Updated: Apr 22
There is no real meaning behind our experiences
This strange little planet we live on seems to centre around a very simple illusion. One that we have all fallen under the very convincing spell of. This illusion is that everything has an inherent meaning we need to find.
We are in a constant search for meaning, to make our experiences feel important or to to inform our identity, helping us to feel like we are "somebody". The truth behind this grand spectacle, is that experience is the only meaning of life.
Nevertheless, we tend to think about our experiences in a significantly distorted way. If we have money, this means that we are successful. Or lucky. If we don’t, we are lazy. Or unlucky. If we have a relationship, this means we are happy and loved. If we don’t, we are unlovable and probably lonely. If we don’t follow the status quo, this means that we are strange. Or perhaps it means we are extra special.
Either way, you can see here that each and every meaning is completely subjective, and entirely dependant on who is observing and what they decide their experiences mean.
Endless meanings are attached to every single situation, experience or circumstance we go through. This subject is talked about in our last blog post “the real meaning of attachment”, but here I’m going to explore this concept from a few different angles, because it is a really helpful concept to grasp.
The meanings that we give to our experiences, subsequently imply that our experiences have an inherent relationship to us. We are taught to believe that specific experiences have the power to dictate our identity, our value, our feelings and what is possible to experience in the future.
This could look a little bit like:
“I’ve just been broken up with, this means that there is something wrong with me and that I am not good enough!”
Or, on the other end of the spectrum:
“I just won £500 on a scratchcard, this means that I am lucky and that I can be happy now.”
In reality, neither of these experiences have any power or right to determine your value, how “good” you are, your luck or your happiness. It is almost as if we use our experiences to create the judgements and labels that form our identity and how we feel about ourselves.
These judgements or labels can be anything, for example: “ x y and z happened", and now "I am happy", "I am sad", "I am valued", "I am successful", "I am a victim", etc. Anything that supersedes the word “I am” is a label, and automatically limits your perception of your identity.
Everything always changes
Despite the fact that almost everyone does this all of the time, the labels we pick to describe ourselves are completely irrelevant. This is because all experiences constantly change, shift and transform. It’s no wonder so many people are living in a perpetual identity crisis and feel so much instability and confusion.
If we get broken up with, perhaps the next week we might meet someone else and think we have found an even better lover. We might reflect back on all of the things we didn’t really like about our last relationship anyway, and we suddenly start feeling much better about ourselves. (That is, until this new person stops replying to our messages…)
We might win £500 on that scratchcard, but then the next day we have a minor car accident and have to pay £700 in repairs. Life is unpredictable. Always.
The yoyo of the human illusion
There is no way to foresee the mysterious sequence of events that unfolds within our lives, so using our experiences to define our identity is like an infinite rabbit hole. A rabbit hole that we will never climb out of until we learn to stop giving things meaning in the first place.
The attachment to meaning is a huge construct within the human illusion that has us swinging up and down like a yo-yo, chasing happiness for tomorrow and never finding it today; all whilst consuming the products and packaged experiences that we are told “means happiness”.
The truth? It’s all a lie. Nothing has a meaning, and absolutely nothing can define you. You are not your thoughts and feelings about your experiences, you are one with your experiences, and there is great freedom to be found within this wisdom.
The Story of the Chinese Farmer
Alan Watts was a profound British philosopher in the 50’s and 60’s who was incredibly ahead of his time. He popularised much Eastern philosophy and the deep wisdom behind non- attachment to the external world. As Alan Watts used to say: “The meaning of life is simply to be alive”.
He once told a quirky little tale which puts this concept into perspective, it is called ‘The Story of the Chinese Farmer’:
“Once upon a time there was a Chinese farmer whose horse ran away. That evening, all of his neighbors came around to commiserate. They said, “We are so sorry to hear your horse has run away. This is most unfortunate.” The farmer said, “Maybe.”
The next day the horse came back bringing seven wild horses with it, and in the evening everybody came back and said, “Oh, isn’t that lucky. What a great turn of events. You now have eight horses!” The farmer said again, “Maybe.”
The following day his son tried to break one of the horses, and while riding it, he was thrown and broke his leg. The neighbors then said “Oh dear, that’s too bad,” and the farmer responded, “Maybe.”
The next day the conscription officers came around to conscript people into the army, and they rejected his son because he had a broken leg.” Again all the neighbors came around and said “Isn’t that great!” Again he said, “Maybe.”
The whole process of nature is an integrated process of immense complexity, and it’s really impossible to tell whether anything that happens in it is good or bad - because you will never know what will be the consequence of the misfortune; or, you never know what will be the consequence of good fortune.”
The meaning of life is to experience
Alan Watts here, eloquently expresses the transient nature of life, and how ultimately, none of us have any idea why things happen. Pretending that we do understand is really just a pointless, destructive way to spend our time and energy.
You see, the game we’ve been playing is to get so lost in our search for meaning that we are blinded to the peace and fulfilment we can permanently feel when we just let everything be as it is.
The meaning of our experiences are simply that; to have the experience itself, and nothing that happens can determine anything about our identity, how lucky, happy or good we are.
When we can observe our experiences without attaching a meaning to them, we eventually stop the back and forth yo-yo-ing experience we have been playing out our whole lives, and can reach a place of calm, stillness and clarity.
We can then be stable with an unshakeable peace inside ourselves that knows everything is temporary, no obstacle is too large to surmount, and that none of our experiences ever mean that we are not good enough. We can surrender to life as it is.
And through this stability and peace, we naturally have the clarity to make the choices that best serve our inner peace, love and joy. Always.