Once, my son, when he was five years old, came to me and said, “Baba (for Dad in Marathi), I know now what life is”.
While trying to hide my shock, I said, ”OK. Then tell me, what it is.”
He said, “Life is a flower”
That seemed like a great thought and my further probe revealed that he had obtained that deep knowledge from the song by Ace Of Base, that I played more often those days!
Our daily grind does not require us to know the answer to the question of what our life is, but the question indeed draws us to it once in a while. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs could be of help here. The needs at the four lower levels of the pyramid (i.e. physiological, safety, love & esteem) are objective and so basic that they define the purpose and meaning of life automatically.
But as one approaches the fifth and the top level of Maslow’s pyramid – the abstract need of self-actualization – the struggle to know the purpose and meaning of life increases. I stumbled upon a classic book, The Intellectual Life by A.G. Sertillanges, in my struggle and was mesmerized by a clear and simple answer given in it. The book prescribes an intellectual life along with its 5Ws and 1 H!
The book is full of brilliant ideas, but let me share the essence. We strive to get as much knowledge and skills as required to help meet basic needs and once we are assured of meeting those needs, we decide to simply stop gaining the knowledge and skills further. Agreeably, it’s a pity to let those capacities stagnate. The author thinks that one should look at that as a starting point, choose one of the paths, and call it our vocation to pursue further. The best path is the one that pleases us the most, but while doing so we must not overestimate our capability. Accepting ourselves as we are, ensures good results. The author assures that every truth is practical and has saving power, so one should not worry about if the chosen vocation would solve the real problems of the world.
The author said the following at the time of writing, I guess, about 100 years back and I think it was never more true than now:
The world is in danger for lack of life-giving maxims. We are in a train rushing ahead at top speed, no signals visible. The planet is going it knows not where, its law has failed it: who will give it back its sun?
The book guides pursuing a vocation that is directed towards discovering new ideas for humanity. What you need is to choose your vocation and follow the recipe given in the book to find the meaning and the purpose of your life.
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