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Finding Meaning by Living a Symbolic Life

Finding Meaning by Living a Symbolic Life

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Published by Edward L Hester
Robert A. Johnson asks "What does it mean to live a life of meaning?" It means we become a symbol of something greater than our selves. This is learning to live.
Robert A. Johnson asks "What does it mean to live a life of meaning?" It means we become a symbol of something greater than our selves. This is learning to live.

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Published by: Edward L Hester on Jun 12, 2010
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07/04/2010

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Finding Meaning by Living a Symbolic Life These days, Westerners find themselves, li.

ke Alice in “Through the Looking Glass”, running faster and faster only to stand still. We spend our first quarter of life preparing to live, our second quarter of life attempting to build “the good life”, the third quarter of life wondering how the good life became a nightmare, and the fourth quarter wondering what we did wrong and, perhaps retreating from the world. . In the press of that second quarter of earning our living, making a family, raising quarrelsome kids, and struggling to keep a good face on, we don’t have the time or the energy to reflect on what is going wrong. When things go wrong, we try harder; if that doesn’t work, we believe that we just aren’t enough…not tough enough, not smart enough, not wise enough, not loving enough, not unselfish enough…to overcome such a hostile world. . When we first begin our young adulthoods, we assume that if we do what everyone else is doing, we’ll be fine. We do what our parents did. Work hard. Speak the truth. Give an honest days work for our pay. Be honest. Keep your word. It isn’t until mid-life, usually, that we discover that we’ve been following the wrong rules and that something is wrong with the assumptions we made about how life worked. But we don’t stop until we are forced to, until our body breaks down, we become ill, or until our mind stops thinking because we’ve burnt out, or until our spouse walks out on us. . Sometime around mid-life for a lot of us, we realize our life has become a prison and that we are held in place working like a fly in a spider’s web. We find we’re working harder and harder just to keep what we have, to keep the house maintained, the lawn mowed, the children busy, the spouse happy, the job secure. But we think in our private momentes that our life has become a trap, and we can‘t step out of it without the whole house of cards coming down around us. . Too often, our marriages have become loveless and exhausted. Our children hate us and run away blaming us for their troubles. We face each day on the job with a sense of fatigue or dread. One more day with that tyrannical boss. One more day trying to do both your own job and all the housework and meet the kids needs without support from your husband. One more day working yourself to death for low wages. One more day of trying to hold everything together without a spouse to help you deal with the world or help you fight the loneliness and impersonality of our lives. . Through the ages, many people have experienced this same issue and, in the midst of

their daily lives, sought for ways to live their lives in a more meaningful way. Religions, especially, have served the purpose of helping people to raise their eyes higher, to see a purpose in the world and in their lives, to accept suffering as a part of life and to find courage and meaning in even the simplest things here on earth. But over the centuries, our churches have become…in too many cases…empty of meaning as well. . Robert A. Johnson, in his book Living Your Unlived Life, asserts this: . When a religious institution no longer contains satisfactory answers, then we are forced to go on “the quest” utilizing symbols that arise from our own unconscious. . This is the “turn within” that mystics and scholars have written about for aeons. When the rules and beliefs one has followed all ones life cease to have meaning or to work for you, you realize that looking without for answers isn’t going to solve your problem. There is only one thing to do, and that is to begin watching ones dreams and daydreams for insight into what needs to change. This “quest” is not a search without for information or wisdom…that never works; it is a search within ones self for answers to the problem of how to live and how to resolve this issue of meaningfulness in life! . Johnson continues, The quest involves listening to your interior intelligence, taking it seriously, staying true to it, and approaching it with a religious attitude. In Jungian psychology, this quest is known as “individuation”--discovering the uniqueness of ourselves, finding your purpose and meaning. It relates to wholeness, not some indiscriminate wholeness, but rather your particular relationship to everything else. . Before the Age of Christ, there was a long period when poets and mystics taught their students to live a life with symbolic meaning: serve in one’s life something greater than ones self, respect the gods and see your life as personifying some great principle of Life itself. This was called “living the symbolic life.” In the old days, myth spelled out the themes of human life in the lives of “the gods”. In the ancient art of theatre and poetry of Homer, in the myths of the gods Zeus, Apollo, Demeter, Kore, Aphrodite, Mars, Kronos, Gaia and others, the reasons for the “way things are” were given, and the meaning of tragedy, chaos, loss and gain were deeply explored. Man’s place in the Universe was explained. The laws under which life was expressed and expanded were sounded. And everyman and woman could see in his or her own life the ways in which these themes resounded on a personal or individual level. Each man could see that he lived his own myth, his own “great story”. Each woman could find in her own personal experience the themes embodied by her gods or goddess. He or she could see that, in the ordinary details of life, the great themes of Life resounded and took form. They could see their lives on

more than a literal level. They could find significance for their lives on a metaphorical or symbolic level. . Johnson relates: . When we learn to live our lives symbolically rather than literally, new vistas open to us. This world, the world of ordinary life, once again becomes ensouled, mysteriously interconnected, meaningful and fascinating. . Only the symbolic life can express the need of the soul…And because people have no such thing, they can never step out of this awful, grinding, banal life in which they are ‘nothing but.’ . One of the tragedies in the history of Western Religious history was when the early Catholic Church began to insist that its followers believe in the literal historic truth in its sacred texts and discount the mythic nature of spiritual teachings. The early Church made it a test of belief and salvation that its followers accept the teachings as literally true rather than metaphorically true, not accepting that That Which Cannot be Described was contained in its historical descriptions of the history of Jesus and ethical rules. Subsequently, followers of Christianity began increasingly trapped in literal descriptions of historic events rather than reaching beyond themselves towards the non-physical realms or towards personal spiritual experience. . One way to step out of literalness is to relearn to live a symbolic life, to view your life from a poetic or symbolc perspective.If you are interested in learning to live in a new way, consider these references as a beginning to your search: . Robert A Johnson Living Your Unlived Life

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