Two words have been coming up often in my thoughts, blogs, journals, and meditations: Truth and Meaning. At first, these seem like simple words.
The sentence, “I want to live a meaningful life that comes from my Truth” rolls off of my lips (and my heart) so easily. This is what I feel within my core.
But when I step back and try to unpack what I actually mean by Truth and Meaning, things become more difficult. Truth and Meaning are big words. Nebulous words. Words that we often throw around without feeling into what we’re actually saying.
What does it mean to live from my Truth?
What does it mean for my life to be Meaningful?
Philosophers have spent hundreds (and thousands) of years trying to dissect these concepts, and I in no way think that I will be able to solve these questions in one blog post. I do, however, want to dig a bit deeper into what I mean (and perhaps what you mean) when we say these words.
There are many people who have tried to unpack the concept of truth. After his enlightenment, the first piece of wisdom that the Buddha is believed to have shared are the four noble truths, the first of which is that “all existence is suffering.” The rest of the truths go on to tell us where suffering comes from, and how to transcend suffering.
Philosophers try to answer the question “What is truth” with a variety of methods and inquiries, things like “Proposition P is true if P is the case, and P is the case if P is true. Together with all other propositions which meet the same criterion, P can then claim to inhabit the realm of Truth. But is P the case?”
I’ll stop here before our brains explode
Suffice it to say that when I speak of Truth, I’m talking less about universal truths and more about my unique, personal Truth. My personal Truth is connected to universal truth, but it is also my Soul’s unique way of embodying Truth on this planet. I still don’t know what this means logically (with my mind) but I know what it feels like when I touch on it (with my heart). There’s a surge of energy and a release that I get when I am living and speaking from my Truth. Whether I’m giving a workshop or teaching a yoga class or connecting with someone one-on-one, I feel my Truth when it’s there.
I don’t hear a special, magical voice speaking to me from another realm, as many self-help-types do. Instead, I feel something within me. It doesn’t speak, but if it could, it would be saying something like “Yes, this is it! You are connected. You are love. You have so much love and light to share. Don’t be afraid.”
I used to be completely shut off from this part of myself. Over the years I’ve been developing a closer relationship with my Truth, or my True Self, but my default is often still to consult with my logical, analytical mind. To try to solve a problem rationally instead of from an airy-fairy fluffy place somewhere within me that I call my Truth. Which brings me to our next topic: Meaning.
My airy fairy fluffy Truth-filled place wants me to create a meaningful life. Ok great. But what does this mean? Yes, I am asking what meaning means. But stay with me.
Again, philosophers have been trying to unpack this concept for ages. A recent New York Times article on “The Problem With Meaning” suggests that the word meaning “is flabby and vacuous, the product of a culture that has grown inarticulate about inner life.” The author goes on to say that “Because meaningfulness is built solely on an emotion, it is contentless and irreducible” and “Because [meaning is] based solely on sentiment, it is useless.”
I think that statements like these come from our society’s general devaluing of emotions and feelings. We like to focus on objective, “hard science,” not vague concepts like how we feel. To many of us, Truth is what we can see. What we can prove scientifically. Truth is reduced to situations in which you can reject your null hypothesis with a less than 5% chance of error. Meaning is thought to be useless because it is based on touchy feely things like emotions and sentiments.
As a researcher, my academic “parents” raised me to love the scientific method. The most consistent message that I’ve received in my ten plus years of university education is to trust good science. I’ve been thoroughly trained in how to design solid research studies and do complex statistical analyses to test hypotheses. And, while I still appreciate the value of good science, I think that its dogma has caused many scientists to be so cynical and skeptical that we are actually biasing ourselves.
To me, a crucial aspect of doing good science is keeping an open mind. If those who came before us had kept their minds closed, we would still think the earth was flat and that the sun revolved around the earth. Science eventually helped establish what was “false” about these concepts. But at first they were just theories. It took a certain level of open-mindedness to even consider testing them.
In my opinion, open-mindedness leads to innovation. Cynicism and skepticism, including a hard-nosed grasping to trying to prove everything objectively, can lead to bias.
In the same way that an atheist or agnostic completely throws out the idea of God, we often throw out the idea that there is more to this universe than what we can see and/or prove scientifically.
I think that the website I F*cking Love Science has become increasingly popular largely because of our obsession with a belief that the scientific method can prove or disprove everything (and IFLScience posts pretty cool stuff!). And guess what? I f*cking love science. I really do. I wouldn’t have devoted so much of my life to science if I didn’t. But, as someone who is intimately familiar with the shadow side of the scientific method, I think our culture could use a dose of valuing things beyond science. Appreciating the fact that maybe, just maybe, there are questions that science can’t answer.
As an example, check out this article in Scientific American, written by the publisher of Skeptic Magazine, who’s job it is to de-bunk airy fairy ideas. The author experienced a mysterious event that shook his skepticism to the core – and that science can’t explain. He states that:
“…if we are to take seriously the scientific credo to keep an open mind and remain agnostic when the evidence is indecisive or the riddle unsolved, we should not shut the doors of perception when they may be opened to us to marvel in the mysterious.”
I couldn’t agree more.
How does all of this relate to Meaning and Truth? Well, my declaration that “I want to live a meaningful life that comes from my Truth” flies in the face of what we value scientifically. This statement is subjective, personal, and very difficult to quantify. Does science know what’s in my heart? Can I use science to tell me what it means to live a meaningful life? As a scientist who does research on yoga and positive psychology I am, in a sense, trying to answer this question. Similarly, organizations like the Mind & Life Institute have made steps toward bringing subjective experience back into science, by, for example, valuing first-, second-, and third-person accounts of phenomena. But we still have a long way to go.
For now I’m content to sit in the open-minded perspective that my personal Truth and Meaning are not “contentless,” “irreducible,” or “useless.” Instead, my Truth and my Meaning burn deeply within me, as real as my fingers typing these words. Sure, this is my subjective experience. But I think that:
When I live and act from my own felt sense of Truth and Meaning, I make the world a better place. @BethanyButzer (Click to Tweet!)
And, after all, shouldn’t that be one of the aims of science, too?
Bethany Butzer, Ph.D. is an author, speaker, researcher, and yoga teacher who helps people create a life they love. Check out her book, The Antidepressant Antidote, follow her on Facebook and Twitter, and join her whole-self health revolution. If you’d like tips on how to create a life you love, plus some personal instruction from Bethany, check out her online course, Creating A Life You Love: Find Your Passion, Live Your Purpose and Create Financial Freedom.
Image courtesy of Dick Sebregts.