From time to time I have these epiphanies, these moments of clarity that cause me stop whatever I happen to be doing and simply breathe. It is in these moments that everything, at least temporarily, makes sense. Everything becomes clear. Sometimes they are merely my imagination having a bit of fun, but other times the thought stays with me, crystalizing into a new philosophical framework. Recently this was the case, yet it was not a fleeting moment of "Dude, that's deep." It was more of an "Oh, so that's the meaning of the life." It was almost awkward.
Now I know what you're thinking (since I've attained enlightenment and can obviously read your mind now). Most likely you think there's either no one true meaning of life (i.e. post-modernistic relativism), or you think the meaning of life is already obvious, perhaps by way of a personal religious belief (e.g. Christianity). I do not suggest either of these convictions to be "wrong" yet perhaps incomplete, or possibly missing a point or two (or seven). I also do not suggest I am by any means "done" reflecting and striving for greater truth. No journey is complete until the end, and we may never know just how long ours will be.
What was that? Get on with it? Tell you the bloody meaning of life already? Why should I? You won't believe me anyways. You're probably waiting to pick it apart, aren't you? Okay, fine. I'll tell you. But be warned, it is both very simple and very complex.
Simply put, the meaning of life is...
If you feel this answer to be unsatisfying, cliche, or unhelpful, stick around. You just may be in for a surprise. Much in the same way that Douglas Adams, author of "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy," offered us the answer to life, the universe, and everything (i.e. 42), the real answer is in the question! (Ignore the fact that the book never reveals the question). 42 is a great number and all, but it doesn't do much without an explanation, now does it?
First we must break down the philosophical blockades. We must go back to what is basic. While many have differing opinions of how earth and humanity came to be, we can all agree that we are made of the same stuff. As Carl Sagan famously quoted...
"We are a way for the universe to know itself. Some part of our being knows this is where we came from. We long to return. And we can, because the cosmos is also within us. We're made of star stuff." -PBS, "Cosmos" 1980.
Scientists have known for some time that humans, animals, and most all matter on earth are made up of the same basic elements: carbon, nitrogen, and oxygen. We are literally made of stardust. We are pieces of universe. Some would use the verbiage "We are the universe perceiving itself temporarily." Whether secular or religious, there should be no point of contention here. However we came into existence, we are all connected.
Ashes to ashes. Dust to dust. We all give ourselves up to the elements upon death.
For the faithful, I make no insinuation that death is the end. I only mean to present the basic point that our bodies return to the same state from which it came.
The next barrier is the illusion of separation. We have this notion that "we" stop at our skin, that "we" are individuals contained in separate flesh pods, so to speak. But this is simply not the case. This next step in thinking may be more difficult for some than my first premise, but consider this...
We're made up of living cells. These cells' lives are dependent upon certain conditions. Your organs are dependent upon one another. Your continued life is dependent not only on your internal organs and systems, but your exterior environment. You are but a cell in a larger organism, dependent upon temperature, nutrients, etc. You continuously take in oxygen and other gases which pass in and out of your body. Your ecosystem is dependent upon several external factors, held in place by forces of nature, gravity, and cycles of life and death.
If you're having trouble seeing the whole picture, imagine the air you breathe is a thick green liquid instead of an invisible gas. Imagine all of us under a giant microscope while a science lab filled with alien teenagers in a local galactic high school are examining our planet saying "Ew, gross. Earth cells are weird looking. Look at all the dots swimming around in there."
There is no separation.
(At least not physically).
The only thing that separates is perception. We perceive our individual existences to be separate from everyone (and everything) else. There is, of course, some truth to this. We can choose to fight this shared unity. We can choose to splinter this cosmic communion. The very fact we perceive at all makes this choice essential.
Without perception we truly are atoms bound together. The universe (that'd be us) has always been united to itself, in the same way a rock has always been very "rock-like" and will continue to be so. But if the rock one day becomes self-aware, it can choose to believe it is not like its rock friends at all. It may create entire groups of superior rocks who shun the other inferior rocks. It may go to war against rock nations to secure its own modern rock national interests. It may elect extreme right-wing conservative rocks to rock congress to stop the evil socialist rocks from destroying all that's good and decent about traditional Rockmerica.
(I really hope you're good at understanding metaphors, people).
Here comes the more complex answer, which hopefully will not be so complex now that we've laid all the rock-language groundwork.
Since we are all pieces of conscious universe, we have a dual existence. We have our atomic-level existence and our perceptional existence. We are now (and forever will be) fulfilling our universal atomic unity whether we know it/like it or not. (We're like the rocks, right?) But how does conscious universe fulfill itself? Before we started perceiving our existence, this was never a problem. Now it is.
The only way to consciously mimic our atomic unity, and thus fulfill our dual existence, is by loving one another. To love one another is to recognize the truth that we are all one. Without this recognition, we are forever incomplete.
After my revelation I felt relieved. This principle of oneness is present in many religions, and is also logically congruent with modern scientific thought. It also spits in the eye of any arbitrary demand to love one's neighbor simply out of obligation. Love is not merely something we should do because it benefits us individually (since we're all one), or because of selfish rewards or escape from punishment. Love is not the means to appease an angry and easily offended deity. Love is not just a warm and fuzzy neural process that curbs our sensitive egos. Love is the language of the universe, singing out in vibrating superstrings, in starlight, in sunsets, in the laughter of children, in the songs of the whales and roar of the oceans.
Love is the sacrament of the universe. It is the invisible sign of the very visible miracle of life.