Mindfulness and why your life has meaning: now!!

Do you feel like a leaf blown about by the wind? What can you do to find meaning in the whirlwind of life?

The source of turmoil may be because inertia and motivation are locked in battle. On the one hand we seek comfort, but on the other hand, we are motivated to go out and do — to accomplish. With one thing accomplished, we seek another and another… At our center and core is comfort-seeking inertia; and every time we ‘do’ we move away from our ‘center’.

To make matters worse, we experience a subtle sense of emptiness. We may find meaning in an activity, but without connecting the activity to our inner core, we cannot find the deeper meaning.

Let’s take an example from physics. Think of centrifugal force. The true force at play, the centripetal force, pulls towards the center which represents the inner meaning. When we add inertia to the equation, however, there seems to be a force that pulls to the outer part f the circle.

In our lives too, inertia + motivation/drive = emptiness. When we just let ‘life and time act on us’ we are being spun in a circle. When we proactively ‘choose’, we are able to minimize our natural inertia; allowing us to be pulled inward — to the inner meaning of life — not outward.

Let us turn to the wisdom of King Solomon for insight. In the first chapter of Ecclesiastes, verse three, he addresses emptiness.

“What value is there to all man’s toil beneath the sun.“

After describing human toil as nothingness, Solomon goes on to list several types of cycles.

  1. Generations.
  2. Nature, the orbit of the sun, and the flow of the rivers..
  3. We’re never satisfied, so we are constantly in motion from doing, to accomplishing, to hungering and being driven to do again, and the cycle continues.
  4. All the events of the world are on repeat. Peace, ambition, aggression, war, peace, and so on.

Nature is engaged in a constant orbit, the events of the world are in orbit, man in his personal life is in orbit, and humanity orbits from generation to generation. To what end and to what purpose is all this movement directed?! What is the inner meaning, and how do we access it?

Moving through several of the major commentaries on these verses, we emerge with a multi-layered approach. We begin with Rashi’s comments to verse four. “A generation comes, a generation goes, but the earth stands forever.” Rashi explains that this refers to people that chase only material success, going so far as to steal and cheat their way to the top. They will come, rise, and the fall, like many famous Historical figures have done…. Alexander, Napoleon, Stalin. However, those who are humble, like the earth, will endure.

This is fascinating! Typically, earthliness is used in reference to inertia and laziness. There is however, another type of earthliness and that is humility. A humble person is one who can truly go with the flow. They don’t have a major ego that is inflated with success, and inevitably deflated with failure. Since it is never about their ego, they don’t take success or failure too seriously. This allows them to maintain an even temperament, instead of the tumultuous fluctuations of the overly ambitious.

Instead of inertia and comfort-seeking, this person’s core is bigger than self. They exist to serve a greater purpose than their own pleasure and comfort. They are just like the earth which is always receiving from above, the sun, the rain etc. They too see themselves and all that happens to them, as a part of a greater whole.

Therefore, each spin around the revolution of life, moves them closer — not further — to the center of inner meaning, just like the centripetal force.

Alshich (sixteenth century Tzfatian sage)reveals an amazing insight. He explains that “A generation comes and a generation goes”, refers to the cycle of the soul. A soul is reincarnated in this physical world several times. In each lifetime, as the soul experiences the ‘spin cycle’ of life, it moves closer and closer to its spiritual core, the true essence of life.

With our egos out of the way, we can move on to the next step.

In verse three we read: “What gain is there for all that man toils under the sun?” We mentioned in episode one, the Vilna Gaon’s (eighteenth century Lithuania) comments that the sun represents the higher, more elevated levels of the soul. In Maharal’s (seventeenth century Prague) terms, we are talking of a pure and spiritual intellect. Typically, there is a deafening amount of noise in our lives. But the truly humble ‘earthly’ person has silenced that ‘noise’ and can therefore hear the voice of the soul. One who attains this level, lives ‘above’ the ups and downs of life.

We mentioned before that our inertia is locked in battle with drive and motivation. Inertia keeps us in bed, and motivation/drive pulls us out of bed; this leaves in a constant state of tension.

Not so our humble hero. His center isn’t inertia, it’s humility, and the sense that he serves a greater purpose. This in no way contradicts drive and motivation. To the contrary, “I’m here to serve,” he says with joy!

The average person defines the ups and downs of life by how they affect their comfort or lack thereof. The humble person simply asks: how can I be most useful in this new circumstance?

The average person is defined by the happenings of their life: peace or unrest, health or illness, material abundance or lack. The truly humble however, allow the light of their soul to shine, and are therefore above such definitions.

The book of Eccleiastes is meant to make us think. Far from being a clear linear progression from question to answer, it forces us to ask: why?!!!

“What gain is there for all that man toils under the sun?” Rabbi Moshe David Valli explains that Solomon is asking a profoundly difficult question. Granted, the spirit is what matters. But why all the superficiality and ‘apparent’ darkness? It’s true that those who have developed a humble and elevated spirit will see past it, but why create the challenge in the first place? If spirituality is the point, wouldn’t a spiritual world make more sense?! Why all the toil?!!!

To address this weighty problem, Solomon introduces the idea that all of reality is cyclical. Not only this physical realm, but also the spiritual realms above. “A generation comes and a generation goes”, refers also to the descent of reality, from its spiritual root to its physical expression. In the literal sense, grandparents are the root of the family, and their descendants the branches. In this context, the spiritual roots — the earlier generation — find expression in our physical reality — the later generation. The end-goal of all these cycles is the light that emerges from the darkness. “The earth” — the light that emerges from the trials, pain and confusion of this earth — “endures forever.” It is only from the backdrop of darkness that the brilliant illumination of the light can be appreciated.

All of reality exists, for free-willed man to choose to see the light hiding in the shadows. So that he develops his character in such a way that he can hear and see the voice of spirituality. So that he works to become a person that is anchored above the happenings of time.

Yes, our world, our lives, this moment, is the epicenter of the universe. Only you can turn it into the most brilliant spiritual light.

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