The great human endeavour


You will never be happy if you continue to search for what happiness consists of. You will never live if you are looking for the meaning of life.  Albert Camus

Have you noticed a preoccupation with discovering the meaning of life? Meaning making is a great human endeavour. We witness people go on soul journeys, sea changes or pilgrimages to discover themselves and their place in the world, to seek answers and meaning.  We hunger to be part of something. There exists a gnawing unrelenting need when we lack community, a sense of belonging and purpose. The sense that life is meaningless could be the most desolate of thoughts. Desolate is the one who finds themselves alone, unattached, adrift in life.

This phenomenon, I imagine, has always existed though there seems to me to be an intensification in recent times, a swell of seekers.  My limited view and observations lead me to believe this is a side effect borne mainly by those in western cultures. Could it be due to a lack of traditions, of ritual, of religion, of an intimacy and belief in story and myth? Professor of sociology, John Carroll suggests there is an emerging poverty in western cultures due to a move away from myth.

Myths have been central to all cultures. I recently listened to Saga Land, a radio podcast by Richard Fidler, about the Icelandic sagas. These stories have endured for centuries and link the people to their ancestors and heritage. My childhood was full of the stories of the Australian Dreamtime. The stories, songs and dance of the traditional owners of the country I call home still captivate and educate me.  I was educated in catholic schools and am familiar with many Christian myths.

Why are myths important? Why might a lack of myth in our life affect us so very much?

Myths are enduring, they are rich with metaphorical weight.  Myths give us a sense of ourselves in relation to others. Hugh Mackay, author and social researcher, deduces that myth and story help us identify where we place our faith and that faith unites us and equips us to live with doubt and uncertainty. Through his research he has found that humans yearn something beyond the material, something other than themselves to use as a reference point to draw strength from, something that inspires them.

Religion and attending church used to fill that yearning, satisfy the hunger, give us something to inspire us and provide a sense of community. The role of religion has been to provide potent narratives to guide us along our journey to discover meaning. Interestingly only 8% of Australians are regular church goers. Why have so many turned away from the church? Perhaps it’s because the myths and narratives are served up as doctrine and often expected to be swallowed whole. For me, my move away from the church was the incongruence between doctrine and the behaviours of those most strongly advocating it. Mackay has found that dogma definitely divides us. He advocates faith beyond dogma.

I can attest that faith can exist without a literal adherence to dogma.  I can also attest to the desire for community. While my faith is strong I do not worship in a church and I do at times crave to be part of a community.  For a time I found it in a group of like-minded souls. We learned together, we practiced ritual, we communed and we grew individually and as a group. It was quenching. It was so deeply satisfying I wanted for nothing more. We eventually drifted apart, each to go their own way to continue our individual journeys. I miss that gathering of minds and souls. I miss the kinship.

It’s fascinating this hardwired need in humans to have a story that keeps the darkness at bay and to satisfy our longing to belong.  It is, I believe, the impetus for the great human endeavour – to seek meaning and purpose in life.

5 thoughts on “The great human endeavour

  1. Shannyn this definitely has me reflecting. I think being fulfilled and truly content in the moment of one’s own life could be the definition of happiness. Certainly it is what I strive for.

    • Sue I think you’ve definitely got the right idea there. It is about being content in the moment. We find happiness in the moments of life. I’m not sure a sustained sense of purpose, meaning and happiness can ever be reached. There will always be in between times but we are bolstered by the precious moments life gifts us. Contentment too, can address the gnawing hunger for meaning. Thank you for your wise insight.

  2. Sorry I’m a little late been away to the Lake District on holiday ( well it makes a change from being away with the fairies 😃…shut myself off a little as you do .
    Stories are what we are made of surely . Myths and legends are our heritage , can they really all be disappearing ? I would hate to think that .
    Sadly I think we have lost the ability to belive in everything anymore , everything has to be black and white . Why not look in the crannies , behind the doors under the roots of trees . Why not make new stories for our ancestors to find so new stories can emerge.Don’t the aborigine community in your country still have myths that are rife even today , I do hope so .

    • Cherry, the Lakes District is a truly magical place. A place of many stories. I trust you had a wonderful time there. I hanker to go back.
      You are right. Many people can’t stretch beyond the black and white to look at the grey in between. Aboriginal and religious myth is still there but like you say, so many people don’t pay heed anymore, they can’t or don’t see the relationship and relevance to this busy modern life. It’s funny, because the more we move away from our roots, the more we need the teachings in our story.
      Have a great week. It is always a pleasure to get your take on ideas. 😀❤️

  3. Pingback: Finding your true north in a crowded world | Joy Peace Harmony

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