Tag Archives: meaning

The need for meaning

I don’t personally think the universe offers us absolute meaning beyond the remarkable fact of our own existence. However, meaning is something that humans crave, and often need. Having an understanding of what’s meaningful helps us navigate choices. A sense of meaning and significance puts our lives into helpful perspective and can inform our sense of self worth.

I think it’s down to each of us, individually, to find and create meaning in our lives. This is an existential perspective and I find it comforting. I know that for some people the idea that there is no external source of ultimate meaning can seem threatening. This is no doubt why so many humans – historical and contemporary – have been drawn to religions that offer clear explanations about what the point of life is and therefore how you should live. We don’t have that kind of authority in Druidry and people are free to approach the issue of meaning on their own terms.

When we know what we find meaningful, we have something to hold at the centre of our lives. Community spaces that enable people to flourish have always been really important to me. I’m here for the love of wild things, for creativity, inspiration and beauty. I believe in restorative justice. This leads me to a sense of personal honour that involves how I take care of the people in my life, what I can do for the wild world, and how to act justly and with compassion. On the days when I struggle to get out of bed in the morning, knowing that I might be able to do some small thing on these terms helps me get moving.

Existence offers innumerable opportunities for meaning on a personal scale. Just not ultimate definite meaning. We don’t have to wait until we find meaning, we can set out to choose it and create it. We don’t have to wait for some external source – be that a deity, a book or an institution – to hand us meanings or validate the ones we have. We can simply decide what’s meaningful and choose to live accordingly.

It doesn’t fix everything. Having a sense of meaning doesn’t magically cure depression or stave off anxiety. But it does give you something to hang on to. It means there are stars in your night sky you can use to plot your course, and often, that’s enough.

Depression and the loss of meaning

One of the things I find hardest about depression is the way it strips the meaning out of everything. All efforts and hopes seem futile. It’s not something I can write about when I’m in there because the feeling of pointlessness is silencing.

Loss of meaning brings a loss of direction. It takes all the energy out of anything you might have been doing. It makes it impossible to see what any action might achieve or how it could be useful. On bad days, this can mean even basic self care. Why get dressed? Why eat? Why bother? What’s the point, even?

When nothing I do seems meaningful or relevant, the world around me seems different to me, too. It’s just a cold, mechanical universe in which my actions have no consequences. All the love and light and colour are stripped out. I am at my least able to do Druidry when this happens. I cannot do relationship, or wonder, or magic, or possibility. I feel very alone, and it does not seem that there is any way out of it.

I don’t have firm beliefs about the meaning of life. I don’t have rules to go back to so that I can get through the bad days. My uncertainty is really important to me because it keeps me non-dogmatic, open minded and able to change. Uncertainty offers few comforts in times of mental anguish. When I’m at my most certain, I think that meaning is a human thing and that we make it, or don’t. On good days I find meaning simply in experiencing life, interacting, creating, doing stuff. On my good days I need very little meaning at all to keep going.

I don’t experience meaning, or the loss of it, as a solitary issue. When I have no sense of point or purpose, I depend on other people. I might not feel like doing anything for me, but I’ll get up and go through the motions for the sake of the people around me. Sometimes, not making things worse for those closest to me is all I’ve got. I keep this blog going because if there’s any chance I can say something useful, there is a point to trying. I couldn’t create that on my own. That sense of worth and possibility is held for me by everyone who leaves comments here.

When depression destroys my sense of worth, it is other people who keep me going. It is through the words and actions of others that I find reasons to try. Sometimes all it takes is not giving up, to eventually pull through to a better state of mind.

We never know really what someone else is experiencing. I do know however, that the gestures we make to each other in small, everyday ways are incredibly powerful. I don’t think personal affirmations will save anyone from mental health struggles, but other people’s affirmations can really help. You are loved. You are wanted. Your work makes a difference. Your presence is valued. We find you useful. You brighten my day. I am glad you are my friend. You’ve made a real difference to me. And so on. These are words of power and magic, that can save someone and ease their suffering.

It Was Meant to Be

by guest blogger Autumn Barlow

It’s a common, throw-away phrase that makes my gorge rise. As a child I didn’t understand it. I was raised by staunch atheists, so why did my mum say it? And as an adult it just makes me angry.

It’s always useful to analyse those things which cause visceral reactions. You’ll have some. We all do. Bursts of emotion at hearing certain phrases; reactions we’ve had so long we don’t really question them. “Ooo, I hate that,” you might say, and flit onto the next distraction.

I want to get to the bottom of my hatred of this phrase.

It was meant to be.

When is it said? Usually in response to some positive outcome. What could be seen as a happy co-incidence is given some significance. Otherwise unconnected events are linked by our urge to give meaningful narration to our chaotic lives. Perhaps it anchors us in infinite time.

We don’t usually say it about bad things – like miracles, as Pratchett points out, which are only attributed to pleasant events. But awe and wonder are neutral values. I am in awe of a mass murderer – dwarfed by their personality, small as I try to comprehend their actions. It doesn’t mean admiration, though we tend to allocate such a tinge to the word. Though sometimes it’s said about a tragic event that no-one can understand, to try and make it all right. But say “it must have be meant, there must be some reason” to a parent who’s lost a child, for example, and you had better be able to run very fast.

Look at the “meant” part of the sentence. “Meant” has to have an originator. Someone, or something, to have had intention. There’s one reason for my particular antipathy to this phrase: my mum, who denied all religion and all spirituality, would routinely trot these words out. As a rebellious teenager I worked my way through rejecting pretty much all I thought my parents stood for, and though I have since, as an adult, re-evaluated my blanket denials, some things lingered. I’ve carried on some rebellions without thinking them through, and hating the illogical phrase is one of them.

It carries echoes, then, of woolly thinking and throwaway remarks. And more: I’ve always disliked people who seem to simply accept what they’re told.

Underneath that dislike is the unpleasant truth about myself: I’m jealous.

Jealous of those who appear to have an unconditional acceptance of how the world is. The world is as they have been told it is. They don’t question – and they feel secure. I envy that. I question, always, and have found no solace.

It was meant to be. Even if the person saying it doesn’t really believe in a directing force, who caused things to happen for our benefit, they still imply a kind of ease and relaxation with the universe that I simply don’t have.

Perhaps it’s because I want things to have meaning. I want events to have been “meant” by some higher power, something wiser than us. Maybe that’s the root of my anger – I feel that nothing does have meaning. And it should.

But I know that letting a higher power take responsibility for directing events mean that all events, good or bad, are driven by that power. So then we get into the blind acceptance of terrible happenings because “we can’t see the whole picture” and “it was god’s will” and I just can’t help seeing this ending in awful, lethargic apathy because if everything was meant to happen then what use is our will and our drive, our striving to create a better world? It was meant to be. Shrug it off.

And there it is. The root of it, coming even as I write this; it comes down to individual responsibility for our own actions, and an acceptance that what we do matters. Everything we do must be considered – what impact on ourselves, our community, our world, our universe?

Nothing was meant to be in that one-step-removed, impersonal, nothing to do with me denial of cause and effect. It happened because of people’s choices.

And that’s what makes me so furious. The way we hide behind phrases like this to mask our responsibilities for what happens in the world, because we feel so small and the universe so large, we think we can’t possibly have any effect.

But we do, and we must. We must mean to be.