What is the meaning of life? There are perhaps as many answers to this question as there are people on Earth.
I want to explore this question through the ideas of the great American philosopher Charles Sanders Pierce.
Here’s the thesis: life’s dimensions can be seen broadly in terms of number. Particularly, three different perspectives emerge, all with tremendous insight and validity, when looking at life through the numbers one, two and three.
If not, I highly recommend it. Nothing brings more peace, relief and lightness than recognizing we’re free from the world and from any troubles we have had or will ever encounter.
You may have experienced this kind of peace when just lying in bed—we experience it every night in deep, dreamless sleep. It’s the experience of being completely alone and yet completely full, totally content, lacking nothing.
It’s the seat of contemplative practice, this understanding that “I, all by myself and without anything else added to me, am full. I am complete. I am whole, undisturbed, untouched. I have always been this way and will continue to be this way forever.”
If we want to get metaphysical about it, we can say that this oneness transcends birth and death. It’s the part of you that existed prior to the Big Bang and will exist after everything falls away, including our bodies.
It’s the experience of freedom from relationship, which is why it is one. There is no other, not yet.
It’s you before you were born.
It’s the universe before the Big Bang.
It’s God outside of space and time.
And so, in a certain sense, that is the meaning of life: being awake to your primordial oneness, understanding it, and resting there.
But that’s not the whole story. It couldn’t possibly be. Why? Because you’re reading these words, so there’s obviously something else happening here.
Once the universe sprang into being, so did “the other.” With the birth of things came relatedness. Suddenly there was interaction and everything existed in relationship to everything else. Which means there is no such thing as isolated existence. Everything about us exists in relationship to everything else.
Our body exists because of the food we eat and the water we drink. Our mind exists because of the culture and language and values that formed it. Our skeleton and biology exist because of millions of years of evolution on the planet.
Our sense of value and contribution to the world exists in relation to the people we interact with. Our emotions are a result of our relationships with those we’re close to. We could even go so far as to say that everything we know about ourselves comes from our relationships with others.
For instance, I know I’m tall because when I look around I see the top of most everyone else’s heads. If it were just me, floating in a dark vacuum, I would have no sense of my tallness.
As for the “meaning” of all this, being awake to our profound relatedness is freedom and happiness.
Letting go of the idea that you are somehow a separate island, alone in this cold world, is a powerful first step.
Letting in the fact that you only exist in relationship to everything else is the most empowering thing there is, because you’re no longer afraid of “the other.”
Being more empathetic or caring about others is not something we may need to work on, it’s the very fabric of who we are. We need to surrender more and more deeply to that fact.
Think about it, if the nature of your being is relatedness (which it is), then what is there to fear about being profoundly intimate with the world around us? That intimacy is what makes us who we are.
Let yourself be moved by the natural world.
Let another person in way too close.
Give up the control that you think you have in favor of a view that is much more aligned with reality.
We are dependent upon everything else and everyone else for our very existence.
Threeness is movement.
Life is not simply being and solitary “oneness.” Nor is life simply relatedness and a static “twoness.” Life is dynamic. It is going somewhere. It has been developing for 13.7 billion years. All the atoms that make up my body were present back then, but I couldn’t type this then, nor could you read it and think about it. So clearly, something pretty amazing has happened during the vast span of time between the birth of the universe and 2013 CE.
Movement, development, becoming—these are also the meanings of life. If you are developing, you are alive. If you are stuck in a rut, you are dead in a way. If there is movement, there is life. That is true in terms of your relationships (twoness) and your being (oneness).
How are you moving forward?
How are you contributing to an increase in consciousness?
How are you bringing forth a world of greater complexity and harmony?
Trying new things, exploring frontiers, sniffing out the grandeur of life from the sleeping crevices; so much is possible right now. If you’re reading this, it means you have all the capacities you need to play a significant role in the process of the universe awakening to its own majesty.
As Seth Godin says, “You’ve won the birth lottery.” You’re alive in a time of great change, with unprecedented wealth and education.
How are you using your being and relationships to uncover new realities about the world around us that no one has seen before?
That’s the role of the artist and visionary. We look around and create something new from what’s possible.
What’s your experience of oneness, twoness and threeness? Share your thoughts in the comments below.
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Editor: Michelle Margaret
Image: fanz/Flickr Creative Commons