“As is a tale, so is life: not how long it is, but how good it is, is what matters.”
This last section will be a summary of some sort. I want to draw a line that will connect the main points outlined throughout this book and in order to do so, I must again return to the fundamentals.
If you are familiar with the Bhagavad-gita you have probably seen an image that illustrates a chariot pulled by five horses, a charioteer that is holding the reins, and a passenger in the back. Let’s take a look at the symbolism of this illustration as this image is a perfect representation of a human being.
The chariot represents the physical body. It carries the passenger — the soul and the charioteer — the intellect.
The chariot is being pulled by the five horses which represent the five senses: sight, smell, hearing, taste, and touch.
The reins symbolize the mind. The mind connects and discerns what is perceived by the five senses and is constantly driven towards the sources of pleasure simultaneously steering away from unpleasant sensations. We love to devour what strikes the sight, follow what exudes captivating aromas, listen to soothing voices and charming music, taste delicious food, and seek for a pleasurable touch. Likewise, we try to avoid contact with the ugly side of the world, its malodorous places, obnoxious sounds, and things that are distasteful for the tongue or skin.
The job of the intellect symbolized by the charioteer is to drive the body in a chosen direction keeping the five senses under control and attentively selecting what is to penetrate the mind. Thus, a weak intellect, is less capable of making a good judgment in the choice of what is good for the body, the mind, and the soul, whereas a strong intellect enables its owner to restrain the appetites of the mind allowing him not to deviate from the chosen path. It is the purpose of human life to learn how to best utilize the mind and the intellect in order to deliver the body and the soul to a certain destination. That brings us to the question of the day:
So, what is the destination of life?
Most people are driven by a craving for happiness, however, the majority of them have only a vague notion of what a happy life is. Happiness is an illusion. It is an idea that is always shimmering in the distance promising us that someday, in the not so distant future we will undoubtedly become happy. And so, we run frantically trying to chase that elusive state of happiness — we run and we fail. We fail because we are forced to face the indisputable reality, and the reality is that life is incredibly hard.
This world is a tough place. It will test you. It will challenge you. And if you fail to adapt, it will break you. Living life by your own rules requires discipline and ruthless intellectual honesty: you must know your worth, your abilities, your aspirations in life, but most importantly you must remember that all this fascinating spectacle of life will eventually come to its logical finale. Someone said that life is more of a journey than a destination. But make no mistake, one day you will find yourself staring at the ceiling contemplating all possible scenarios of how you could have lived. The day of confidence that you lived your life to the best of your ability or the day of irreversible regrets, what will it be?
Make a thought experiment. Transport yourself to that notional destination point at the end of your projected timeline on earth. Speak to yourself in a third person: “Did (insert your name) repent of anything in his/her life? Which of the things he/she pursued in the chase for happiness were of real value and matter right now, in the end?” Such reorientation of thought will lead you to a new philosophical paradigm: a being, to be worthy of a life free of regrets, must conform to something other than the idea of happiness, and that is my last message to you.
Do not strive for a happy life.
Strive for a meaningful one.
Looking back across the years and being able to run back over your past with a smile and a genuine sense of fulfillment: “Well, that was a hell of a ride,” — that is the destination worth aiming at.
It is hard to generalize about what makes a meaningful life, as each one of us has his own individuality. Obviously, your definition of “meaning” is very different from mine but let this last section serve as an unassuming reminder of how important it is to remember where you are heading.
#1. A meaningful life is a life of gratitude.
At the moment of hardship, many people can catch their minds dwelling on thoughts of jealousy of someone who is happier than them. However, it is rare for a person to think of those who are struggling when he himself is not. We do not value peace of mind while we have it — it remains unperceived unless we are suffering, yearning for an insight. And so is healthy body — a gift so largely unappreciated until it is no longer healthy.
Be grateful if you were blessed with a healthy body and a healthy mind, they are your greatest assets. Losing your breath and pushing through pain during training — smile! There are people whose physical and cognitive impairments do not allow them to experience the joy of exploring what a human body can achieve in a myriad of physical manifestations. A complete life is a privilege. Never take what you have for granted.
#2. A meaningful life is a life of responsibility.
Life is hard. It is hard by default. And it is supposed to be hard. That’s the whole point. The deeper meaning of life can only be conceived by strong minds, and the only way for a mind to be strong is for its owner to be steeled through hardship.
Accept ultimate responsibility for the adversity that comes your way and the way you overcome it. It is true that the more responsibility you bear the harder your life becomes. Yet it is precisely the weight of responsibility that makes life meaningful. The weight of the world on a man’s shoulders — that is what makes him a titan.
Keep expanding your area of responsibility. But before taking responsibility for others make sure you have taken responsibility for your own perception of this world. You are decoding the reality in an unprecedented and individual manner and by the way you do it you define the way you experience it. In the words of Henry Major Tomlinson:
“We see things not as they are but as we are.”
The implication of this is obvious: the happiest people are those who learned gratitude, self-awareness, and positive thinking. They realized that the state of happiness is nothing else but a result of a conscious choice. This is what professor Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi writes about happiness:
“What I “discovered” was that happiness is not something that happens. It is not the result of good fortune or random chance. It is not something that money can buy or power command. It does not depend on outside events, but, rather, on how we interpret them. Happiness, in fact, is a condition that must be prepared for, cultivated, and defended privately by each person. People who learn to control inner experience will be able to determine the quality of their lives, which is as close as any of us can come to being happy.”
Be meticulous about the organization of your belief system. This is what defines your inner experience. If you abdicate responsibility for designing your core life philosophy, your destiny becomes nothing but a matter of chance.
#3. A meaningful life is a life of deep bonds.
Other people are the doors to the worlds you are here to explore. You meet new people and some of them invite you in. You enter and sometimes you fall in love with what you have discovered. Sometimes you stay, at other times you reckon it is better to continue your journey apart. This is how life goes. Touching other lives teaches you how to live your own.
In the twilight of this life, the importance of many things you gave meaning to will fade. What sets your soul on fire in youth will lose its luster. Only two things will matter in the end: “What did you learn?” and “How many did you help?”
So, care deeply for people who happened to share your path. Draw wisdom from the relationships that ended after you invested so much in them. Draw gratitude from the relationships you have succeeded to preserve. And lastly, feel excited by the relationships you have at the moment and those that are yet to come. Their depth will be one of few benchmarks against which you will judge the depth of meaning of your life.
#4. A meaningful life is a life of focus.
There is one simple reason why people are so reluctant to engage in deep intellectual work: energy conservation. An average brain consumes about 10% of all energy from food in the resting state whereas cognitively demanding work can bump up the energy expenditure to 25%. The brain spends even more energy when we tap into our willpower reserves in an effort to overcome this natural predisposition to laziness.
Indeed, acts of will and sessions of deep work are incredibly energy inefficient, however, engaging in them is the only way to produce exceptional work. And you want your work to be exceptional, because otherwise what’s the point of producing it at all? It is a fact of everyday experience: you can’t draw meaning from doing a lousy job.
Let’s be brutally honest about this: you are in competition with other people. Somewhere out there, there is a guy who works twice as hard for the same things you want in life. He is smart, diligent, and willing to work hard, and you stand no chance against him if you possess none of those qualities. You might be talented but if you are working a 40-hours workweek and the other guy is stretching it to 80, two years from now he is so far ahead you will never be able to catch up.
You have this marvelous brain that is capable of long hours of concentration for a reason. Refusal to put it to good use and realize its full potential is a crime against yourself, and like all crimes of that sort it comes with a price. The price for shallow intellectual life is mediocrity and a chronic sense of meaninglessness. And there is only one cure for it: deep, purposeful, conscientious work.
#5. A meaningful life is a life of mastery.
As we progress through life, sooner or later we all come to the understanding that self-satisfaction originates from success in practice and learning. It is that “aha moment” after a long plateau that gives us a sense of achievement. That makes it quite obvious that personal growth is one of the main sources from which the meaning can be drawn. It emerges from a deep belief that every day you become better than yesterday, as well as from the congruent behavior that is sustained by that belief.
The path of mastery is the only logical answer to the existential conundrum of a meaningful life. By learning new things and getting better at them we fulfill the progression of life which is an essential precondition for creating a sense of meaning. Thus, through the mastery of our own mind, we find our way to gratitude, generosity, and positive outlook which basically define our happiness. Through the mastery of time management, we learn how to maximize our impact on the world. And of course, through the mastery of laws by which this universe operates, we gain clarity on what has to be done to minimize friction while we walk through life to arrive at our destination.
In many respects, this life is similar to a movie, but unlike real film making, you have to play all the major roles individually and simultaneously. You are the protagonist in the thick of the action, you are the director whose vision is being executed, and you are the one who is sitting in the first row witnessing the performance. Sadly, many people are too absorbed by what they see “on the screen” forgetting about the fact that they are in charge of the reel that is spinning inside their mental projector.
What film are you showing to yourself? Do you genuinely believe that things happen to you or you are convinced that you are the one who makes things happen? Are you here to passively watch or have you arrived to announce: “It’s showtime!” These are the questions that a true seeker for meaning must explore insistently.
#6. A meaningful life is a life of purpose.
Time is ruthless. Yesterday you were too little to understand that you are not your body. You were playing carelessly with your friends breathing in the fresh air of your youth permeated with hopes and dreams. You blinked. And “snap”! Here you are, in the present moment — older, smarter, more self-aware but also less innocent, less pure, becoming increasingly disillusioned with many aspects of life. With every passing day, you realize more and more how fragile you are in the hands of time. You hate to admit it but some part of you already knows it: all that stands between the present you and the old you filled with nostalgia for the past is a mere blink of an eye.
Life is short. You have one shot at it. You better understand the nature of the force that drives you and take the reins. Because otherwise, you risk exposing yourself to the real tragedy of life — finding yourself crossing out the items on your bucket list and not because they are accomplished, but because they have no more hope of fulfillment. You have to choose a path and stick to it. Loafing through life only leads to unhappiness and regretting the might-have-beens. As a famous Russian classic Fyodor Dostoevsky put it:
“Life suffocates without a purpose.”
Understanding a life purpose may seem like an insurmountable task, but for someone who has clarity on what in this life has true value it is surely doable. If you really think about it, there are not so many things worth dedicating your life to. What’s more, all of those things in their essence can be boiled down to a single mission statement which can be formulated as follows:
Do what you love and devote all your energy to it.
Help others along this path.
A life purpose is a vehicle that carries you to the best version of yourself. It makes you abundant. You’ve got no choice but to become capable and resourceful when you set yourself to manifest that burning inner vision. Inevitably, a higher purpose will walk hand in hand with hardships and adversity but it will also give you understanding that it is only through continuous effort and struggle that you may have a shot at attaining a higher meaning in life.
Reading this, someone may think to oneself: “This poetic fluff sounds very convincing, but why bother saving the world? Why not just live minding my own business?” There is an answer to this and it is rather straightforward. Regardless of your goals and the life path you choose for yourself, there will be a jillion of distractions that will seek to lead you astray. But there is one thing that is extraordinarily effective when it comes to staying true to your path — the high nobility of purpose.
You can’t persevere without a good motive to do so. And for those who are driven by a craving for success, it must be obvious: you only hit high when you aim high. It’s funny how it works, but a resolve to save the world actually appears to be just a sophisticated form of egoism.
Consider setting high standards for yourself not only as a form of self-love but also as a way to cultivate a sense of inner dignity and self-respect. Both the quality of your life and the quality of your meaning rely heavily on what you think of yourself.
Don’t overthink your mission. You don’t need to go on a month-long meditation retreat in order to find your life purpose. On the contrary, it works in precisely the opposite way: what is to become your lifework will only reveal itself through pure action.
Do your best, with what you have, where you are, and let the Universe show you the foothold for your next step. Channel your intention into something that is useful and tangible. You will discover, especially what seems to be the hardest decision, that once you fully engage, there is no room for doubt. As Stephen King put it:
“Amateurs sit and wait for inspiration, the rest of us just get up and go to work.”
#7. A meaningful life is a life of service.
It feels good to help others. We draw comfort and great satisfaction from the knowledge that we make a difference in someone’s life, even when we do it anonymously. Compassion is engraved in our DNA, it is in our very nature, and that longing to be of service, should we choose not to suppress it, can become the most transformative, the most revelatory power — the power that can bring us to understanding the purpose of our life.
Second coming, angels and spirits, a benevolent alien race, future generations to come — we have been waiting for someone to arrive and save us all our lives, only to approach the realization that none of these is happening. The truth is plain: we are in need of redemption and no one is coming to show us the way to it. We must become our own saviors.
This knowledge can be a burden, but it also can unshackle us from that torpid dependency on the idea that help should come from without. Once we realize that we are on our own, we become self-motivated and people-oriented. Our life attains intentionality.
We start to explore our amazing ability to empathize and connect with one another. We begin to aspire to share the fate of being a human, and by doing so ease its torments. We learn that we are capable of rational thought as well as of change that that rational thought can bring about. Suddenly we find ourselves acknowledging that united we have a real chance of earning our salvation.
The insight that selfless service is the most optimal way of living is intellectual, not spiritual. Everyone who invests his time in deep thinking about how he can increase his life effectiveness will surely arrive at this conclusion. We must help each other to grow strong through the struggle of earthly existence, and we must do so keeping in mind that much strength is needed if we want to fulfill ourselves.
Being of service to others does not diminish the one who chooses to serve. Not on any account. Contrarily, by giving our best we enrich each other — we empower one another to be of use, to be of value, and to do what it takes to be good and virtuous. By becoming healers of those who are in desperate need of healing we redeem ourselves.
Lastly, to serve well and to serve conscientiously, we must expand our minds to accommodate bigger responsibilities. We must never forget that among all other obligations, it is our duty to serve this planet, our only home.
Anton Chekhov once wrote: “If every man on his piece of land did everything that he can, how beautiful our earth would be.” Little did he foresee that humanity will have a real opportunity to manifest his vision. Slowly but steadily, we are growing mindful of environmental sustainability and the role that nature plays in our life. We finally come to the realization that, at the end of the day, preserving the earth is preserving ourselves.
Our purpose is not to remake nature to our liking. Our purpose is to live in harmony with it, gradually apprehending what is our place in it and what is its place in us. We must protect our mother earth that suffers all the cruelty we inflict on her — one small act at a time, focusing on lowering our own footprint, sweeping our own front door, truly believing that it is our action that makes all the difference in the world.
We’ll soon be gone. Let’s leave this place slightly better than we found it before we depart and prepare it for those who will come after. Let’s make them proud of the way we have chosen to live.
#8. A meaningful life is a life of presence.
One day I woke up because I had the strangest dream. In my dream, I was diagnosed with terminal cancer. I’ve been told that I have 3 months to live. I opened my eyes and that sinking feeling was still there — absolute hopelessness, the proximity of inevitable death. In an instant, the meaning of so many things in life has faded. All that was left, was the sorrow for the things that were never destined to happen and the bitterness for the time forever gone.
Let’s admit it. We are lifetime wasters. We seek solace in things that can’t satiate our unexplainable yearning. We invest in relationships with negative people who dwell so deep in the illusion, there is no hope of awakening for them. We are so engaged in doing things for the sake of a happy future, that we lose awareness of the fact that those things make us desperately unhappy in the present. But the greatest threat to our efficiency with time is nothing else but our own mind.
It is the mind that created time. The fabricated coordinate system of time with its yesterdays and tomorrows was designed with the sole purpose of giving us a notional dimension in which we could navigate and control the flow of impermanent and fluid matter. Instead, so many of us have entrapped ourselves in the conception that this dimension really exists sinking into the oblivion of daydreaming, building castles in the air.
Abandon the idea that something can be postponed to tomorrow. Tomorrow doesn’t exist. You wake up in the morning, and it is today yet again. It is a looped time. A full circle. The Ouroboros. As Artur Schopenhauer wrote: “Each day is a little life: every waking and rising a little birth, every fresh morning a little youth, every going to rest and sleep a little death.”
So, let your day be a preparation for the “little death.” Meditate in the morning to visualize a string of events that will occur throughout the day. Create a relationship with your future; it is indeed malleable but remember that you can only forge it in the here and now. The progress toward anything you set yourself to achieve can only be done in the present moment.
Unfortunately, things do not always go as planned. We get weak. We get self-indulgent. Our flaws make us lose our way. Sometimes life hurts us. Sometimes it is people. Sometimes we stuck in a rut. It’s hard to be a human but it is important to remember at all times that it is precisely the adversity that initiates our rise to maturity. The reality of life is that we don’t have the choice to escape from ordeals, but we do have the choice to define to what extent these ordeals affect us. Hardships are mandatory, self-torture is not.
Embrace the Now. Acknowledge the fact that something truly disastrous rarely occurs in the present. Most of the time, the suffering is drawn from either an unhealed wound of the past or disturbing imagination. We create our own hell by overthinking. Root yourself deeply in the present moment, surrender to whatever is happening to you and you will see that there is no place left for struggle. Evidently, suffering can be stopped through the discipline of the mind.
That being said, the most obvious way to acquire the discipline of the mind is to practice meditation. You can train your mind to disengage from thinking. In the meditative state, you will not only isolate your true self from the burdensome thoughts, but you will also experience what it feels like when the very conception of time becomes irrelevant. In the absence of movement of thought, the whole world freezes in the infinite presence.
Many people misunderstand the concept of meditation. Although it is true that the most immersive meditative state is achieved in stillness with minimal mental stimulation from without, meditation is nothing but a deep awareness of what happens around you and within you in the present moment. Keep returning to your breath and your every action will become meditative.
In such a way, building your life around the concept of presence will help you to make far more sense from it. You will start seeing things and events as they are, not as the thinking mind, is willing to interpret them. You will reach new levels of intellectual acuity as you will be more able to discern the true motivation behind the words of those who lack awareness. But most importantly, you will start to notice how the anxiety and wishful thinking loosen their grip.
I’ll finish this one with the words of Eckhart Tolle: “Realize deeply that the present moment is all you will ever have.” What life can be more meaningful than a life of someone who realized that the present moment is the only time when the meaning can be created? Carpe diem; carpe momentum.
#9. A meaningful life is a life of awakening.
At the beginning of this chapter we talked about the destination of life at which we all as humans must arrive. I believe at this point in your life there is no doubt that this destination exists. You have always felt it in your guts: you are in process of discovery of something that is so imperceptibly close yet still beyond your reach. A feeling that there is something more to life. A feeling that you are missing the key puzzle piece that prevents you from acquiring a sight of the big picture. An unconfirmed, unformulated purpose.
So, what is that single true purpose that everyone on earth must fulfill?
The answer is brief: spiritual awakening.
What is the root of all evil? Is it idleness? Is it a love of money? Or is it inordinate desire? None. The root of all evil is ego. All our flaws originate in it. It is the false conception of who we are that prevents us from becoming productive, luminous beings capable of creating meaningful work that would change the world for the better.
It is important to note, however, that although the thinking mind is the root of evil, it is not evil itself. Thought is an intrinsic property of our consciousness and it is given to us as a tool for creating the world, but what kind of world we will create solely depends on the way we use this tool. The concept of self constructed by the thinking mind can be tailored to fit one’s needs in order to successfully operate within the framework of this reality, but it must never be used as a substitute for the true self — the being that hides behind the scene of thoughts.
Through spiritual practices, we seek for ways to awaken that being. For most of us, complete enlightenment is unattainable, but at the very least we can disassociate ourselves from the ego just enough to establish control over it. It is not important what spiritual path we individually choose to follow to accomplish our aim. All paths lead to the same conclusions:
We are not our thoughts.
We are all the same.
We are all one.
The one who has spiritually matured to the depth of this insight, one who internalized it profoundly, to the marrow of his bones, reaches a whole new level of meaning. An awakening experience becomes the turning point between a new life of mindful creation and years of the past spent in a deep sleep.
The life of a being who has awakened to his true nature is hard. It is hard because his life becomes a continuous journey toward the complete dissolution of his egoic nature. What drives him, what impels him to be so restless in his perpetual search for truth, is the perspective to spend the rest of his life blinded by illusions, bound by nonspiritual.
The life of awakened is hard because it takes bravery; only he who is courageous will choose to live a life of vicious fights with his ego, searching for every single beam of light to dispel his ignorance. He fights to effectively hold the reins of his mind and live a life of detachment — detachment from labels, detachment from the material, detachment from thought itself. He fights to set himself free. To be a king, not a horse. A master, and not a slave.
The life of an awakened is hard because it is real.
But it is the only life worth living.
Embark on a journey of self-discovery. And on that path, you will find what you need to design a meaningful life. Awaken yourself. And be an instrument of awakening because that is what the world needs. With this, I am finishing the last chapter of this book. It’s time to say goodbye.
Thank you for reading my book “Meditations of the Millennial”.
If you want to support me on my mission, please, share this book with someone you love. Maybe they will find what they seek on its pages.