Meaning of life

This week I have been enjoying watching the incredible new documentary by Yann Arthus-Bertrand called HUMAN. It serves to make us stop and question life – “What is it that makes us human? Is it that we love, that we fight? That we laugh? Cry? Our curiosity? The quest for discovery?” Including perhaps the most profound question of them all – What is the meaning of life? I decided to take time out to actually think this through, what does it mean to me the individual with my knowledge, skills, and experiences of it and articulate my ponders to encourage you reading this to do the same.

Starting at the beginning, what is life?

Life is often said to be a journey, however for me it has always been a river. A river starts as a trickle among the hills before it sets off on its journey, encountering many sights and sounds along the way; with the different landscapes being thought of as the different influences around us. Every life is an unique that flows like a river through many twists and turns that can never be repeated nor predicted where it will go next. A flowing river makes a gentle murmur, which touches all that comes its way. This murmur is our voice that maybe one but can make a difference. The path a river carves out as it flows, the obstacles in its way, slowing it down for a time before moving free again, are all parallels of our own lives. A river’s colour acts as a reminder of these obstacles, as with scars our some visible and some invisible to the naked eye. In end a river merges with the sea, with the tunnels of near death experiences being on a boat on a deltas heading towards the sea.

The only constant is change

One of the great paradoxes of life is the ever changing nature of it. As much as we may feel we live a Groundog Day existence or have a set routine, each day is actually full of enormous and extraordinary changes that we often take so much for granted we miss the wonder of it. We assume that we will wake up tomorrow at night or that loved one battling a terminal disease will be there to visit tomorrow.

For example the view from the kitchen window looks unchanged as we look out as wait for the kettle to boil, but it is not the same view as yesterday. For it is only when we stop to look closer we can see what has changed. A few petals have fallen off the pink roses that grow to middle centre, the trees in the distance have started to turn red as now autumn in the northern hemisphere, and the birds that have been visiting the bird bath have now begun their flight south for winter.

I’ll do it tomorrow

We wait for a signal to start something new as will know when time is right but as with the constant change there is never going to be a perfect time to do anything as the whole ideology of perfection as I previously wrote on is flawed. Life is extremely fragile and changes in the blink of an eye, by procrastinating making a change we have no guarantee that time will come or be around to make the changes we want to make.

Tomorrow will also never come because it is based on the foundations of today, as when the time comes it is almost as though we cannot appreciate it as the present because we did not prepare properly for it or had such high expectations it could never live up to the way we would imagine it to be. As with living through the past, we cannot appreciate the little things right now that make it special, which is why only the present matters.

Money – a golden carrot

Life is often a golden carrot with false promises by others as well as ourselves. We fool ourselves with ideas of if only I had £250 extra per month, I could do so much more or it could go further. Unless we’re on a small income, that won’t cover anything. If we spend money on credit cards each month, we still we spend it on credit cards and perhaps more as know we have that extra a month. Money to many is the ultimate status symbol of success, showing the home they own with car they drive and all the contents therein.

However, it should not be a symbol at all as means nothing, to me it is almost fools gold. The home is bought on a long term loan, everything that has a bill is effectively rented, and every object may have sentimental meaning but does not add value to life. Since my teens I have struggled to understand how much power and emphasis we put on money. It has never been a driving force nor will it ever be for me to do things. What I mean is that I do things because I want to, not because it looks good or I’ll get rewarded for it in heaven by some god, but simply as I have the knowledge/skills/experience or wish to gain them from doing so.

 42?

Austrian philosopher Rudolf Steiner conceived of a theory of human development is based upon seven year cycles:

  • Ages 0 to 7: Coming into life
  • Ages 7 to 14: Stronger health & healing abilities
  • Ages 14 to 21: The emotional realm comes into being
  • Ages 21 to 28: Play that turns to responsibility
  • Ages 28 to 35: Peaking
  • Ages 35 to 42: A time of challenge and crises
  • Ages 42 to 49: Effectiveness of Earth
  • Ages 49 to 56: A growing vision and understanding of life
  • Ages 56 to 63: The crossroads – mastery of re-evaluation
  • Ages 63 to 70: A time of harvesting and spreading the wealth
  • Ages 70 +: Reflection

Ask people what the meaning of life is, many will say 42 after the work of author Douglas Adams who coined it as the ultimate answer to the meaning of life, universe and everything. Following Steiner’s patterns, at 42 we enter a cycle where by the soul works hard to impress the full forces of its personality upon the world. At this time, the soul has the opportunity to a higher state of consciousness called Spirit Self. So perhaps Adams was onto something afterall.

From my own experiences life did change at 28 as I began therapy a month before turning it but knew I had to make a change that year, otherwise I would no longer be part of it. 35 also changed me as was at turning 35 I finally accepted and had learnt to appreciate me who I am not for who I thought I was. Since then I have certainly felt a new level of understanding of not just myself but the world around me as well as start a new ‘path’ that feels where I actually belong in life and truer to me than I have been since my mid-teens.

My meaning of life

So for me life is an ever changing, ever evolving experience. Each day is full is full of patterns we recognise but new ones come in to colour in that pattern or change the shape of it so not the same as it was before. Equally, taking time to reflect each day to take in what has changed and what we have learnt, moving on from that day so no longer can hold the same pain it does today. Remembering money is a means to an ends not something we should expect or demand more of, or use it to make someone else’s life hell or put a large donation to an organisation out of guilt.

We all lead busy lives but need to appreciate money cannot buy everything or anything that has worth: the friendships that make us smile when we see a message from them on our mobile phones as they have a special place in both our hearts and souls to the people we choose to be our partners that communicating with is key so misunderstandings can be sorted out at the start not left to grow into something that then has roots and harder to remove as can no longer remember what actually started it all.

How we choose to live life either by the culture and traditions we live by to what life has taught us from our knowledge and experiences, no one way is the right. People for example that live in tribes in the Amazon rainforest are living life their way, it is not backward or primitive but what fits with their surroundings and way life flows their way. Finally, no matter what we look like, race, disabilities, sexualities, beliefs, gender etc, we all share this life as a human being, no one is greater or worse than another.

© Fi S. J. Brown

Labels

Yesterday I went to a show at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival by Joe Sellman-Leava entitled ‘Labels’, which told of Joe growing up in rural south west England in the 1990s, the questions and comments about his dual heritage, and also examined the way we use words, the line between curiosity and fear, and the rise of anti-immigration rhetoric.

It got me thinking of the topic of labels, which I often tell people when they try put them on me that they belong on foods not human beings. We put labels in theory to group us together, but in fact they put distances between us as see someone that does not have the same label as us as different or we use them as a way to stigmatise someone for being different. When no two humans are ever truly unique, including identical twins, why do labels continue to give labels such power?

Joe told us how his surname is unique to five people, his parents/siblings/himself and the story of how it came to be. It made consider how relatively common my own surname is the UK, one name shared among 1000s of people on this small island alone, and in some ways I felt jealous for a moment of Joe’s uniqueness but at the same time how grateful there would not be the racist comments, hate and impressions his parents encountered with my own surname.

It also made me reflect on to my first name, which I hate. Why do I hate it, as it is a very strong word to use for one’s own name? Quite simply it goes back to my teenage years when I was badly bullied, any new pupil starting at my secondary or high school were told “nobody is friends with Fiona“. The stigma and pain of that cut me like a thousand blades ripping into my skin and still bearing the scars almost twenty years later. My family nickname was Oni, which my eldest brother always added “moanie” too, because I questioned things and did not want to be forced to do certain things that he or other people wanted me to do. So I use Fi, which is the name all my closest friends use and feels right when I hear or see them use.

My middle names I do not like either. Sarah is after my great aunt of the same name, in many ways my surrogate grandmother and not an easy woman to like, which my father would agree upon as told me a few years back it was only added as he registered me as it would “keep the old bat happy“! My other middle is Jane after Sarah’s sister, my actual grandmother, that died when my mother was but a toddler and so have no idea who this woman was. However, as a name it jars on my ears, as my mother would shout – “Lady Jane“, whenever she felt I had done anything to ire her as a child.

My nationality – Anglo-Scot, not Scottish or English or even British; my father was from North West England and my mother South West Scotland, thereby making me a “half-breed” (as I have been called in the past). I have never felt I could claim to be Scots or English as feel a mix of both but perhaps more culturally I identify with England than Scotland. for I am certainly no Braveheart or SNP supporter (no I don’t vote Conservative/Labour/UKIP before your mind wanders).

My father would reinforce my Englishness when any major sports events were on television, when the UK played as different nations, and tell me I should be supporting England as I was English. Both my brothers, unlike me, speak and read Scots; if I hear it spoken I have been known to ask for subtitles as don’t always follow what is being said. When I meet people from my home city I get told after saying yes I grew up here, “oh well, you don’t sound local“! Yes I have moved around the UK and lived briefly in Italy but found that remark curious and led me to ponder “well where do I sound like I’m from“?!

When applying for jobs, the so called “Equal opportunities form” many companies ask for along with an application form wants information on us relating to gender to race, religion, sexuality and disability, all of which for me are labels that we use to box people in and expect them to be a certain way before we even meet them. Do these forms really make things equal or as excuses not employ certain people, and even so they can meet some secret criteria in certain areas?

Thinking of the question of race, I often find companies try split White into White Scottish and White English not White British or simply White, I suddenly find myself questioning how the River Tweed can mark such a difference on an island that they need to have two distinct labels and which one or neither am I? I have close friends that would be identified as being of mixed race, my mother once remarked one was “half something“, to which I responded “English like me” before leaving her to wallow in the mire she’d created. I do not see race but the person I am talking to and their personality.

Thinking of race made me remember a supermarket chain, which now no longer existing in the UK, many of my friends said of their branch in Aberdeen how diverse the staff were c.f. another no longer existing chain that they were so white they were transparent! When a friend worked for the second company she found they did have a few (‘token’) non-white people working behind the scenes as were almost ashamed to have them seen and/or served by the public! Was this a reflection of late 1990s/early 2000s Britain, or was it company policy at that time?

Another question on the forms is religious belief. To me belief is a very personal thing, and because of certain events to stories in the media certain religions are seen a certain way. If someone is a Muslim, it leads to an automatic label of terrorist by many, without trying to see the media is painting a false picture of many peaceful people like you or I but identify their beliefs in this way. To me it should not matter if you worship an afro haired Martian to a man who died on a cross, as long as you do not use it as a way to excuse behaviour that hurts or exclude others.

Then there is the question of sexual orientation, this almost always gives me a heavy sigh to read, does it matter to my work who I choose as my partner in my personal life if does not impact upon on my working life? As someone that has no sexual desire, i.e. asexual, to be asked if I’m heterosexual, gay, bisexual or prefer not to say is awkward and feel I can never give a truthful answer as I am attracted to neither gender and do not identify myself in such a way. Due to our beliefs above we can use them as an excuse or reason to dislike someone due to how they perceive some that is perhaps gay or bisexual to be without getting to know them, the same way some may with their religious beliefs.

The question though I am most scared to answer is on disability, do I consider myself disabled? No I do not. However, I have been diagnosed with depression, fibromyalgia, and dyspraxia, any of them could be seen as a disability but to me they are part of the colours that make me, well me. I have been called names and labelled all sorts relating to all of these, but it is perhaps my dyspraxia that I had the worst bullying and abuse as people do not understand or know of it. Mental health I have had people find my honesty on my battles helps them be more open rather than wear their diagnosis with pain or a jumper to keep them warm as defines them now rather than let their personality not the label show.

I may continue to dislike labels, particularly when used as a way to define me that I am not. I often fall between two so how is one or either truly a reflection of me as an individual? Is it not time we saw beyond a label and saw the person? I believe by listening to those that experience different aspects of life helps us understand and grow as people. So put down The Sun, Daily Mail or The Guardian, The Times, and explore the world for ourselves not through dirty spectacles. Finally, if in Edinburgh do go to Joe’s show as it certainly is powerful stuff and thought provoking work.

© Fi S. J. Brown