On the occasion of Yom Kippur (which was celebrated on Saturday this year), the Day of Atonement, the holiest day of the Jewish Year, reflection on the meaning of life is appropriate. Some thoughts follow.
If there is a design to life, to the sequence of events that occurs in the known world, and it is a design orchestrated by a deity or omniscient spiritual entity, then that deity or entity must be both infinitely good and wretchedly evil at the same time. That would be the only way to characterize our experience since the same entity that produced the giant majestic Redwoods also produced the Holocaust. And if there is a design, then our actions are meaningless since they have been pre-ordained. That is why I don’t believe in fate, destiny, or god. Perhaps it is comforting to assume that everything happens for a reason and that there is a greater meaning to all things, a meaning that we humans just don’t understand. I find that too simplistic.
Alternatively, if there is no method to the madness, no plan, and no design, then what we experience is random chaos. The sequence of events is a cause and effect progression with no significance and we are at the whim of chance. Once again, this renders our actions as meaningless. If our existence was set in motion by a higher entity, which then withdrew, then we are basically a failed science experiment, which I suppose is possible (anything is, really), but not likely. In any case, our actions are still meaningless. In a random universe, we can only celebrate with and console each other as we pass through the delights and tragedies of life. If events occur randomly then we have good cause to rise to anger at some of the pointless tragedies of the world. But I don’t believe the world functions in utter chaos and that we have no impact on it. I find that too easy.
It is certainly possible that both a divine design and random chaos co-exist in a tension or balance that is beyond the comprehension of my feeble human mind. That lets me off the hook. I can press the autopilot button and go on faith, not a bad option.
What if there is a design of sorts, but it is changeable? What if there is a way to influence the course of events? If fate does not exist, if all things are not necessarily “meant to be,” if the progression of events is mutable, then despite the tendency toward random occurrence or loose adherence to some mysterious design, we have a way to change the course of events and steer things to a different course from the one originally set in motion. How do we do that? I believe that everything, seen and unseen, here now and here in the past, living in this world and present at another level, has spirit and spiritual energy can never be destroyed. It can be changed and moved. It can never be uncreated. The universe is laced with spiritual energy, which interpenetrates our lives as spiritual beings, throughout the course of events. We can make an impact by the inter-penetration of spiritual energy. We have the opportunity and the potential to change the course of events with the energy we create, channel, invite, elicit, emanate, and conjure. So then our actions do have meaning. In which case, at Yom Kippur I pause to contemplate the fact that I am an imperfect being and to set for myself the improvements I wish to make in the coming year so that my impact is more positive and so that I can do a better job of connecting with spirit.
This is a true story. During the last summer of her life, when she knew she was dying, my friend Nan called me up on the night before our family left for our annual vacation at Manresa Beach in Watsonville. She said to me, “Say hello to the dolphins for me.” I promised I would. Sitting on Manresa Beach, I remembered her words and laughed about it since I had never seen a dolphin at Manresa in ten years of family vacations there. But I went to the ocean’s edge and called out, “Hello Dolphins. Nan says hello!” Later that day, you guessed it, a school of dolphins swam past the beach, jumping high out of the water so that they were clearly visible. Astonished, I called to them, “Nan says hello!” And from that time to this, I have seen dolphins at Manresa on every single visit I have made to that beach. Although Nan is no longer living, I always send the dolphins her regards.