What is the meaning of life? Where does meaning come from? An age old question many have attempted to answer. The way I see it, is that the meaning of life does not lie in becoming someone or getting somewhere. Those may happen; which is nice, but such ends cannot in themselves define the ultimate purpose of a meaningful life.
I see that the purpose of a meaningful life is to find out who I truly am. And that’s a journey which meanders through arduous roads of finding out who I am not. To wonder and to understand bit by bit the parts of me that pretend to be me; I mean my self-images, habits, conditionings, beliefs, assumptions, memories, worldviews, limitations, exaggerations, thoughts, emotions, relationships, happy and sad moments, triumphs and defeats, achievements and losses, ups and downs, and so on! These are all parts of me and constitute my life story; but I know that my true self is beyond all of that.
We will truly know who we are and finally rest in a meaningful place when we have genuinely and bravely worked on ourselves to recognise and understand these bits and pieces of us. Only such journey of self-discovery is truly worth taking; the only journey culminating in the knowledge that can claim you back from you! This reminds me of a poem by Sufi master Sanai (d.1131), which is said to have been quoted to Rumi by Shams in their first encounter:
Ignorance is hundred times better than the kind of knowledge which does not claim you back from you.
I have briefly written elsewhere what is meant by “you” and “you” as in social-self and essential-self. If interested you can take a look here.
By the way this journey of self-knowing can hardly be accomplished through living in a cave away from society. Living in isolation for a while could be very useful in that it confronts us with some of our deeper well-hidden self-images. However, the journey of self-knowing cannot merely be traveled by self-reflection and meditation; it has to go through the ups and downs of real life. Meditation and self-reflection are definitely useful and necessary; yet such practices should be at our service in our daily lives and aid our journey. One’s true self can be fully uncovered only through rolling up one’s sleeves and diving into the challenges of real life: Relationship joys and difficulties, falling in love, celebrations and heartbreaks, birth and death, service to community, participating in civil movements, arts, sciences, religions, and so on … taking part in life wholeheartedly, without getting attached to anything.