Everyone at some point in their life – whether out of desperation or curiosity – has wondered about the meaning or purpose of life. It’s the biggest question there is; and the reason the answer is so elusive is because life itself is so unimaginably large. We struggle to wrap our heads around the size and scope of it and yet, paradoxically, we are life. Fortunately, as I discovered years ago, the solution lies within the paradox. It helps to see life as a fractal, in which the whole is contained in every part: we are a fraction of life, and yet every feature of life is within each of us.
If we could step back far enough, we would see that the meaning of life is life itself. But how can we step back that far? Death perhaps? The proximity of death can make a real difference to our experience of life. Indeed, for some people it is part of their spiritual practice to rehearse for death while still in life’s fullest bloom. They do so not only because they are better prepared for it when it comes, but also because their practice confers upon them a finer-grained appreciation for life.
Another option is to feel life’s presence; be with it and rest in its very essence. Life is always there, continually offering us the opportunity to connect with it and wonder at its magnificence. Our problems begin when we distinguish and differentiate. We label life as good or bad and then divide our time and energy into searching for the good and avoiding the bad. We forget that we signed up for the full experience: the joy and the sadness; the ease and the struggle; the ups and the downs. We then add to our discomfort by overlooking the fact that life is always neutral and always transient. It’s not good, it’s not bad, it just is. (For example, some people see melancholy as sadness, whilst for others it is the source of their creativity.)
This all means that the trick to being with the presence of life is simply to be with it, without judgement and without any desire for it to stay or be gone; and with the knowledge that everything is okay and nothing lasts forever. In the same way that Thich Nhat Hanh promotes the idea of using the simplest of daily signals – a ringing telephone, a traffic light, the sight of a flower – to remind us to focus on our breathing, we can use every nuanced expression of life to remind us of… well… life. Even the sensations of pain or sadness are just different examples of life tapping us on the shoulder and letting us know it’s there.
The natural consequence of observing every expression is that we are not held captive by the past or the future. We are always in the presence. So, instead of seeing sadness as negative and trying to get away from it, we can abandon our judgment and explore it more fully for the duration of its stay. How does it feel? Where do we notice it in our body? It is often better to listen to what our bodies are telling us, than to what our minds want us to believe. Focus on your body and you will automatically find yourself in the presence of life, better able to experience its unimaginable depth and magnificence.