7 Steps towards leading a Meaningful LifeAnja van Kralingen
Step 1 Be Buff
We are physical as well as spiritual beings. To break it down further, I think the classification into physical, psychic and spiritual beings has merit; and to each of these we need to pay our dues.
As an advocate of the soul of man I am naturally partial to any system which addresses man on the psychic level. Nevertheless I am struck by the inherent limitation of any system, that seeks to promote personal growth and wellbeing, which does not address the physical. The quality of your life, your sense of wellbeing, your levels of energy, your confidence, your self-image are all linked to your body- and your body image. As such your physical being will play no small role in your life and in your endeavours.
Looking after your body is in many senses the starting point of a meaningful life; it is an essential step in psychic hygiene. I list below a very brief, idiot’s guide, to being buff:
- Love your body and your physical being. I cannot overstate this- do not reject your body or anything about your body, for to do this is to reject yourself. No constructive process can be built on a foundation of rejection.
- Eat as well as you can. Meaning eat nutritious, healthy food and be moderate in your food intake. Avoid empty calories (food and drink with no or low nutritional value).
- Avoid obesity.
- Avoid substance abuse.
- Exercise regularly.
- Consult medical and other health professionals where necessary or appropriate.
Step 2 Purpose
As you well know, appearances can be deceiving, which brings me back to the reason why we’re here. We’re not here because we’re free; we’re here because we’re not free. There’s no escaping reason, no denying purpose – because as we both know, without purpose, we would not exist.
It is purpose that created us,
Purpose that connects us,
Purpose that pulls us
That guides us,
That drives us,
It is purpose that defines,
Purpose that binds us.’ Agent Smith, Matrix Revolutions.
Step 3 Psyche
We learn from Jung that the psyche is the Archimedean point (pou sto), the pivot point of the universe. The whole of our reality is contained, structured, coloured and interpreted by the psyche. With the birth of the psyche an agent of change has been introduced into the natural order. This must give us pause for consideration and self examination. In as much as we are psychic beings, and critically, in as much as become conscious of this, we achieve an important step on our evolutionary path. We can no longer be defined as purely natural beings.
My wife, Anja, is a big fan of the theory that our evolutionary agenda was interrupted by the advent of aliens landing on earth at some point in pre-history. And specifically that some kind of cross pollination took place between the animal, that man was at that time, and the aliens. That man as a cultural, self aware, being is in fact a hybrid between an animal and an alien. And, as we know, there has been quite a bit of popular literature written in the last fifty years or so supporting this concept.
There are other theories which communicate the same archetypal concept in other ways. I am thinking specifically of the idea that a civilisation existed in prehistory which achieved an exceptionally high level of technical, cultural and philosophical sophistication. The lost city of Atlantis being the most well know example of this.
The underlying idea here is that we are the inheritors of a divine gift. A gift which has leapfrogged us up the evolutionary ladder; an event which has a drawn a line between before and after, which has separated and differentiated us from our natural ancestors. This is, I believe, what Jung is referring to when he tells us that the psyche is magical and an agent of change introduced into the natural order.
However it is important to be mindful of the fact that this divine psyche is housed in a natural instinctive being. So we are both spirit and matter and need to pay our taxes to both. What we have definitely not done is transcended our natural selves, if by transcend, we mean, to leave behind. We are divine animals.
With this qualification in place, we can only wonder at where the psyche can take us, both in the inner and outer worlds.
It is critical to our development to assimilate Jung’s articulation of the psyche. Specifically, what its implications are for viewing ourselves as differentiated from and differentiators of the natural order.
In realising this we understand that we are not epiphenomenal to the universal machine. Rather, we, as conscious beings, stand at the Archimedean point in the centre of the vortex and have the ability to shape our phenomenal reality.
Step 4 The Symbolic Attitude
The level of the literal and the rational is limited. It frequently does not yield meaning to the soul. The daily chores that we are all obliged to perform, regardless of our station in life, can on a literal level appear very mundane. The way that we as humanity deal with this is through culture. Our actions take on a meaning beyond the obvious- they become symbols of that which matters to us, that which has meaning.
The obvious and relatable example is work. The way we are able to go about our daily work, which usually involves a high degree of, relatively unexciting, repetition is because of what work symbolises. What it symbolises differs for different people, but some common examples would be survival, prosperity, duty, responsibility, identity, ambition and so on.
The method of psychoanalysis is to look, or more accurately to listen, for the content in the patient’s life that is un-symbolised. The marker of this un-symbolised content in the patient’s life narrative is typically accompanied by either a high degree of emotion or conversely by an absence of feeling.
The act of symbolisation is the basis of culture e.g. religion, art, language, music and so on. It is amongst the greatest of man’s capacities. It is symbolisation which lifts the human experience from the purely instinctive realm.
The conscious investigation into the symbols which give your life meaning is a good starting point in understanding yourself and the underlying archetypes (prime imprinters) which are dominant in your personal psychology.
Further to the above the symbolic attitude is one I highly recommend. It is an attitude which brings in some essential elements to accomplish our goal. (Which just in case you forgot, is to discover the meaning of our lives:-)). Specifically it allows of a sense of not knowing to enter our consciousness. It is this not knowing, as opposed to knowing, which releases the genie from the bottle.
Secondly and just as importantly the symbolic attitude is one which gives us sight of and insight into the red thread which connects the events of our lives. Events which in a literal and strictly rational worldview seem unconnected and random.
Step 5 Know Thyself.
Know yourself ‘ Heraclitus
Find the kingdom of heaven within you and all else will be added unto you. ‘ Christ
It is through the orientation which turns us around from the world to face ourselves that we can discover the meaning of our lives. We need to identify our personal mythology. Not what we have been taught to believe, but the beliefs and values that find their origin in our soul. It is when we identify these aspects of our beings, of what it means most to be uniquely ourselves, and we then build a life which is a reflection of our deepest held desires and beliefs, that we honour ourselves and add value not only to our own lives but to those we come into contact with.
As Heidegger teaches us it is when we move away from the comfortably unconscious identification with ‘they’ to the decidedly uncomfortable conscious identification with ‘I’ that we achieve authenticity. As long as we concern ourselves with what they say and what they do and what they think I should do etc , we stumble, blindly and inauthentically around a desolate mine.
‘The first person who compared a maidens cheeks to a rose was clearly a poet, the second was an idiot’- Salvador Dali.
Step 6 Speak to the Doctor
Meaning differs from one person to another; your meaning will not be the same as mine. Meaning is unique as the individual is unique. You need to be your own psychologist, priest and mentor; and you most assuredly need to identify and articulate what constitutes a meaningful life for you.
My four year old son, Ruarc, spent much of this year listening to his mom refer to ‘the Doctor’, in reference to various doctors she was obliged to consult throughout the year. So he internalised the Doctor and now consults himself, in the form of the Doctor- whom, like his mom, he can cite as an authority figure. So when he woke up at 4.00am the other morning, he told me initially that it was ‘light time’ and as such time to get up. On discovering that in fact it was not light time but ‘dark time’ he was still obliged to rise, and have his poor, tired, father put the TV on for him, get him some juice and breakfast, because, on consulting his Doctor, he informed me that: ‘the Doctor said Ruarc should not sleep too long but only a little bit’.
And it must be said that Ruarc’s Doctor is both conscientious and fastidious, regularly informing Ruarc of various important medical facts- at least as they apply to Ruarc; from the correct temperature for his bath water, to what to eat and what not to eat, to when it is a good time to swim and when it’s time to stop swimming and so on.
This is an example, in a young child, of the inherent wisdom we all carry, wisdom that asks us to be internally referenced- for our inner light to burn brighter than the light of the outer world.
Step 7 Responsibility
Until you take responsibility for your own life and fortunes you remain infantile. The image of the parent needs to be internalised- whilst it remains projected onto the other, we live in a state of disempowerment. Whether the ‘other’ be a person or an institution, most notable are the Church and the State. The ultimate parental authority figure is God. To fully realise our humanity we need to internalise God. As long as God remains an instrument of the church and as such our relationship with God is dictated by a secular authority, which exists in the form of the other, we remain children.
The same applies to our general state of happiness and well being. The journey towards individuation begins at the point that we withdraw our projections from the people around us and circumstances we find ourselves in. We need to claim our personal power, to place ourselves at the centre, rather than the perimeter, of the axis around which our lives revolve.
The above being said it is important to add the following qualification. We are fallible creatures and our consciousness does not encompass the totality of existence. Meaning that internalising our God image (whatever that image may be for you individually) does not mean believing our ego consciousness to be synonymous with God’s. It means rather having a personal relationship with the Lord God of our own Being, which is unmediated by a party external to ourselves.
Accordingly whilst I admonish you to take responsibility for your life, I most certainly do not advise that you either whip yourself for your mistakes (or what you perceive as mistakes) or be inflated by your successes. In everything thing that occurs we are at best partners with the unknown God, or if you prefer simply with the unknowable.
Let personal responsibility, with humility, free of blame or pride, be your guiding light.