“Ordinary men hate solitude. But the Master makes use of it, embraces his aloneness, realizing he is one with the whole universe.” – Laozi.
So far we have looked at internal purpose as the goal to make a good life for oneself, self-perfection, and personal happiness with contented solitude. Today we look at the fourth component of internal purpose, the search for meaning.
In earlier posts we saw how the meaningful life is at least partly a subjective appreciation of meaning within one’s life. In this view, one selects those aspects of life which add meaning to it. However, ultimately meaning is most often based on relationship to the external world. We may internalize meaning, but we seek it externally in the other levels of reality. Therefore I can find meaning in playing a beautiful piano piece for myself, but a greater meaning seems to come from sharing that experience with others (assuming sufficient skill and an appreciative audience). And of course practicing piano is best done alone and offers meaning through the development of greater skill and in preparation for performance for others.
In addition to subjective essence of the word meaning, there is a second dimension again deriving from solitude, that is, meaningful activities best done when alone. Among these are writing, creating art, and perhaps study, particularly philosophical study. Lars Svensen offers the example of Marguerite Duras who in her book, Writing, says:
“The solitude of writing is a solitude without which writing could not be produced or would crumble, drained bloodless by the search for something else to write…The person who writes books must always be enveloped by a separation from others.”1
The same I suspect can be said for all art – the painter or sculptor finds her greatest creativity in moments of freedom from the distraction of watchful eyes. The composer needs quiet and sequestering to do his greatest work. Likewise the philosopher requires sequestration in order to fully process and meditate on the meaning of great philosophical works.
To summarize, purpose in human meaning begins with internal reality, privacy, solitude, finding inner creativity, and personal meditation. Authenticity requires identifying for oneself what makes a good life, honing and purifying oneself towards perfection, defining happiness and meaning for oneself, and sufficient solitude to achieve freely chosen goals. Such purpose cannot be the injunctions of others, but can be shared with others. Time alone should not be due to unsociability, nor can it be so extreme as to lead to loneliness or isolation. Following these parameters, the attainment of internal purpose takes one a long way on the path to a meaningful life.
1Svendsen, Lars, A Philosophy of Loneliness. Reaktion Books, Ltd., London, 2015. ISBN 978-1-78023-747-3, page 123.