What is the meaning of life? Did Shakespeare know it?

To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,
To the last syllable of recorded time;
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player,
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.

Macbeth Act 5, scene 5, 19–28

Did Shakespeare really write this and all of the other works we give him credit for? A recent movie Anonymous plumbs this centuries old canard again. Amazing we spend more time worrying about who said this, then what the author meant. I don’t really care if Shakespeare wrote this or some miscreant wrote it who will forever remain unnamed. The profundity of the writings and the messages in these writings will echo down the halls of history for as long as humans walk the earth. They have infinitely more meaning than we can ever fathom and it matters not one wit who wrote them.

Think about the above passage. We are but fools whose time is short and we do not recognize it. We prance and clown and pose as though we were so important that whatever we do or say really matters. Our leaders (politicians, educators and ministers) act as though their ideas and positions are the most important in the world and everyone else’s position is that of a fool. Brown eyed people are superior to blue eyed people. Conservatives are superior to liberals. Catholics are superior to Jews. Americans are superior to everyone else in the world. Rich are superior to poor. Educated are superior to uneducated. Hard workers are superior to lazy workers. We learn all of these lies and more in one monstrously and hideously orchestrated effort to make our lives have real meaning.

We (you and I and everyone else) have not the slightest clue as to what real meaning is. We don’t know the difference between fact and theory or between science and art or between a truth and a lie. However, we have experts and thousands of talking heads to tell us what the difference is. Armed with the beliefs of the righteous, we sally forth upon the stage to strut our stuff. Our scenes will be over all too shortly but for a few brief moments, we can pretend that our petty lives are so important that everything else is secondary to them. This gives us the meaning that we all seek to sort out the reason and purpose of our existence on this planet.

However, there is no real meaning in ideas or in things or in egos that depend on being right or better or greater than others. Having more stuff, being wealthier or having more money has never been a passage to meaning. Any meaning we have from these positions is like the proverbial house built on sand. We see this every day in our “heroes’ who strut briefly upon the stage only to find that a short time later they are being booed off it. Meaning does not lie in things, or status or stuff or positions.

Meaning is a process. Meaning is ongoing and never ending. Like the horizon that keeps retreating as we get closer. You never obtain meaning since you must forever be reconstructing it. It changes every day and is never the same. What has meaning for you will not have meaning for me or perhaps for anyone else. Meaning is timeless and cannot be captured or bottled. Once you “capture” meaning it is no longer meaning. Then you have status and ego. The company position you so badly wanted might have created meaning in your life as you worked diligently and faithfully toward obtaining it. However, once it was obtained, you now began to define your life by it and you slowly but inexorably lose the meaning of your life.

This is how it happens with everything we want. Once we obtain it: fame, fortune, status, a custom motorcycle, once we have it, we now have lost our purpose and the meaning (for better or worse) of our life slowly erodes. Meaning is killed by stagnation and stagnation is a position while meaning is motion. Meaning is fluid and dynamic and each day brings new meaning when we are in process. Once the process becomes a product, we are no longer in meaning. Once we are defined by what we have or what we own, we have lost our meaning. Life becomes a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury and signifying nothing.

What is the meaning of your life? Have you found your meaning? What can you do to find it if you have not yet found it? Have you ever thought you had found the meaning of life and then lost it? Why?

4 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. bgalbreath
    Nov 15, 2011 @ 22:06:57

    Twenty five years ago, I reached the point where I was convinced that seeking meaning was a fools errand and that I was better off being content with things I recognized were ultimately meaningless. I am no longer so convinced. I like your idea that meaning (or purpose) is a process, something that comes and goes and is only worthwhile in the dynamic pursuit of it, not the achievement. The idea of meaning I was criticizing in 1985 was connected to a notion of permanence, of getting beyond the finite and transitory. I have swung back and forth several times in my life between taking religious ideas seriously and being extremely anti-religious. In 1985, I was in one of my skeptical periods, and now, not so much. Anyway, for what it's worth, I've pasted my long ago musings:

    ((I tried to paste it, but blogger wouldn't accept it because it limits the size of comments. I emailed it to you instead))



  2. John Persico
    Nov 16, 2011 @ 05:20:30

    Bruce, I had an article that was a study of great thinkers and it synthesized what they thought was the “meaning” of life. Using some type of content analysis they identified 9 or 10 different theories as to what the meaning of life is. I read each and one was of course “meaninglessness.” On any given day, I could easily subscribe to any of the 10 or perhaps another one. I think for me I have not found it yet but I really wonder if my blog was not closer to the truth than many of the religious theories. Perhaps there is no meaning except in our process to find meaning. Our process provides the meaning rather than whatever we are striving for. Maybe this is just theory number 11.



  3. Anonymous
    Jan 15, 2012 @ 02:17:43

    through our experience and time span we begin to creating meaning of our life. The meaning is not found through time itself,but yet within ourselves. Theres days where we brake away from that typical routine and start reflecting within ourselves.So we begin to question of being here.Within that we begin to see our life from a different perspective than before and see different point of views and analyze them. The whole meaning of life is created from inside and delivered to the world.One only feels achieved once this task has been delivered or you done your part. One can be empty inside and be leaving and have no purpose on being here alive.Being dead but yet alive can be possible thats the reason why i believe that the meaning is created within our brain. To acknowledge,analyze,understand and appreciation are key words to find meaning within our life span.
    Saul Rivera



  4. Saul Rivera
    Aug 08, 2014 @ 06:50:29


    Who wrote the previous comment ? He has my exact email and I dont recall writing this ?



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