredient. As soon as there is a meaning, one’s heart comes alive. The human heart is meaning-based and meaning-oriented. Without meaning, the heart is empty and therefore at a loss.
Here, the psychologist and founder of “Logotherapy,” Viktor Frankl, added his major contribution to the modern psychological search for psychic completeness. Basing his entire therapeutic process on helping people define their meaning in life, Frankl believed that many modern neuroses had not been created by genuine psychic disturbances but rather by the current society’s absence of meaning. Thus, many seeming mental and emotional conflicts are psychic distortions caused by evading this big question and, correspondingly, can only be “healed” by a full confrontation with it.
Such a dynamic can easily be observed not only in the psychological domain but also in the spiritual world. One of the greatest failures of the contemporary spiritual world, which focuses on promoting “inner peace,” is the fact that it does not confront at all the question of the meaning of life.
The problem is that peace does not offer any real solution to the absence of meaning in our modern world. Inner silence, achieved by spiritual practice and focus, is after all the direct outcome of turning away from the world and abandoning compulsive thinking about worldly affairs. But in the long run, turning one’s back on the world could never lead to finding meaning in the world – how could it?
The aim of the practice of inner silence, generally titled “meditation,” is to lead a person to a relieving state of emptiness, but in an age in which we find ourselves compelled to face the tremendous vacuum that has remained since the collapse of religions’ dominance, it is surely not a deep-going remedy. At best, the silence offered to us is more like an antidote to the constant existential tension and neurotic searching of a humanity deprived of meaning.
We meet with this crisis of meaning in both psychology and spirituality. Both need to directly confront this question as a part of their next step. A personally and individually oriented answer could only last for a while, since the individual approach still leaves the modern existential vacuum we anyway face.
2 | The meaning of being a human
“Being a human means to constantly exist in the tension between mortality and immortality. This tension between our 50% spirit and our 50% matter is both our source of suffering and chance for glory”
The main focus of Shai’s teaching is the question: what does it mean to be a human? What is the role of the human experience, which is clearly situated in the middle-point between two extremes of mind, consciousness and spirit, and a material and mortal body?
The materialistic approach places the core of human existence in our experience as a person within a mortal physical body. The spiritual approach, on the other hand, positions the core of human existence in our experience as an unbound infinite consciousness, which is utterly content within itself and, observing the world from a great distance, is completely indifferent to change and time.
In Shai’s understanding, both systems miss the core of human existence, which is a blend of spirit and matter that inevitably brings forth an altogether different experience, one that is not truly material just as it is not truly spiritual. Instead, it gives rise to a whole range of feelings, emotions, thoughts and perceptions caused by the constant friction between these two dimensions of our being.
It is this very friction that most expresses the nature of human existence: the friction between immortality and fading life, an unbound consciousness and a separate and limited body, an imagination that breaks all boundaries and a life full of rules and inhibitions, a tremendous vision and the difficulty to manifest it in rigid and inflexible matter.
Of course this friction is, by nature, not easy; at times, it is even quite harsh. But looking for some “easy life” in the domain of the pure spirit would be simply ignoring and blurring the true character of human life. Worse than that: it would result in completely missing out on the opportunity of humanness.
The more we delve into this friction, the more we realize that in it, and nowhere else, the meaning of life is hidden. This friction is the very beauty of being a human.
The human being is destined to serve and function as an active bridge between the worlds; between the extremes of the spiritual and material planes. Being a human means holding these two ends. It is an extraordinary journey of exploration into a middle-point. And indeed, human beings are this cosmic search for a point of unification, where the two worlds meet in harmony and full realization – and as a result, give meaning to each other.
A meaning to life can be found only in the merging of matter and spirit; only in the converging point between the human, physical experience and the internal spirit, the infinite consciousness.