It is in one way something of a cliche to say that the most important need we have in life is the need for meaning, the need for our lives to be actually meaningful to us. It is perfectly true at the same time but it is nevertheless a cliche in the sense that we have probably heard it too many times and – as a result – we are unlikely to reflect on this in anything more than a purely superficial fashion. We don’t reflect on what it might actually mean to have ‘meaning’ in our lives!
A good way to look at this whole question of ‘meaning in life’ is to look at what it isn’t, but might seem to be, and what we’re talking about here is extrinsic meaning – meaning that has been assigned, meaning that has been given. This is a very easy thing to understand of course – this is the type of meaning that comes out of our thinking, our ideas, our goals. Without any doubt at all this constitutes our Number 1 motivating factor in life – we do things because we think that it’s a good idea to do them, because we think something good will happen as a result, or because we think something bad will occur if we don’t. In this unfree modality of behaviour we do whatever we doing because we have to do it, because we are compelled to do it, because there is a compulsion operating on us (although this isn’t something that we see because we’re almost always identified with that compulsion).
When we identify with the compulsion then we are automatically orientated towards a deceptive or misleading form of meaning. Thought creates the type of meaning that we operate on in everyday life and this modality of meaning seems very straight forward and ‘as it should be’ but this is all the same very far from being the case. There’s trouble ahead when we use this type of ‘extrinsic’ motivational system, even though no one is ever going to tell us this, and – equally – we are not ever going to suspect anything ourselves. We’re quite happy to carry on along the rails of extrinsic motivation, as it were, until the time comes when we’re not happy – until the time comes when we hit a brick wall at high velocity. EM never navigates us to a good place in other words, but it always promises us that it will. That’s why we can say that extrinsic motivation is ‘misleading’, of course – it’s based on false promises!
The reason extrinsic meaning has this ‘trickster-like’ quality is because it is always orientated towards definite ends and there are no definite ends in reality – we are operating within a deluded mode of perception when we think that there are. On one level, we can of course see that there are ‘pragmatic definite ends’, ‘pragmatic definite aims’ – if there is a draft in the room then I can shut the door and this action can be seen as achieving a definite aim. If I go to a doctor’s appointment then getting to the right place at the right time can also be seen as achieving a defined aim. No one is going to quibble about this.
This is all technical stuff however – it has nothing to do with ‘the meaning of life’ (if we to use this phrase in the sense in which it is generally meant). The ‘meaning of life’ isn’t about achieving technical tasks in a satisfactory or efficient way – if it were then that would make us machines! That would make us nothing more than robots. The meaning of life doesn’t lie in our goals. It is clearly not something as specific as this; the meaning of life – broadly rather than specifically speaking – is something that is necessarily beyond our grasp and the fact that it is entirely beyond our grasp is not a flaw or a fault that we need to attempt to rectify. Thought likes to say ‘what stuff means’ – needless to say – but when it does this it takes away the ‘intrinsic meaning’ that was present beforehand and replaces it with ‘specific meaning’, which is disguised meaninglessness. Extrinsic meaning always replaces intrinsic meaning. To assign meaning is to lose it, in other words, and this is an inversion we never spot.
When we assign meaning then what we’re doing is that we are compelling the thing in question to make sense within the terms of our framework. We are in other words compelling the situation to make sense within the terms of everything else we understand. We’re making it be ‘the same as everything else’, therefore; we’re making it be the same as everything else because it now agrees with everything else and can therefore be ‘accounted for’ with the same evaluative criteria that we use to account for everything else. We are making whatever it is that we now ‘supposedly’ understand be part of the same generic system – the System of Thought – and this system is actually our blind spot. We can’t see that thought is our blind spot because that’s how a blind spot works, obviously enough! That’s what makes a blind spot be a blind spot, but that is exactly what the SOT is. The SOT is our blind spot for the simple reason that we are obliged to take it as our unexamined basis if we are to say anything about anything. The SOT is essentially our viewpoint and if a viewpoint is to be a viewpoint then we can’t ever examine it, we can’t ever call it into question.
The result of ‘never calling our viewpoint into question’ is that the Positive World (the World of Definition Meanings) swims into focus. We have created a ‘positive reality‘. When we ‘know’ something then what what’s happening here is that we have added another element, another feature, to the Universe of Defined Meanings; we haven’t actually gained anything as a result of this operation however – despite our deep and abiding conviction to the contrary. Whilst it can be very helpful to have technical knowledge about specific elements in our environment (which equals ‘the adaptive aspect of thought’) when we go ‘the whole hog’ and absorb the entirety of everything – or what seems to us to be the entirety of everything – within the System of Thought then existence itself becomes a mere technical affair, a crossword puzzle, a trivial matter of joining up the dots and nothing more. And as soon as we have ‘joined up all the dots’ (or completed the task) we lose interest completely and have to move onto the next thing. Reality itself has become entirely redundant, entirely disposable; although we (understandably) don’t want to admit this, reality itself has become ‘meaningless’ in the broad (rather than the contextual) sense of the word.
What’s happened here is that we have actually made reality meaningless by exploiting it (or by trying to exploit it). Our purposeful approach to the world has made it meaningless because now it is no more than our own purposes reflected back at us. Or as we could also say, we’ve made the world meaningless by trying to make it relevant to us. We do this by ‘assigning meaning’ and assigning meaning – as we keep saying – is actually how we nullify it. By attempting to create meaning we unintentionally eliminate it, in other words. It doesn’t seem to us to be the case that we have ‘eliminated meaning’ – if it did then there would be no future in this business, very obviously. The point that we’re making in this discussion is that this is a lack of meaning that very much appears to be meaningful – this is the trickster-like quality of Extrinsic Meaning, the trickster-like quality by which the world appears to be something that it isn’t. The Positive World (which is continuously being created by our thinking) appears to be something that it isn’t – it appears to be ‘something’ when actually it is nothing! This is ‘camouflaged redundancy‘, therefore.
The secret flaw or failing in the Positive World, we might say, is that it never ever actually delivers anything, even though it looks as if it’s going to (or – at the very least – as if it could do). The Positive World (which is made up entirely of extrinsic meaning) is thus a shadow of the thought-created sense-of-self that is assigning it. Whenever meaning is assigned it is always the mind-created identity which is doing this and the only two types of meaning that the MCI can ever assign are  that the Positive World is going to deliver and  that the positive world is not going to deliver. Either things are ‘going our way’ or they aren’t, either our situation is good or it is bad. This isn’t immediately apparent since we assume that the everyday self (which is who we think we are) has the possibility of some other relationship with the world apart from the relationship of exploiting it, the relationship of controlling it. This isn’t the case however – that’s just an illusion we have about ourselves! When Eckhart Tolle says that ‘thought is pure resistance’ (or continuous resistance) and this is the same as saying that the self is made up of resistance, since the self is created by thought. This is another way of saying that the self (or ‘mind-created identity’) is always exploiting, always controlling. This is the ‘unpleasant’ thing about the self that we don’t ever want to admit to – we imbue it with a nobility that it simply doesn’t have.
When I am 100% dedicated to exploiting my environment then there are only two possibilities available to me – either that environment delivers for me or it doesn’t deliver. If I am 100% dedicated to controlling then there are only two possibilities for me – I get my controlling right or I get it wrong. Either I am successful in my efforts or I am unsuccessful and the first scenario gives rise to the state of euphoria whilst the second generates the corresponding state of dysphoria and this is why we can say that the Positive World is a ‘shadow of the self’, or a ‘projection of the self’. This point may not sound too hard to grasp but, having said this, we then also have to go on to make the other point which is that the self which is created (or rather, the self which comes into virtual existence) via its own controlling, whether or not that controlling is successful. The self comes into existence as result of its attachment to certain outcomes, in other words. The PW is thus the projection of the self and nothing else and the self (i.e. the conditioned sense of ‘me’) comes into being as a result of this act of projecting a positive world (or positive environment).
We could of course ask what happens if we don’t get attached to certain outcomes, if we don’t engage ourselves in full-time controlling / exploiting / planning / analyzing, and the result would in this case be that the Positive World isn’t created. The Positive World isn’t created because there is no self to create it; there is in this case no self and so there is nothing there to cast a shadow! All of this is however utterly incomprehensible to us when we are in the identified or attached state of being – it’s incomprehensible to us because we can’t see the hidden flaw in the Positive World which is – as we have said –that it never delivers what we think it can or will deliver. What we think it can deliver – although we would of course never put it like this – is the self. That’s why we want so badly to believe in the Definite World – if this projected world is real then so are we! When we’re in the identified or attached state then we can never see that the meaning which we assign is null meaning, hollow meaning, empty meaning. To see through extrinsic meaning is to see through the self and the self can never see through itself. If it did then the ‘bubble of identity’ would immediately burst.
The reason we can’t see the snag in an extrinsic meaning is because – as we said earlier – we have a big, big blind spot and this blind spot can either be said to be the self or the way of looking at things that gives rise to the self. We can’t for the life of us see that the way of looking at things which we have isn’t the only way of looking at things (or that it only seems like ‘the only way of looking at things’ because we have arbitrarily restricted our horizons). This ‘thing that we can’t see’ is the blind spot that we have been talking about; if we could see it then (as we keep saying) then there wouldn’t be a Positive World, there wouldn’t be a self. The blind spot thus facilitates our experience of being the extrinsic self and it also prevents us from seeing the snag in extrinsic meaning and both of these come down to the same thing. We can’t see the snag and the snag is that the Positive World can never deliver what we want it to deliver, what we need it to deliver, which is – when it comes down to it – the believable or immersive experience of being this concrete self.
There’s a game going on here and that game is that the PW can deliver what we want it to (even though deep down we know that it can’t). In this game we get closer and closer to the goal (which secretly equals ‘the ultimate validation of the ego-identity’) and because we are visibly getting closer and closer to reaching the goal this allows us to extrapolate the end result which is  that we’re actually going to get there and  when this happens that this will be a genuinely real or meaningful outcome. This act of extrapolation happens quite automatically as an operation of the thinking mind (the EM is superlatively good at extrapolating, after all) and when it takes place we are quite incapable of distinguishing it from an actually occurring event. It’s ‘as good as the real thing’ therefore (as far as we’re concerned, anyway) and for this reason we are able to ‘reap the euphoric reward’ which comes our way when we get the ego-identity to seem totally real to us. What’s behind this whole thing is a trick however, a trick that is being played on us via ‘the lightning-fast extrapolation of outcomes by the TM’; what is essentially happening is that we’re ‘jumping to a conclusion’ but the snag is that this conclusion isn’t warranted, isn’t true. No conclusion ever true – there can’t be such thing as a ‘valid or true conclusion’ in an open universe! Clearly there can’t…
The truth is that no ‘conclusion’ is ever going to be reached and that there is therefore no winning and no losing, no getting it right and no getting it wrong. There’s no basis for either euphoria or dysphoria, therefore! The best analogy for this business of extrapolating outcomes that are beneficial to the self is to think of a spinning disc or wheel with a North Pole projected onto the top of the disk and a South Pole projected onto the bottom (even though where we put these markers is of course totally arbitrary). We – disregarding this intrinsic arbitrariness – fixate on one pole as being the ‘ultimate advantage’ and the other as being the equivalent ‘ultimate disadvantage’. It is because we do this that we get to experience euphoria / dysphoria – we have to do this. in other words, if we don’t then there can be no such thing as ‘the extrinsic self’. The ES is created by the belief that there can be permanent (and therefore meaningful) advantages in store for it, not just apparent advantages that are only a manifestation of the endlessly spinning wheel of ‘advantage followed inexorably by the equal and opposite disadvantage’. It is therefore an error to take the fixed point on the wheel as being an actual real or genuine ‘destination’ that we can permanently arrive at, but it is also a necessary mistake if we are to play (or continue playing) this particular game.
Extrinsic meaning is thus the totally false type of meaning that we project onto the spinning wheel or disc – we see ‘a straightforward linear progression towards a goal that actually exists out there in the real world’, whereas the truth of the matter is that all that’s going on is that there is a wheel spinning, generating alternate waves of euphoria and dysphoria forever. This is ‘disguised meaninglessness’ (or ‘disguised redundancy’) therefore, and this is all our striving or calculating or planning can ever bring us. For our lives to be genuinely meaningful there is only one requirement, and this just happens to be the one requirement that we are absolutely unwilling to meet, or even think about meeting. This requirement is that we have to stop projecting ‘our own meaning’ on everything!