“We are all meaning-seeking, meaning creating creatures and when we experience the loss of meaning, we suffer.” ~ James Hollis
Why do we humans find ourselves eventually having a compelling “need” to answer questions about “the mystery”? Does this “need” rank up there in some kind of way like our need for air, food, water, safety, relationships, sex and so on? In my opinion, the answer is “yes”.
Although there are many theories of “human motivation” within the study of psychology, I have always resonated with the way that psychologist Abraham Maslow categorized them into a kind of hierarchy. He outlined a model whereby there are “lower” needs that he felt we humans very much must meet first (such as our biological needs, safety and security needs, love and belongingness needs, and self esteem needs) before we could free ourselves to focus on “higher” needs (which includes our needs for meaning, to live a fulfilled life, to feel some type of relationship with something that transcends my sense of being an individual).
Maslow’s research and his theory of needs clearly points out that we humans do have some type of inherent need to understand life beyond the mundane and the smallness of my individual existence. Part of being this thing we call a “human being” includes a need to seek an understanding of these questions of the mystery and to find our place in the big scheme of things.
And what happens when this natural human need is not met (assuming that our basic needs are met)? We can be left with a sense that something is missing from our lives. We can experience a push within ourselves to seek answers to our questions.
Our seeking can take us in many directions. We can look for answers from philosophy or from traditional religion. We can look for answers within the framework of material science. We can turn to drugs to deaden the need or to give us altered states of consciousness from which we might derive meaning. We can seek to be a “spiritual person” who goes out and reads books, attends seminars, takes classes seeking to find the meaning in the vast marketplace of spirituality. Or we can “try them all”.
No matter which direction we go, we begin to formulate answers to our questions about the mystery. Our life experiences and learning bump into things that make sense to us and we add that “truth” to our collection of other truths. Much like assembling a jigsaw puzzle, we get an answer from one place and another answer from another place and we try to assemble the big picture of “what’s it all about”. This leads to our next topic….how we make “mental maps”