Successful Retirement and The Meaning of Life II – Context

June 30, 2012

This one of several posts on the Meaning of Life.

I ended my previous post by noting that the universe existed for billions of years before we were born and it will, in all likelihood, exist for billions more after we pass on. I then asked: what is the meaning, if any, of our brief stay?

So, one way to approach a reflection on the meaning of life is to consider context or the framework within which we ask the question. Looked at in the context of the timeline and vastness of the universe, it might seem that we are as significant as another grain of sand on a vast beach. On the other hand, our lives are each unique in the universe’s vastness and expanse of time. What is the nature and significance of that uniqueness? What does it tell us about how to live our lives? Are there actions we can take so that will increase meaning in our lives?

While the universe as a framework is instructive,  it is a pretty big place in which to find context, so let’s come back down to earth. We can first note that we are biological creatures so one context for meaning is to function well biologically: grow physically, learn how to live well, reproduce, care for our young and our families.

Another context is nature itself. We and the other inhabitants of the planet rely on it for shelter, sustenance and the continuation of our species. Meaning can be found in understanding nature, using it responsibly and and caring for it in the interest of all creatures.

Context for meaning can also be found in our social relationships. What are the values that drive our relations with others? Not just the people we come into contact regularly, but also those we don’t know who might be affected by our actions. Do we think of our social actions as being founded in love and compassion or is there indifference or even exploitation?

Another context for meaning is our relationship with our own selves. Are we honest with ourselves about our own values and behaviors? Do we try to do good and avoid evil? Do we seek wisdom and understanding? Do we create value rather than just consume it? Do we see ourselves as the center of everything?

Another context for meaning could be a relationship with a divine being or a divine order that calls upon us to live our lives in a way that is consistent with the directives of that being or the structure of that order.

As we look at our lives, we can also realize that life’s meaning can change and evolve based on our roles and circumstances, e.g. child, student, parent, worker, volunteer, grandparent, richer, poorer, healthy, health-challenged.

Of course, the contexts mentioned above, and others I am sure you can think of, are not mutually exclusive. The meaning of life can be sought in a number of contexts, even overlapping ones. The point here is that the search for meaning involves reflecting on and understanding context.

Having addressed context, we next look at what some of the great thinkers and traditions of our species have had to say about the meaning of life.

R. Kevin Price

© 2008-2012 R.K. Price