(To part 1)
Britta had already felt ‘different’ as early as at the age of 13. She remembered how at that time, she already wondered how other people could live seemingly ‘normal’ lives, and also look forward to a bright future. She did find many things that were beautiful and gave her joy. She loved the smell of fresh grass and the colours of the sunset, for instance.
But the joy only lasted until she remembered that everyone, without exception, would die. To her, the end, the final farewell, would only be made worse, the more joy or happiness she experienced beforehand. Why should she go to any trouble to achieve goals that would have no meaning in the face of death?
This young woman is going through a profound crisis of meaning. With great clarity, she recognised the obvious fact that is so commonly suppressed in life: that here in this world, the good as well as the bad, share the same ultimate end through death.
Britta has basically reached a psychological crisis point shared by so many in this world. People who seriously reflect on the meaning of life, will at a crucial moment, also clearly recognise the finiteness, the limitations, the often meaninglessness of so many things. This can lead many to despair, to an intense feeling of powerlessness, but there can also emerge a vague hope, an inner certainty that grows towards a belief in a higher meaning, a connectedness between life and death.
This ‘certainty’ can be felt by some as a longing, a homesickness, a desire to return to a ‘lost’ home. It is a longing for permanence, real Love, for the Truth behind all of life’s questions. This urge can drive many to look for these absolute values in religion, philosophy, music or art. They begin to look at this natural world with different eyes, and are amazed at the interconnectedness of all things.
The idea of an existence after death, and the concept of rebirth, no longer seem absurd to these people, but rather very probable. Finding answers within themselves to the questions of the meaning of life, the origin of ‘homesickness’, and the search for a way back, become the most important goals of their lives, aspirations to which they subordinate everything else.
Britta does not believe any of this, she protests, she refuses to accept the reality of life because she cannot see a way out. This lack, this barrier to insight, robs her of all her strength. She can no longer accept the hand of help, nor the comfort of a friends’ conversation. To her, there is no higher, creative being to aspire to, or to believe in; no meaning in being born into a world that only ends in death.
Only A Small Step is Lacking
Britta is unaware that there is but a small step between seeing no purpose or meaning to life here in this world, and to a genuine longing to search for, and finding such meaning. Can others help her take this step, by talking about it? Can the hope that there is meaning, be given to her? Apparently not, when all attempts to steer the conversation in such a direction, no matter how carefully, are consistently blocked by her.
Such a situation can leave the therapist feeling helpless; they are confronted with the realisation that in this instance, a limit has been reached. The only thing that is accepted by Britta in the end, is the small hope that in time, she will discover a degree of meaning in her life. This vague prospect of a future with some hope, does move her enough to reveal her suicidal thoughts, and through such an openness, she also starts to put some ‘distance’ between herself and these thoughts, and begins to accept the protection of an institution by voluntarily placing herself in their care.
Why does the question of the meaning of life, awaken the need to search for an answer in one person, while for another, a fall into total despair?
Britta, the 16 year-old school girl, sees no way out at the moment; the realisation of the finiteness of all things has knocked her down. Nevertheless, that glimmer of hope will not die, and the chances are high that in the near future, this same hope will lift her up again. Then she may find the courage to confront her life again, even if the meaning of it is still mostly hidden from her.
This change will see her gradually experiencing friendships, companionships, warmth, security, confidence, and a new light within herself, so that despite, or even because of, the deeply felt transitory nature of life, she can once again find joy, and at some point, perhaps a meaning to life.
The inner realisation of the impermanence of everything earthly, is a prerequisite for seeking a spiritual path. But what inspires a person to begin searching for something ‘other’, for the imperishable, while others resign themselves to the conviction that with death, everything is over, and there is no higher meaning? Many people still seem to live quite well and find a degree of fulfillment in their lives, even without longing after meaning.
From one perspective, it is understandable that the intense experience of transience can be so completely overpowering, that it seems only natural to surrender to it.
A Sudden Clarity
So how is it that the realisation of the existence of the eternal, actually arise in a person?
It can come suddenly, like a flash of light that illuminates our inner being and literally makes everything appear different. Imagine a person who has reached ‘the end of the road’, who no longer knows which way to turn, but suddenly, between one second and the next, a clarity emerges, a sudden flash of insight that there actually is something completely different, something beyond the impermanent. There arise in this person the inkling, the conscious perception of a power, an energy, which encompasses all that is transient, because it is infinitely greater.
This sudden realisation, which can sometimes occur precisely in the midst of banal everyday activities, can heal the senselessness, fill the finiteness of this world, and comfort the loneliness of death. It can happen in a split moment, but will also leave traces.
A kind of enlightenment, an awakening has taken place in such a person – an intense experience that seemingly, will outlast everything. But no, it gradually dissipates, weakens; but the memory of it however, remains vivid and crystal clear, etched into the heart like the certainty of infinity. This certainty causes the individual to begin seeking the source of this experience, and they begin a search that becomes the most important guiding principle in their life.
Every human being carries this source within them, mostly unconsciously. All major religions have made reference to it, often in figurative terms such as the ‘Rose of the heart’, the ‘Spirit Spark atom’, the ‘Jewel in the lotus’, the ‘Seed Grain of Jesus’, and even as the interface to eternity. This potential within us is immortal, it remains even after death; it keeps ‘calling’ patiently, perhaps over many lifetimes. At some point it is discovered, and the path to its source can begin – and the spectre of futility will at that moment, disappear.