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The first of a series of articles on Meaning, Life and Hope

WHO WE ARE AND WHY WE ARE HERE?

We are all driven by a deep inner restlessness. We may feel this restlessness as a sense that something is missing in us, although it is usually difficult to define. We have all sorts of notions about what we think we need or want – a better relationship, a better job, or a better physique. We are all looking for something reliable, something loyal and true, something we can always depend on. We believe that if we acquire the perfect relationship or job or something we can depend on; the restlessness will go away and we will feel satisfied. But experience tells us that a new relationship may be wonderful, but it never quite fulfills us in the way we thought it would. So, what are we really looking for? If we reflect for a moment, we may realize that what our hearts yearn for, is to know who we are, why we are here ,why we need to love and to be loved , why we need to belong to a caring community, need to belong in the universe.

Look at the following image. So much a part of our life!!

To enter into the journey of who we are, is probably the hardest, the most denied, and the most avoided, so the journey seldom begin. Rollo May an existential psychologist said: “There is a constant struggle within us, although we want to grow towards maturity and independence, we realize that expansion is often a painful process- hence the struggle is between the security of dependence and the delights and pain of growth”.

Jean-Paul Sartre says that our values are what we choose and the failure to acknowledge our freedom and choices is what results in emotional problems. This freedom is hard to face up to – so we tend to invent an excuse by saying: “I can’t change now because off my past conditioning. Sartre called excuses;” bad faith”: He says: “No matter what we have been, we can make choices now and thus become something quite different”. But to choose is to become committed – that is the responsibility, that is the other side of freedom.

Our “Old self is all we have, Thomas Merton [monk and spiritual writer] said “Letting go is not in anybody’s program for happiness, and yet all mature spirituality, in one sense or another, is about letting go and un-learning:. Meister Eckhart, a German philosopher said “spiritual life has much more to do with subtraction than it does with addition” What the ego hates more than anything else in the world is to change – even when the present situation is not working, we do more and more of what does not work, the reason being that last time did not really satisfy us deeply. Jesus and other spiritual leaders made it very clear that there is a self that has to be found and one that has to be let go of.

Activity.

Write a few lines on the following.

  • “There is a self that has to be found and one that has to be let go of”.
  • “Hence the struggle is between the security of dependence and the delights and pain of growth”

Nietzsche said: “He who has a why to live for can bear with almost any how” We humans are in a constant state of transition, emerging, evolving, and becoming. Being a person implies that we are discovering and making sense of our existence. We continually question ourselves, others and the world. As humans we are capable of self-awareness, which is the distinctive capacity that allows us to reflect and to decide. To be alive encompasses the ability to take hold of life day by day as well as to find meaning in suffering. Life has meaning under all circumstances and the central motivation for living is the will to meaning, the freedom to find meaning in all that we think, feel and do.

Man is responsible for the fulfilment of the specific meaning of his personal life. But he is also responsible before something, or to something, be it society, or humanity, or mankind, or his own conscience. Victor’s Frankl, survivor of the holocaust said that life can be made meaningful in a threefold way.

  • what we give to life (creative works)
  • what we take from the world – our experiences and values and
  • the stand that we take towards a fate that can no longer change (an incurable disease, cancer, death)

Apart from this, man is not spared facing his human conditions, what Frankl calls the tragic triad of human existence: pain, death and guilt. Man need to accept his finiteness in its three aspects, he has to face the fact that he has failed, that he is suffering, and that he will die.

Activity:

Write a few lines on the following.

  • Life has meaning under all circumstances and the central motivation for living is the will to meaning, the freedom to find meaning in all that we think, feel and do”.
  • “Pain, Death and Guilt”. Man need to accept his finiteness in its three aspects, he has to face the fact that he has failed, that he is suffering, and that he will die”

Let us read some more inserts of spiritual teachers, philosophers and psychologists.

Heitik (1997:235-239) sees the human person as: a unity of body, soul and spirit, as not having relations, but is a relation, as being constituted of conscious and unconscious levels, a dynamic (developmental psychology) entity in search of self-realization, having norms and values that play an important role in the quest for human and personal identity.

Clinebell’s growth model (1984: 28-45) attempts to incorporate Aristotle’s view of the cosmos in which he says, “In all living things there is an inherent striving towards fulfilling their possibilities”. According to Clinebell, the spiritual dimension of our lives consists of the ways in which we satisfy seven interrelated spiritual needs;

  • a viable philosophy of life,
  • creative values,
  • a relationship with a loving God,
  • developing our higher self,
  • a sense of trustful belonging in the universe,
  • renewing moments of transcendence and for
  • a caring community that nurtures spiritual growth.

Clinebell’s description of spirituality is important, for he argues for the need to accept human wholeness as a starting point.

Louw (1998:2) concludes that: “The ultimate purpose is the fostering of a mature faith and spirituality, which includes, change, responsible choice of behaviour, growth, empowerment and mutual support and anticipation. He talked about the four stages; Trust (feelings), perspectives (thinking), responsibility (doing) and empowerment (believing).

According to Louw, the following basic components of context should be taken into consideration:

  • people’s needs in life – the degree to which these are met or not (material security, safety, and experiencing value, self-actualization and love) will determine the measure of emotional pain and immediate frustrations.
  • the community with its social structures (education, economy, technology, politics, etc.) will determine the degree of freedom experienced by people in their community.
  • significant relationships (marriage, family, social environment, politics, security in relationship) will eventually determine the degree of isolation and whether people will have to deal with the problem of loneliness and alienation; and
  • philosophical perspective (people’s philosophies, values and views of life) determine their behavior – positive concepts lead to constructive action, irrational thoughts and ideological perspectives have a negative effect on people’s reaction. Norms and values play a decisive role in philosophical thinking and attitudes.

According to Crabb (1970) “people desperately need both meaning and love” (significance and security).  He writes: “Personal problems begin with a wrong belief which leads to behaviors and feelings which deny us the satisfaction of our deep personal needs.” He identified three main hurdles which may thwart a person in the particular journey he or she has entered in;

  • unreached goals (impossibility of ambition gives way to feelings of guilt).
  • external circumstances (where the goal seems attainable, but people, things and incidents block the path) and
  • fear of failure (where the goal is reasonable but crippling fear generates anxiety).

Satir (1964: 176-179) sees a person as consisting of eight separate elements or levels which interact with one another and exert a constant influence on the well-being of the person.

These are: physical (the body); intellectual (the left brain, thoughts, facts); emotional (the right brain, feelings, intuition); sensual (the ears – sound, the eyes – sight, the nose – smell, the mouth – taste and the skin – tactile sensation on touch – movement) interaction (the I-Thou communication between oneself and others and self and self); nutritional (the solids and fluids ingested); contextual (colors, sound, light, air and time) and the spiritual (one’s relationship to the meaning of life, the soul, spirit , life force). 

All these parts add up to the self “although the self is more than the sum total of the parts.” The theory further acknowledges that when people forget their spiritual dimensions, they feel lost because they have no connection with the “life force or universal mind” (Satir 1964:160).

This view agrees with the Biblical view of seeing humans as part of a system because we are communal beings joined together for a purpose. Just like we need all the members of our bodies to function properly for us to be whole, we need all the members of our communities starting with the family to function properly if we are to be complete and whole. Paul makes it clear when he writes “for as the body is one and has many members, but all the members of that one body being many, are one body so also is Christ. For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body – whether slaves or free – and have all been made to drink into one Spirit. For the body is not one member but many” (1 Cor 12: 12-14). Every part of the body is important and when one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; or if one is honored, all the members rejoice with it” (1 Cor 12: 24-26).

Activity

  • Write a few lines on the following.

“Personal problems begin with a wrong belief that leads to behaviors and feelings which deny us the satisfaction of our deep personal needs.” The three main hurdles which may thwart a person in the particular journey he or she has entered are:

  • unreached goals (impossibility of ambition gives way to feelings of guilt).
  • external circumstances (where the goal seems attainable, but people, things and incidents block the path) and
  • fear of failure (where the goal is reasonable but crippling fear generates anxiety).

Works consulted

Adler, A. 1958. What life should mean to you. New York: Capricorn.

Frankl, V.1963. Man’s search for meaning. Boston: Beacon.

Freud, S. 1987. The Psychopathology of everyday life. England: Penguin Books.

Hurding, R.F. 2003.  Roots and Shoots: a guide to counselling and psychotherapy.London: Hodder and Stoughton.

Tillich, P. 1952.  The courage to be.  New Haven, VT: Yale University Press.

Yancey, P. 1990.  Where is God when it hurts? A comforting, healing guide for coping with hard times.  Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

Louw, D.J. 1999. A pastoral hermeneutics of care and a theological design for a basic theory, anthropology, method, and therapy.  Cape Town: Lux Verbi.

Peck, M.S. 2007. The road less travelled. London: Rider.

Weingarten, K. 2003.  Common shock: Witnessing violence everyday.  How we areharmed, how we can heal.  New York: Penguin.

Movies to watch

The Joker

The Pianist

Little Miss Sunshine

English Patient

The Secret

Forrest Gump,

Click

The Family Man

The Bucket List

Lion King

The pursuit of Happiness

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