What does it mean to be alive? What are we supposed to do with our lives? What is our function in the grand scheme of things? Do we even have a function?
Humans have attempted to answer those questions for a long time now. There is a wealth of philosophical, artistic and religious accounts testifying to the age-old quest for meaning. Through the variety of perspectives they offer, these accounts can often help us articulate our own answers to some of the big metaphysical questions haunting us.
Of course, there is always the possibility that these questions may not interest us. It could be that we are already happy, fulfilled human beings and that we don’t feel the need to question the fabric of things. That sounds ideal! However, only a minority of individuals appears to fall into that category.
How can we be fully alive? For a lot of people, this is an important question, too.
Many of us seem to fumble in the dark a lot of the time, failing to make sense of ourselves and the world around us. We keep ourselves busy with work and all sorts of distractions. However, if we stop and listen, we’ll notice there’s a backdrop of confusion behind all the noise and bustle. We can choose to ignore that confusion, gloss it over and go on with our lives. A lot of people do exactly that on a daily basis - in fact, it often becomes a survival mechanism.
'Cultivating a state of openness to whatever presents itself to us is the most essential precondition for personal growth'
There are alternatives, though. To start with, we can choose to adopt an exploratory attitude towards the world and towards ourselves. The cynicism that prevails in modern industrialised societies often prevents us from being fully open to the experiences that life provides. Cultivating a state of openness to whatever presents itself to us is the most essential precondition for personal growth.
In many ways, it could be said that growth begins the moment we acknowledge the core of confusion that lies beneath the superficial veneer of our lives. Throughout the ages, philosophy, art and spirituality have been key modalities for humans to engage with this persistent sense of confusion.
Why is it that most humans can’t be content with the way things are? Could it be that the need for transformation is hard-wired into us?
According to many ancient traditions, the purpose of human life is growth. The many religious and spiritual traditions of the world carry a powerful message: they remind us that there is a wonderful potential for transformation inside us all.
There is more to life than meets the eye. While life can often feel like a suffocating quagmire, it’s also a wonderful opportunity for growth. In its very nature, the spiritual path transcends the idea of individual growth as our personal development is inextricably bound up with that of other people. No matter how dedicated we are to our own evolution, our capacity to grow spiritually is also greatly dependent on the depth and authenticity of our interactions with our fellow humans.
Let’s be honest with ourselves: how committed are we to our own growth and spiritual evolution?
In our so-called ‘progressive’, ‘liberal’ societies, it has become fashionable to pay lip service to ideas of altruism and compassion. While this phenomenon can be witnessed in all avenues of life, it’s especially prevalent in heavily mediatised spheres such as politics and what I would call the ‘self-help industry’.
In these two arenas of life (perhaps more than anywhere else), not speaking the truth is often accepted as the norm. Deep down, we intuitively know that most politicians and most self-styled spiritual masters are ruthless, crafty individuals who are not really interested in the well-being of the people they are addressing. And yet, too often, we fall for their slick rhetoric; their words are enticing and sweet-sounding.
'Embracing the emotional intensity of the experience means accepting it as it is'
The illusion cannot last forever, though. Eventually, ulterior motives become apparent. Only words that come from the heart and a place of genuine care can effect lasting change and contribute to our growth.
How can we speak and act from the heart?
While there’s no easy answer, we can adopt dispositions towards life that will help us open up our heart. It’s important that we try and remain open to whatever happens, to whatever comes our way, to whatever is. By genuinely engaging with every experience, we can start harnessing the potential for growth that exists within every situation.
Yes, dealing with cheap politicians and cheap gurus is upsetting, but it also makes us stronger and forces us to become more self-reliant, to trust and respect ourselves more. No doubt, at times, it feels like a steep learning curve. This is growth at its rawest, though. If we erect walls and shut down to avoid getting hurt, the potential for growth that the experience provides is wasted. If we manage to stay open and embrace the emotional intensity of the experience, on the other hand, our spirit learns to expand. It keeps growing. Throughout the emotional turmoil, we keep listening, without judging, without labelling, without shutting down-ever.
Embracing the emotional intensity of the experience means accepting it as it is - as opposed to negating the temporary emotional disturbance we are going through. Acknowledging the objective reality of an emotional experience leads to greater awareness and is the first step towards letting go.
So, we listen, as neutrally as possible. We try and stay open. And, if we do it right, it gets easier and easier. Less and less effort is needed every time because we realise that, by resisting change, we make things harder for ourselves. The more we relax into the experience (whatever that experience might be), the more our spirit expands and gives us space to grow.
The confusion we experienced initially was only the manifestation of our resistance to various situations. Even though they may be painful, those experiences offer vast potential for growth, if we understand how to process them. The method, if there is to be one, is incredibly simple: we just stay open and we keep welcoming whatever comes our way.
So, what is the meaning of life? Where are the answers? As we embrace the constantly shifting nature of reality, we gradually realise that all the answers already lie within us. It is for us to find the right medium that will allow us to connect to that treasured place, at the very core of our heart, where all the true answers can be found. That takes time, of course-as long as life itself. This is why we call it growth. Life is growth.
Tino Faithfull teaches the art of growth through various disciplines, including meditation, qigong and taijiquan. His school - xindao - is located in the North West of England. Tino’s teaching revolves around the idea that awareness is the key to balance. Tino also runs a blog called heartprints, which engages with questions of spirituality, health and growth.
You can contact Tino via the website or read more on the Heartprints blog