Self as Meaning


In a public park in Changzhou, Jiangsu, China

Today’s photo was taken while I went on a walk to a rarely used canal side park here in Changzhou. There was a wildness to the area that seemed to invite me to undress and risk this photo, as well as a few others. Of course, this was a risky proposition as China is not exactly supportive of public nudity. So what does this say about me and my life at this time?

Life just “is.” Something inside me is always in search of meaning, personal meaning and meaning for the whole business of life as a species. I can’t buy into the thought system that there is no meaning, a thought system that holds that one breathes for a while and then there is nothing. This kind of thinking leads to the conclusion that there is no good or evil, no right or wrong – there is only being alive then not being alive and that is all.

“Both the diagnosis of the loss of meaning and the idea of the dire need of meaning (which come nicely together in Jung’s statement, we “cannot even get it into our heads that no myth will come to our aid although we have such urgent need of one” are nothing new. They had already been experienced and struggled with in different ways for at least one hundred years prior to Jung. The 19th century had not only discovered what was to become known under the catch-word “nihilism,” defined by Nietzsche as the lack of a goal, the lack of an answer to the “What for”; it had also desperately tried, in ever new utopian schemes, to provide a new, ultimate goal of life. (Giegerich, End of Meaning, page 1)

The loss of meaning seized me at an early age, while I was yet in high school, a junior student. Events in my home life, events that surrounded the issues of mother and father and family and relatedness to the world tilted my worldview to such an extent that I began to wander winter streets, lost. I was left with darkness and despair. I stood on a bridge looking over the dark flowing waters of a river and wondered what the point was of hanging around when everything I had held onto had turned into lies. Yet, in spite of the darkness and depression, something within me refused to quit so I walked on and began my own search for meaning. It was only days later, in the late winter morning when snow turns to slush, that I met a stranger who spoke one simple sentence before he disappeared into the crowds along the busy street -“You have to read Thus Spoke Zarathustra!” And so I turned to walk a different street in order to find this book in the library.

I then learned from Nietzsche and others that I was not alone with what I was thinking. This wasn’t about my being a dysfunctional person, some adolescent who slips into depression only to embrace suicide because there is nothing left that could or would anchor him in the world, something that would give meaning and purpose to staying. I knew that I was unique, especially in relation to those who I knew in the world, even though I was human and a young male, something not so unique. I knew that meaning for me would be, would have to be, something that came from within; not something that I would find somewhere “out there.”

A Meditation on Relationship

Meditation in the sun;s rays in China.

Meditation in the sun;s rays in China.

As most of my readers know, I take time in my life for meditation. A few of you also know that I am a naturist at heart. So, it is my preferred habit to combine both. Why did I choose this photo for today’s post? Well, for one thing, I want to share this excellent photo with you, a photo taken by my wife. She saw something in the way that the light was falling on me while I meditated and she tried to capture what she saw. She didn’t see nakedness, nor meditation. Rather, she saw a deeper meaning, one that said something about who I am in this modern world. She saw something and respected what she saw.

Relationships are difficult things. With two individuals who fall in love the initial image is one of projection. One sees an archetypal image that is bigger than any one person can ever hope to fill. As time passes and one begins to see this person without the archetype clouding vision, one must learn to respond to the reality of this person. Often we exclaim that this wasn’t the person we married. The truth is that this statement is a true statement. One marries a real person but one thinks one is marrying a different person, one that is created within one’s own psyche.

As the years pass, we begin the process of discovering the real person we have taken as a mate. As we note the reality and adjust, we change ourselves to fit with the other in an attempt to continue the relationship. Sometimes the changes are too much or go against the fundamental beliefs we hold of ourselves. When this happens the relationship enters stormy waters. We are forced to re-examine these fundamental beliefs and weigh them against the positives, and there are always positives, in the relationship.

If one is honest, then a relationship will always enter stormy waters. We must be honest with ourselves and with our partners. That honesty will point out the differences between each other and the differences we hold about the other than are causing personal discord. This honesty isn’t spoken with the intent of changing the other person as that can’t be realised and have the other person be true to their own nature. With honest there is an opportunity to see each other in a new light and consider how that resonates or complements what one honestly knows about oneself.

Attempts to change the other, demand change in the other, or force change on oneself for the other always ends in fracturing. Accepting the differences allows a relationship to continue and to grow. As the relationship grows, the strength of the individuals in the relationship also grows. The relationship becomes a sacred container within which both partners feel safe, the relationship becomes a holy marriage.

Meditation and Re-Discovering a Spiritual Center

Meditative prayer in China

Meditative prayer in China

I have been doing a lot of research into religion and meditation lately, not exactly sure what I have been looking for in the process. I suppose it began with a wonder in terms of the religious significance of meditation – and where my practice of meditation finds its roots. I first began to meditate in what is considered either Hindu or Buddhist meditation practice about forty years ago. My first experience of meditation during my first year of university was in a commune which had a Buddhist orientation. A year later I took a course in Transcendental Meditation along with other university students and university professors. I began to think that though I enjoyed meditation, the practice didn’t fill what I felt was an emptiness, a hollowness within myself. And so, I let the practice of meditation disappear out of my daily life.

I didn’t see my immersion into prayer as a youth as part of the world of meditation though I now accept that prayer can be meditative. It took a trip to Aix-en-Provence in France where I spent a few hours in a sanctuary of a cathedral and followed the footsteps of centuries of priests and monks who walked the outdoor covered walkways in prayer that I made the connection between prayer and meditation. A while later, another visit to France and an evening in a cathedral in Avignon had me recall the altered states of existence I had felt as a child and youth in cathedrals in Ottawa. Simply sitting quietly in the cathedral and being mindful I felt the similarity of the feelings of mindfulness that I was experiencing when meditating. Prayer and meditation are practices which allowed me to connect with something bigger and deeper both within and without my self.  I had re-discovered meditation, a meditation with a difference, a meditation that is grounded in depth rather than in being a physical practice.

And that re-discovery was soon followed by a return to meditation in my home. With my last child graduating from high school I returned to being a school principal and life soon overwhelmed me with busyness and mediation once again fell of my radar. Then a few years ago while spending a winter in Mexico at the edge of a quiet Mayan fishing village, I once again found the stillness and that stillness soon was partnered with meditation. This time there was a difference.  Meditation was taken out of doors into the sunshine, into nature. With churches becoming places to visit and be photographed, my religious needs are being met in a larger cathedral, the open sky and a curiously more open mind and heart. And this has allowed me, to return to meditation indoors where I can still connect to the spiritual centre within when life asks me to be inside of a building.