If you haven't asked yourself yet you will be asking yourself eventually, "What is the meaning of life?"
More to the point, you'll ask, "What is the meaning of my life?"
This is a question we ask during crises, especially personal so called "midlife crisis" and when we are challenged by the approach of death via disaster, disease or old age. But in this world of increasing brutality and danger, a ceaseless parade of crises marches through the media and our lives. We deny, fight against, try to help or resolve, go numb, hide, rage or cower in fear but we also ask, "Is this really what living is about? Is there something deeper or transcending, something beyond these agonies that give life its true meaning?"
If we can't find a satisfactory answer to this question we become frustrated, frightened and begin to be flooded by the worst of all feelings - lack of power, substance, effectiveness and stability. We can't find a solid base on which to build our lives. We become hopeless and imbalanced.
We may ward off the frightening helplessness we feel when we can't answer the question about life's meaning, or worse, when we can find no meaning for our own lives. In desperation we reach for faith in something or someone who will rescue us, save us, give us purpose in the world. This faith will give us a code of behavior, will tell us what is right and wrong. We can follow our faith mindlessly and thoroughly as we become mechanical versions of what a human being can be.
Farfetched? Too extreme?
Look what your eating disorder does for you. You believe in your eating disorder. You have faith in its principles. You have a solid purpose: reach the perfect weight and have the perfect body. You know what is right and wrong and it's all about weight, calorie intake, exercise, rules about clothes, mirrors, scales, meals, diets, exercise routines. You follow the eating disorder code of behavior fervently, without realizing you have sacrificed your ability to think for yourself. If you make an error according to the eating disorder code, you are wracked with fear and guilt. You become a mechanical version of a human being and suffer pain when the genuine human that you are protests. But that pain you consider a weakness that can be corrected by acting out the rules of eating disorder behavior even more strictly.
I ask you to challenge yourself with the questions, "What is the meaning of life?" and "What is the meaning of your life?"
This is not a test where you think of your best answer and the teacher will let you know if you got it right or not. Nor are these questions answerable by the best your mind can come up with.
"A tortured mind, a broken mind, a mind which wants to escape from all turmoil, which has denied the outer world and been made dully through discipline and conformity - such a mind, however long it seeks, will find only to its own distortion." (Krishnamurti in Freedom from the Known)
So how do you find your answer?
One person is local, living her life in her personal and limited home, town, country or region. A full human being is one of all human beings - the whole species. As a full human being we are concerned with far more than the limitations placed on us by our immediate and local beliefs and traditions.
Can you find your way to challenge the immediate and local laws of your eating disorder? Can you step away from the eating disorder rules and regulations that govern your mind and behavior? Can you give yourself time and space to empty your mind of all preconceptions and beliefs and linger in the silence of your innermost self?
This is a revolutionary act and gives you a chance to make major discoveries about who you really are and what is important to you. It's not easy. And no one can give you your answer. In fact, beware of someone who does try to answer your question for you. If you accept it you will only be trading one limiting faith for another.
Dare to find the soul of you that is your linkage to the depths of humanity. On your way you will find mechanical rescuers, like an eating disorder, falling away in tatters. On this greatest of all journeys, you can find the treasure that is you and the meaning of your life. From there you can build a life of genuine meaning.
Plough through the clouds of your mind and start at your center. Linger in that sacred silence and allow yourself to become who you are.
Psychotherapy with Joanna
Ten Days on a Cushion by The Rev. James Reho Ph.D.
Freedom from the Known by Krishnamurti (free online)
Also available in book form.
* pix Shishapangma (left) from mountain flight, Nepal. This work has been released into the public domain by its author, Swinelin at the English Wikipedia project.