The River of Life

Despite mankind’s unrelenting efforts over the ages to find the answer to this question, it has stubbornly resisted all attempts to being solved. Could this be because a fundamental problem exists with trying to discover the meaning of life?
(Note that when we talk about the meaning of life we usually implicitly mean that we are talking about the meaning of our own lives. Consequently, in this piece, the term “meaning of life” is really shorthand for “the meaning of one’s own life”. The issue of the meaning of other people’s lives is another topic altogether.)
We assume that life is a process or an activity that we can somehow step outside of and examine from a distance, or that life is like an object that we can scrutinize under the microscope, or that we can somehow freeze-frame life and analyse its contents. Yet one is forever immersed within the current of one’s own life.
Imagine trying to determine the nature of a river while being dragged along by its flow. Your view of it will always, by necessity, be limited by your position within the river and by the fact that you are always immersed in it and have no access to any other river or to land.
Similarly, you cannot observe life from outside or separate yourself from your existence, even for a moment. No matter how you try, you will always be fully immersed within the river of your life. Consequently, concepts such as meaning, aim and function that we use to describe and explain other processes, activities and objects cannot be applied to life itself.
An additional issue to consider is that in order to grasp the meaning, purpose and function of a particular process, one needs to see it in its entirety—from its beginning to its end point. Some processes only make sense or disclose their function and purpose at their end point; or it is only at their end point that the previous stages of certain processes gain or reveal their meaning.
So it is with the process of life. As one can never view one’s own life in its entirety, its meaning remains indeterminate, except perhaps from the vantage point of death’s door.
Or consider trying to understand the meaning of a sentence. One needs to hear the sentence in its entirety before one can make full sense of it, as the meaning of an incomplete sentence is indeterminate. It is entirely possible, for example, that there is information at some point in the sentence which totally changes the whole meaning of the sentence. So the meaning of a sentence is not fixed until it comes to an end.
By analogy, isn’t life like a sentence that takes us our whole lifetime to hear out in its entirety? Thus, only when the sentence of life reaches its end, with death acting like a full stop or a period, is life’s complete and true meaning possibly revealed.


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