Life is a school. We are in a protected environment. This reality is a metaphor for larger realities in which we are to eventually take part. While what we do here does not have permanent consequences, it is vital for our learning that we take it somewhat seriously. Just as school work requires serious effort but isn't supposed to be performed perfectly, we are expected to make mistakes as we try to create the world from the model that we see dimly in our minds. The mistakes we make in life, the cruel and thoughtless things we do, are really the foibles of children. Your errors do not weight eternally against your soul, and they are not put on your permanent record. Their only purpose is to teach you to improve.
Feeling guilty is worthless unless it compels you to correct the error that you have committed and reminds you to not make the same mistake again in the future. Those are the only purposes of guilt. Guilt is not to be used to berate yourself uselessly after you have done all you can do to compensate for your action. Remember, the people you hurt chose to experience that reality, although they are not usually aware of that fact.
When it comes to individuals, there are as many purposes as there are people in the world. While you may be part of larger groups and ultimately part of the entire human race and part of life on this planet, you chose this reality for specific reasons. To determine these reasons, the first places to look are at the basic facts of your life. You are rich or poor, smart, dim, clumsy, athletic, ugly or good looking for a reason. The reason is because living life under those circumstances points you in the directions you are supposed to be going. You are not supposed to be perfectly well rounded, it is usually quite helpful to be lopsided. It is that lopsidedness that provides the direction and impetus for your individual development.
Disadvantages can provide challenges for you to battle, but another very important function of disadvantages is to provide natural barriers that prompt you to put your energies in other directions. People who are physically weak compensate by concentrating on their mental life. People who are not intellectual may be highly perceptive and 'intelligent' on an emotional level, but this talent is not often recognized as valuable by others. Whatever your circumstances, they have been designed to give you the experience and impetus required to accomplish the tasks you have set for yourself here.
Some people have given themselves major problems in order to learn hard lessons quickly. Others take life in measured doses as they slowly work their way toward an understanding of the true meaning of manhood or womanhood, creativity or stagnation, friendship or hatred, independence or dependence. When you have recognized the major circumstances and factors which are directing your life, you can begin to understand what trials or adventures will complete your training.
Aside from your physical situation, you have a set of metaphors which you use to interpret the world. There are many different type of metaphors used by people as described in the Why does the world seem completely insane discussion. These metaphors serve to hide some areas of life and emphasize others. The question is, are your metaphors positive, expansive and flexible, providing you with creative challenges? Or are they negative, fearful, and claustrophobic, stifling your creative impulses and smothering you with fearful dogma?
Let's look at the characteristics of these two types of systems:
Base moral judgments on the actual helpfulness or harmfulness of someone's behavior Leave large areas of behavior morally neutral, so that you have room to find compromises with others who see things differently.
Encourage you to listen to and understand people who are different from you.
Define standards of moral behavior but allow that thoughts and feelings are not controllable and are exempt from 'moral' judgments.
Expect your natural inclinations to lead you into creative endeavors that will help you to find your place in the world and meet your need to act effectively.
Base moral judgments on unquestionable 'lists' of what is good or bad behavior.
Encourage you to only associate with people with your beliefs and background.
Define thoughts and feelings as being good or bad, bad thoughts or feelings should be fought.
Expect you natural inclinations to be toward lazy or immoral behavior, requiring you to ignore your natural impulses and focus on ideas and activities given to you by others.
Groups also serve as symbols in the social world. Groups with different beliefs than your group provide you with viewpoints you wouldn't have otherwise considered. They also represent parts of your own mind that you are not focusing on. However, if you fear those parts of your mind, this representation can degenerate into projection, which is a bad thing. See Why is there so much hate in the world?.
Unlike animals, humans create most of their environment themselves. The main focus of most people's lives is not on the business of survival, it is on the business of building and maintaining their civilization. Our energies are dedicated to the development, communication, and expression of ideas; to cooperative effort with others on common tasks; and to using tools to change our environment to reflect our vision. Our main attention has been turned away from the natural world for several thousand years. The development of global economies and the resulting global environmental issues are pushing us back toward an appreciation of and involvement with our natural heritage. The development of technology and the resulting alienation of ourselves from the physical world and from each other have resulted in an increasing interest in spiritual questions (such as the meaning of life). These spiritual questions are pushing us back toward a more integrated understanding of our place in the universe.
This isn't supposed to be a turning back of the clock however. The intense objectivity and reflection developed by humanity is supposed to bring a new awareness to the task. We are not to simply take our place as natural creatures as we once did. Nor are we to attempt to subjugate the environment and our own natures as we have been doing. The forces of nature around us and within us are living, conscious things. We must learn from these forces. We must form a partnership, a symbiosis. We are to continue to try and bring our vision of life out into the physical world, but we must form and implement that vision cooperatively.
We cannot force new patterns onto the natural and psychological forces that created us and that give us our physical and mental lives. Instead, we must understand the patterns already within the world and our minds and work within them and build upon them. We must become co-creators of our world. That is the challenge for the next millennium. It's the only game worth playing.
It is frustrating, but the most others can do is give you clues about what meaning and truth will look like so that you can recognize them. If anyone promises you more, steer clear. They want you to trust them instead of trusting your own nature.
Steer clear, that is, unless they really know the truth and have actually found a way to communicate it to you. Are there people like that? We haven't met them yet, but we are not discounting the possibility.
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