You’re a more advanced species than a cockroach, right? You ever tried explaining yourself to one? — The Mothman Prophecies
The Meaning of Life
In The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, mankind builds a computer so powerful that it is capable of answering life’s ultimate question. And it yields the answer: “42.”
Kind of disappointing.
The idea is that we don’t understand the answer because we haven’t yet come up with the right question. How could a numerical answer possibly provide enough information to answer the ultimate question of life, the universe, and everything?
Apparently, Stephen Fry knows what Douglas Adams had in mind when he wrote the now-infamous bit about 42. But he says that he’ll take the secret to his grave, which isn’t exactly helpful. And so we are left to muse…
At this point in my life, I have completely accepted the idea that we go around more than once. I see far too much beauty in the world around me to deny belief in a higher power or divine energy that holds all this chaos together. It’s just inconceivable to me that there isn’t some sort of purpose to it all.
The purpose that I see is growth; experience. We are on the earth for the same reason we send our children to school. Whether every lifetime is the cosmic equivalent of a school year, a semester, or a single day — I have no idea.
We may not remember our previous lives, but that doesn’t mean that we aren’t learning from them. When you meet someone that seems incredibly patient, unnaturally kind, or just blissfully serene, you may be encountering a very old and experienced soul. Have some reverence — even if you’re their elder in this life.
Likewise, when you stumble across someone who is rude, impulsive, and selfish, understand that this may very well be one of their first times on this planet. Recognize that you have been there — even if not recently.
Perhaps this kind of thinking lines up with one of the Eastern religions. I’m not sure. I’ve not studied Buddhism or Hinduism at all, and I’m not sure if either of those religions thinks of your soul as an entity that exists in a universe wholly apart from our own. I do.
We all have souls in us that, when freed from the meager trappings of our human bodies, are capable of great and wondrous things. Things beyond our comprehension because they exist outside of space and time — something we cannot imagine.
When our souls aren’t off in this other-worldly place (which a friend of mine affectionately refers to as “the soup”), they are here on earth, learning. It’s possible that after we learn all we can as humans we move onto another planet in another solar system to exist as another, more highly-evolved creature. In fact, that’s quite probable.
In other words: mankind is the kindergarten of the soul. We live through it as many times as we must before moving on to bigger and better things.
Because our spiritual being exists outside of space and time as we know it, there is no chronology to its comings and goings. During one life, we experience the turn of the 20th century. In the next, we may be breaking bread with Jesus. And so it is entirely possible that we will end up running into ourselves.
In fact, I think it is quite common for us to meet up with an older (or younger) version of ourselves. I believe it happens all the time.
If that’s not a reason to find some compassion for your fellow man, I don’t know what is. The next time you see someone acting like a complete idiot, pause and think for a second that it might be you in another life. And you need to learn that lesson. That’s why we’re here: to make mistakes and to grow from them.
“You can’t spare anyone their own experience.”
Growth of the Soul
What is the yardstick of our progress? What measures our spiritual growth?
The simplest answer is “goodness.” Whether or not we know the true definition of “good” is up for debate. But the concept is clear. Everyone knows what “good” is supposed to mean.
We are on this earth so that our souls can learn to be good.
Clearly, this is one hell of thing to learn. We are constantly presented with opportunities to be anything but “good.” And we constantly give in.
Some people seem better at being good than others. Are these the old souls? Possibly. I like to think that being good is something so difficult that it takes a lot of practice. (It makes me feel better about myself when I’m being ungood.)
Two Explanations for Bad Behavior
But then, what about those people who seem drawn into darkness? Undeniably, there are some bad people in this world. Sometimes we can explain why people do the things they do, but other times it seems like they were just “born that way.” Is it possible that some people are born bad because they have spent many lifetimes internalizing the wrong habits?
This is a question that I struggle with all the time. Are bad people simply young souls that deserve our forgiveness and our help? Or are they old souls that have rejected the central reason for our existence (the pursuit of “good”) and instead chosen to focus on selfish and short-sighted gain during this lifetime?
Enter the answer the ultimate question of life, the universe, and everything.
Let’s suppose that there is only one soul. In this case, that soul is probably closer to most people’s concept of God. He (or she) is all-powerful and exists in another plane than our own. This soul created our universe for the sole purpose of living in it — over and over again. And becoming good.
Now let’s suppose that there are many, many souls. Possibly millions or billions of them. Possibly just a few. These souls are sent into this universe so that they can return to their own world wiser and better.
In the first situation, God (the only soul) creates existence to perfect himself. There is no end game beyond experience. All that is not good in the universe is a mistake that God learns from; existence is a slow but unmistakable march towards goodness. So relax! We’re getting somewhere, even if it doesn’t seem like it.
In the second situation, each one of the multitude of souls has its own mind to make up. There is the potential for both good and evil. We understand this when we send our kids to school, but we do it anyway because we know that most people turn out good.
On one hand, we have a supremely powerful entity — far beyond our own comprehension. His motives are inexplicable to us, because we cannot fathom an existence without other people and without the constant pressure to survive.
On the other, we have a civilization much like our own — but much older. A civilization far from perfection, but striving towards goodness every day — yet still with the possibility of evil.
How many souls are there?
The way I see it, there are two possible answers.
If the answer is one, then we know two things: 1) We are all one; we are all God. 2) The only possible explanation for existence is to seek goodness. (Because “goodness” is so subjective, I highly recommend replacing it with “love.” That makes it easier to understand.)
If the answer is a number (like 42), then we know that we are part of a civilization that exists far outside this world. We were put on this earth to grow, much like in the above scenario. Only now there is a greater sense of urgency, because not all of us are walking a good and loving path. And these will be our neighbor-souls one day.
Either way, the answer doesn’t seem to change the end-game –or what we should be doing here and now.
I wonder: should we be disappointed that knowing the answer to life’s greatest questions doesn’t change what we intuitively understand? Or is that greater proof that we’re asking the right questions and on the right track?
Live for love. Strive for goodness. Forgive those who wrong you, remembering that you have done the same before and you will again.
And help those around you see the world this way. You might just be helping yourself. But even if you’re not, you’re still helping your neighbor.
After all, there are only 42 of us!