What is the Meaning of Life for a Man?
As a boy growing up, I was tortured by the question ‘What is the meaning of life?’, everything seemed so illogical and frightening, however after a selection of life traumas, I was forced to grow or die and that is when the internal question shifted more to ‘What is the meaning of life for a man?’
Now, the two aforementioned questions lead you down two very different paths.
The ‘meaning of life’ question is one most people ignore, some seek spiritual guidance for, and a minority spend their lives engaging with.
While not by choice, I was in the latter camp (perhaps consistent childhood beatings and excessive psychoactive drug use makes a person more obsessively contemplative).
“As each situation in life represents a challenge to man and presents a problem for him to solve, the question of the meaning of life may actually be reversed. Ultimately, man should not ask what the meaning of his life is, but rather he must recognize that it is he who is asked.”Viktor Frankl
Whatever it was, I charted my way through the endless dry intellectualism of French existentialism, finding some connection with its ‘absurdist’ view of logic in a world that isn’t logically explainable.
Yet, this was still a philosophy of despair, and my soul was bearing the weight of meaninglessness.
Fix up, look sharp
Truth be told, I was a mopey sod back then and when I was told to crack on with life and stop philosophizing, I’d think the person saying this was dumb and blind.
However, dumb and blind or not, there is an innate wisdom in these words that began to ring true.
As stated above, I had to process some traumatic experiences I’d experienced in early life – my brother was a very violent and aggressive paranoid schizophrenic who beat me and my mother consistently and ended up taking his own life.
That was inner turmoil that had to be dealt with.
However, in dealing with it, meaning began to emerge, forming the beginnings of the understanding that in facing suffering honestly and authentically, we begin to enliven.
Consider this quote from Viktor Frankl, a holocaust survivor, and author of the famous book Mans Search for Meaning:
“As each situation in life represents a challenge to man and presents a problem for him to solve, the question of the meaning of life may actually be reversed.
“Ultimately, man should not ask what the meaning of his life is, but rather he must recognize that it is he who is asked.
“In a word, each man is questioned by life; and he can only answer to life by answering for his own life; to life he can only respond by being responsible.”
What Frankl is explaining here is what also happened to me, I had to get to a place in understanding that the answer to the ultimate meaning of life didn’t exist on the intellectual plane.
Henceforth, I came to see the mind is a thinking factory, a logic machine, and it is that very logic machine that is asking the question in the first place.
I thus realised I had been stuck in an endless negative feedback loop and to make meaningful progress I had to venture beyond the mind to that which precedes and underpins it.
Life Beyond the Mind
There are two fundamental places life exists beyond the mind: in spirit, and in action.
These two domains constitute the make-up of reality before the mind adds labels, questions and perceptions upon the world.
The spiritual realm is perhaps the most ignored and misunderstood in our era, however, the less said about it the better, as words cannot really capture its essence.
The spiritual realm of life, or consciousness, underpins all, and therefore cannot be reduced to words and labels – instead it must be actively experienced.
While this piece doesn’t focus on this dimension too greatly, you can check out the below video for further insight in this regard:
To get to the heart of that key question ‘What is the meaning of life for a man?’, we must then delve into the other dimension, and that is the dimension of action undertaken in the world.
As I stated earlier, the truth I experienced when struggling with my place in life and what the meaning of it all was finally began to disperse when I started to face, accept and process the suffering in my life.
After years of wandering around in mental desolation, my soul a spiritual desert, consumed by resentment towards my distant father and by-then deceased brother, it was my addictive behaviour that forced me to see that if I continued on that path I would die.
Henceforth, I engaged on a path of pure honesty, spiritual work, therapy, men’s work and more, and found that by practicing complete honesty, trust began to build (especially with other men).
I also found resentment began to lift as I expressed my trauma and prayed to let go of the pain and resentment towards other people, wishing them love and peace, not hate and revenge.
In essence, I sacrificed my emotional sense of tortured, victimized self for a shot at the unknown – at a life which wasn’t predicated on my own mental/emotional perception.
And boy, did it work.
Here I finally learnt that meaning comes to you in the form of actively processing life, of accepting life as it is, and by engaging with it in harmony by letting the natural flow of life – call that evolution, the spirit of the universe, God, or whatever you will – take control and guide me, as opposed to me guiding it.
After years of snobbishly looking down on anything spiritual and regurgitating anything Richard Dawkins said, all of a sudden life started to make sense.
‘Who am I to demand meaning from life when it is life that has created me? Maybe I should let go to that higher wisdom that has built the universe, the earth, the human body and mind, that is consciousness itself and let truth flow through me,” I began to think.
In time, this began to show me that every hard experience I’d had – be it the childhood beatings, the addictive drug use, being cheated on (or being rejected by women in general) being stuck unemployed and unemployable – had contained within it a seed of growth, a path to evolution, and the potential to turn me into a man toughened by brutal hardship, trained in forgiveness and made wise to untruth and manipulation.
In essence, I was gifted truth in the shape of raw, earthy values that show you how to live life.
What is the meaning of life for a man?
An adage that is popular in men’s growth work is that girls naturally evolve into women, while boys need to be moulded into men through hard experience and noble suffering.
The core meaning of this harks back to the notion that as a woman develops sexually, she has a natural evolutionary impulse to be attracted to men who are emotionally and physically strong, competent, capable and mature.
Naturally, these are the qualities she seeks in a potential father to her offspring, as such a man is capable of protecting her and the children.
The problem for men lays in the fact that we are not born with such competencies, instead, we must strive to overcome difficulties and be trained by wise elders in order to become a man, else we’ll stay as the eternal Peter Pan-like manchild in Neverland.
Importantly, these qualities of manhood and men are not limited to purely sex and recreation of the species.
What most men find when they engage in this work is a greater sense of peace within, with other men, and with the Mother Nature and Father Culture that surrounds and underpins their being.
Now, our present culture seems to be promoting the complete opposite of this, with simplistic notions of ‘toxic masculinity’ and patriarchy crafting a good/evil dichotomy which seems to offer some kind of psuedo-spiritual ideology in our post-religious age.
This has led to a situation in which real strong men are denigrated as bad, while a facsimile of a ‘strong man’ is he who shares his emotions and cries.
Regular Recovering Man readers will know I am not against men showing emotion, but that I believe (through hard experience) that they are better off sharing that pain with other men invested in their growth, not with their girlfriends, co-workers or ideologues.
This rejection of the masculine tribe is so damaging because it moves men further away from the wise elders they need to help them grow in fatherly love – i.e. the men who can reawaken the ritualistic processes of growth man has engaged in since the dawn of time – and embeds them further into painful, chaotic emotionality.
It’s a harsh truth for modern, sheltered men, but crying to one’s wife, girlfriend and co-workers is not the behaviour of a strong, integrated and centred man.
Women do not respect and are not attracted to a weak, emotional wreck, no matter how much The Guardian tries to convince men otherwise, this is a truth that too many young men today are discovering the hard way.
To make matters worse, an increasingly sedentary lifestyle in which convenience and complacency come before struggle and strife has created a generation of boys who are unprepared for the realities of life.
Henceforth, men are afraid of confrontation at work, unable to keep a woman satisfied and carry fear and resentment in their hearts (especially around other men, but also regarding life in general).
This situation has led to the meteoric rise of someone like Jordan Peterson, with his firm approach in convincing men why they must face their fears and suffering and grow up.
Dr Peterson has said: “What I’ve been telling young men is that there’s an actual reason why they need to grow up. Which is that they have something to offer.
“People have within them this capacity to set the world straight and that’s necessary to manifest in this world.
“Also, doing so is where you find the meaning that sustains you in life.”
So, in essence, to acquire the meaning our soul craves, we must let go to the path life has already laid out in front of us.
Meaning comes from facing fear, embracing adversity and implementing self-discipline that is empowered by the values gained in the fires of sincere and noble experience.
In letting go to this process, we let go of the complaining, judging and intellectualizing mind, sacrificing it for the unknown higher truth of life itself.
This is what a ‘leap of faith’ truly means, giving yourself to the reality of what is and letting it mould you into the optimal version of what you can possibly become.
Key Takeaway Points
- Realize life’s meaning is not an intellectual pursuit
- Begin the process of facing your fear, trauma and inner resentments
- Express the above to wise elders/men on a similar path
- Let go to a higher order of life (consciousness, nature, God, etc)
- Let values form from the truth of experience
- Live by said values
- Honour the lessons you’ve learnt by enacting them in the world
- Seek to serve and help other men learn and grow
- Become dependable and reliable
- Rest in life itself, not the mind
If you enjoyed this piece, why not consider downloading the free ‘Recovery Hacks’ e-book from Recovering Man, which contains 6 transformational lessons: