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THE MEANING OF LIFE

THE MEANING OF LIFE

This is a transcript of Live the 8Wise™ Way Podcast.

Episode Twenty-Three:

The Meaning of Life

Welcome everybody. Thank you for joining me on the Live The 8WiseTM Way podcast. My name is Kim Rutherford, Psychotherapist and author and creator of the 8WiseTM method for better mental health and wellbeing.

How are you all doing? I’m actually, you can hear in my voice, I’m coming out of having covid, I survived it. It was not pleasant, I will not lie to you, it was not pleasant and the thing that was unpleasant most of all was the lack of energy more than anything else. It was the lack of energy, the sickness you get used to quite quickly, but it was the absolute exhaustion. So, anybody else who has experienced it or is experiencing it, I’m with you in spirit. I know exactly what it’s like and I wish you a speedy, healthy recovery as soon as possible.

Thanks for joining me. As I said, thanks for joining me on my podcast. This is all about mental health and wellbeing and how to look after your mental health and wellbeing and because I’ve been sick, I’ve been spending quite a lot of time thinking about mental health and wellbeing more than normal, which is surprising considering I talk about it all the time. What I was really focusing on recently is a lot of people ask me a lot of questions, and whilst I’ve been ill and wasn’t able to do as much as I normally would, I did actually start going through an awful lot of the questions that people are asking me about and a lot of people ask me the same sorts of things. I talk about the meaning of life a lot with regards to the people that I work with and the training that I do, and the one-to-one work that I do and I even mentioned it in the book and I get people asking me about the meaning of life and I thought, well, actually, rather than me just try and give you some big explanation of my thinking of it, I’m actually going to share with you that particular chapter from the book.

This is chapter two from the book. So for those of you who are joining us for the very, very first time today, I developed the podcast on the basis of what I wanted was for people to be able to have a psychotherapist in their hand when they couldn’t access one, whether it be because of lockdown at the time, whether it is because of financial issues, maybe they’re not ready, whatever the reason, I wanted people to still be able to access the support that you can have from a psychotherapist and one of the ways I wanted to do that is I wrote my book The 8WiseTM Ways to A Healthier, Happier Mind and alongside the book, I created a journal and I created a 12 month planner and a pocket book.

What I also wanted to do was talk people through the core concepts so that through this podcast they could follow through the book, they could use the book and the podcast together, and they could literally create their own therapeutic approach to whatever they might be experiencing in their own lives at this moment in time and it’s been great and lots of people have followed it, and if you’re one of those people whose listening and you’ve followed it, then thank you very much. If you’re one of those people who have read the book and have sent me amazing feedback, I can’t thank you enough. Thank you very, very much. But I also appreciate that people are finding this podcast at different stages and different times within the podcast. This is episode 23 now. So, I wanted to make sure that it doesn’t matter when you drop in, that you have some understanding of what sits behind everything that I talk about and why it sits behind everything.

I like to merge the philosophical debates with the science debates, and I like to do that in everything I do mainly because I think, and you’ll find out why I’m going to read this in a second, but it’s because I like to understand everything behind what is happening. I can’t just watch a film and just watch a film for the sake of watching the film, I need to have some understanding of what was going on behind the scenes. I don’t know why. That’s how my brain works and so that’s pretty much how I tackle most things that I do. It’s how I tackled my own mental health, and it’s certainly how I have helped other people who have been struggling with their mental health and wellbeing to tackle theirs as well.

What I wanted to do today is share with you the chapter that I think really gives you a big understanding of what’s going on behind the scenes. That doesn’t mean just going on behind the scenes in social life in general, I mean going on behind the scenes in you as an individual, you as a human, and us as a human species. So, sit comfortably and I’m going to take you through chapter two of my book, 8WiseTM Ways to a Healthier, Happier Mind, and it’s called The Meaning of Life.

So, let’s get philosophical for a moment. What I love about the philosophical and scientific debates is they both lead to each other. From a philosophical question comes a scientific theory and from scientific theory, we get new philosophical questions. And so I want to start with the biggest philosophical question of them all ‘what is the meaning of life?’

Growing up I was that child who was really shy, short, dumpy, and an introverted observer. Now, not a lot has changed other than that I’m no longer shy. In truth, people scared me and so books were my best friends, and this led me to also being a very annoying child because those books led me to becoming the ‘why’ child. I wanted to know the ‘why’ behind everything. I was a pain in the buttocks and the constant questioning, there was constant questioning, and the one constant question was, ‘why are we here?’ Which led me asking what is the meaning of life? I would ask my parents, my teachers, my Sunday school teachers, my friends, my friends’ parents, the librarian. I would ask anyone I felt comfortable talking to. In fact, from as young as I can remember, I’ve always been more interested in discussions, debates, and deep thoughts about the big questions, rather than any of the fun and frolics most young people were into.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not a saint. I’ve had my fair share of fun and frolics and dancing on tables, but I always prefer to be sat reading or in deep discussion about a topic I was passionate about and, to be fair, that’s exactly what I am. I still am. I welcome discussion about the topic and I’m not alone because this is the question that people have been trying to answer since the dawn of time.

We are always searching for greater meaning to somehow prove to ourselves, to our species, that there is more to our existence in this world. In our short life, we need to know that there is a plan or a purpose, otherwise what’s the point to all of it? Do you ask yourself the big questions? Do you want to know like I do? What’s the point to the madness in our lives and in the world? Is there a point to all the chaos? Do the traumas and upset we experience have a meaning. What’s the point of being good, bad, healthy, unhealthy, spiritual, unspiritual? What’s the point in making the most of our mortality? What’s the point in respecting the air in our lungs and the life in our beings? What is the point of anything? But why does this matter though? Why do we as a human race need answers to why we exist? Why can we not be satisfied that we simply do and leave it at that? Why do we need answers?

In my years of discussing this topic, I’ve learned that some people need answers as certainty brings comfort in those dark times, such as when we lose a loved one, when we get terminally ill, when we experience a great tragedy, or when we see such obscene suffering across the planet, we need for it to make sense. In those moments, comfort may make it all a little bit more bearable.

Now, for some, the questions and answers bring understanding, and that understanding creates drive, a motivation and a purpose to live a life where legacy of worth exists, and it exists after we are gone. That way, through our legacy, we can live forever and there is no ending to us. For others, the search for answers comes from ego and arrogance. The unwillingness to acknowledge or accept that maybe this is it. Maybe we simply are not the most important beings in the universe. Maybe there is no point to us as a human race and therefore no importance to us as a living person. Maybe we are just pointless.

Then of course, there are those who don’t ask at all. Maybe they don’t want to know. Maybe they don’t need to know. Maybe for them simply existing is more important than thinking about the possibility of why we exist. I don’t think there is any such thing as a right need or a wrong need. You have yours, they have theirs and I have mine. My need for answers comes from wanting to have full control over my life, a recurring theme that has always brought me many more problems and questions than has ever brought solutions and answers. I came to this realization the hard way, and although my need for control has reduced dramatically, my sister definitely disagrees with me on this, I still remain inquisitive, I still want answers, and I still feel the need to understand.

Through my ongoing questioning, discussion, and debates regarding the meaning of life, I have drawn my own conclusions, and so personally I think there is a point to life. In fact, I think there is more than one point to the meaning of life and human existence, and I think we get confused between the concept of the meaning of life and living a meaningful life and the two are very different, but both are extremely valid points.

So, a meaningful life; in positive psychology, a meaningful life is the concept of having purpose, significance, fulfilment, and satisfaction of life. It is internal focus, an internal focus, an independent focus, even a selfish focus. It is the belief that our own personal life is meaningful and that there is somehow a connection between the external world and the internal world we exist in, the physical world and the spiritual world as if what we do feel and think has an impact on the world around us, whether that be with regard to the energy it creates or effects in this life, or as some belief system state, how it impacts in the afterlife and in the next life.

In positive psychology, it is believed that those who possess such a sense of meaning are generally happier than those who do not. They experience lower levels of negative emotions and therefore are less at risk of mental illness compared to those who have yet to find meaning in their life and therefore experience more increased levels of negative emotions than thought.

So, it could be argued that the main purpose for identifying or understanding what is to live a meaningful life is for our mental wellness, our longer-term mental health, our overall wellness and wellbeing. Therefore, to live a meaningful life could simply mean to stay well. Thomas Kitwood claimed in his model of psychological needs that to feel well and to feel balanced we needed love, comfort, identity, occupation, inclusion, and attachment and with those elements we can successfully live in a meaningful life.

Now the meaning of life. The meaning of life takes us to a whole new level because the crux of the question is simply what is the significance of humans living or existing at all? Therefore, for me, the question really means what is the meaning of human life, or what is the point of our species? The search for the answer to this question has kept philosophers, scientists, theologists and meta physicists busy for a millennia. Different people and different cultures believe different things, and so no final answers ever been agreed upon. Therefore, as a species, we continue to search for our meaning, our purpose, trying to seek a connection between our existence and something more tangible.

The religious argument focuses on symbolic meaning, the soul, good and evil, created by the divine, and, of course, the importance of love and free will. The scientific argument focuses more on empirical belief, the connection between the power of our senses, the biological and chemical makeup of our physical being, and the energy of the immediate environment and the wider universe. I went to Sunday school and church as a child, and I’m not religious and I would not label myself a scientist or a philosopher either. I like to think of myself as balanced, somewhere between all three, but along with those who align themselves to those categories I’ve contemplated these two questions myself. What is the meaning of life? What is it to have meaning in life? I have developed my own theory, my own philosophy, my own belief based on the information provided by those that have researched and debated the questions before me.

So, my meaning of life, now to make it clear this is my meaning of life, not the meaning of life. It is how I perceive and interpret the world and the information provided about it. It is my philosophy and my belief. If you agree with it, then great, if you disagree with it, then that’s great too and I’d be interested in hearing your philosophy on the topic someday, but as we are focusing on my meaning of life I’m going to first start to look at what does life mean, and the dictionary defines life as “the condition that distinguishes animals and plants from inorganic matter, including the capacity for growth, reproduction, functional activity, and the continual change preceding death. This can be seen as the origins of life, the existence of an individual human being or animal”.

Now, my simple interpretation of this is that we exist and so we have life, we die and so we have life and we function, so we have life and it is this understanding that I base my ideas on. So, let’s start with question one. What is the meaning of life? My answer to this question comes in two parts. Part one, survival, part two, evolution.

Part one, survival. I believe that survival is one element of the meaning of life because we have an inbuilt system that specifically caters for it. If we have an inbuilt system for it, then to me that indicates it’s pretty important to humans to stay alive and to survive. In fact, you could argue that it lies at the heart of everything we do. It is our driving force. Our ultimate purpose is to stay alive, to keep living, to extend our mortality. Our inbuilt survival system allows us to know we are in danger, pre-warning us so we can react effectively and remove ourselves from that danger. Danger could be anything that our mind perceives as a threat to our life, to the capacity for growth, reproduction, functional activity, continual change in existence as outlined by the definition of life. Our inbuilt survival system has the ability to affect the way our body functions and how our brain and mind works, and I often argue this system is our superhero response system. Instead of having to rush into a telephone booth to change when we sense danger like Superman does, our survival system flips its switch on inside our brain and almost instantaneously we become supercharged versions of ourselves.

Now that is pretty spectacular but how does the survival system actually work? Our survival system is commonly known as the fight or flight response. Our brain and bodies are hardwired to not only identify dangers, but also adapt in order to survive those dangers. We have a structure in our brain that manages all of this, which I like to think of our survival control tower. It’s also known as the limbic system. The limbic system is a group of interconnected structures located deep within the brain, and it’s the part of the brain that’s responsible for behavioural and emotional responses, specifically the behaviours needed for survival such as feeding, reproduction, caring for our young, and the fight or flight response.

So, in summary, it’s the control centre for managing our own survival. Other structures such as the thalamus and the basal ganglia, the rewarding process, habit formation, movement, and learning are also involved in the actions of the limbic system. And the three major structures I want to focus on are the hippocampus, the amygdala, and the hypothalamus.

The hippocampus: it plays a crucial role in our ability to function as it is the memory centre of our brains. It is also connected to our ability to learn and can be easily affected by neurological and psychiatric conditions. The hippocampus is like a giant library in our brain that manages the information of our memories, it organizes and stores them, and also organizes and stores new memories too. It also connects certain sensations and emotions to these memories, and so we are able to associate memories with various senses, such as specific food aromas, with memories of home festivities and celebrations. So, in summary, I worked in the corporate world, and so I imagine that this is our internal database storing our memories and connecting them to our senses, like folders and files.

Now we move on to the amygdala. The amygdala processes our emotions and feelings such as pleasure, fear, anxiety, and anger and like the hippocampus, it is also able to make connections to memories, and so plays an important role in determining how effectively, efficiently, and robustly those memories are stored. The stronger the memory, the longer it sticks and so the amygdala has the ability to modify the strength and emotional content of memories and can form new ones, specifically related to fear, which are both strong and highly emotionally charged and so they stay with us for longer. Most emotions possess a specific tone, positive or negative, and an intensity low or high that reflects emotional arousal. The amygdala’s role is to risk manage the danger in relation to the intensity and emotional tone of fear memories and set off warning alarms. So, in summary, in my mind, this is the risk manager for all of the external stimuli that triggers, and tense emotional responses related to fear memories.

And then we’ve got the hypothalamus. The hypothalamus, it may only be small, but it has a very big job as it plays a crucial role in hormone production and helps to stimulate many important processes in the body, such as releasing hormones, regulating body temperature, maintaining psychological cycles, controlling appetite. Managing of our sexual behaviour and regulating our emotional responses. The hypothalamus activates the fight or flight response, our internal survival system, by sending signals through specific nerves to the adrenal glands that then pump adrenaline into the bloodstream. The adrenaline triggers physiological changes such as the heart beating faster, pushing blood to the muscles and other vital organs, increasing blood pressure, affecting breathing, which then increases our alertness, making all the senses become sharper.

Glucose also triggers increasing energy levels, leaving you feeling energized, focused and pumped like a superhero ready to battle whatever has triggered the fear, the three structures work closely together to provide us with our survival system. If the corporate world analogy of a database does not work for you, then I also like to think of it as a cruise ship. Imagine you are a large cruise ship casually drifting along the journey of your life with your focus being on the journey and not the destination. You have various adventures along the way and want the journey to continue for as long as possible and to be as tranquil as possible. To ensure that happens you have some specific roles in place on your ship. Number one, you have your control tower that manages the journey and the response system of the ship, the limbic system. Number two, you have the database that logs and catalogues every adventure, like the captain’s log on Star Trek so that you can remember them and learn from them in order to maintain a tranquil yet exciting journey, the hippocampus. Number three, you have the risk manager who keeps a lookout on the open waters to make sure that the ship is never in any danger, or that the journey doesn’t end too soon, the amygdala. Number four, you have the communications manager who sends messages to a wide range of functions across the ship to make sure it is prepared for any situation.

In the case of an emergency, the control tower receives information, and this information is moved to the database of storage. The risk manager assesses it to see if the information highlights a risk to the journey. If the risk manager assesses that there is indeed a risk, then it triggers the alarm to the communications manager who then informs a range of functions across the ship to prepare it for steering through the storm ahead. The ship’s survival chances depend on how healthy and robust the ship is and the effectiveness of the functions it has in place for managing stormy weathers, you could say that the ship has all the inbuilt functions to survive. If it is not maintained, if it doesn’t adapt to the challenges, if it doesn’t sometimes change direction for calmer waters, then the wellness of the ship suffers reducing its chances of survival.

Based on this, my belief is that one element of the meaning of life is survival because, as demonstrated, we have a spectacular system built for it that affects us greatly every day of our life. Isn’t that amazing? Isn’t your body amazing? Aren’t you amazing? But the amazing doesn’t stop there because I believe there are two elements to the meaning of life and the second one is evolution.

Evolution is the gradual development of something. In biology it’s about how the genes change from one generation to the next. Changing our characteristics as outlined through Darwin’s evolution of humans, from primate to man in its most simple terms. But in my theory, evolution links more to knowledge and learning, how information is shared from one generation to the next changing our mindset, our understanding, and therefore helping us to grow and survive as both an individual and also as a species in the ever-changing world in which we exist. Survival focuses on the individual, but how does that benefit the human race as a species? How can that alone be the meaning of life?

Now, in my opinion, it can’t be and so my theory is that each person plays a role within the human race. You play a vital role within the survival and continuation of the human race. That’s how amazing you are. You see my theory of the meaning of life has been developed alongside my growing knowledge, experience, and fascination with personality types. Personality types refers to the psychological classification of different types of individuals, which as a theory dates back as far as the ancient Greece with Hippocrates, but was later developed further by Carl Young in 1921 in his book Personality Type. Now, I think having an understanding of personality types gives us better insight into who we are, as well as how and why we make the decisions that we do in our lives.

Through understanding ourselves, we can then start to develop a better understanding towards the decisions of others, which I believe can lead to more empathy between us all.

That, my lovely, is a little taster of chapter two, and the reason I want you to cover a little bit of chapter two is because I think understanding or developing your own understanding of what the meaning of life is and what a meaningful life is really helps you to manage your mental health and wellbeing. Why? Why is this? This is because everything that I talk about in 8WiseTM is backed up by the science. This is also backed up by the philosophical concepts, all the philosophical debates that have taken place, because I say right at the beginning of this chapter, philosophy and science have been going hand in hand for a very long time.

For me, this transitions really well into understanding that mental health and mental wellbeing also work together hand in hand. And at the core of all of that really comes down to who are we? What are we? Why are we here? So this chapter’s really important, and if you have that issue, if you start to go “I don’t know why I’m bothering, I don’t have a purpose in my life. I don’t know why I’m doing this. I’m procrastinating and putting things off all the time”, then it’s time to start thinking about what is your purpose? What is the meaning of your life? Why are you here? What do you want your legacy to be? What do you want your life to be about? I talked in the previous episode with regards to the concept of the midlife crisis, and I talked about it then, was really what’s at the heart of that is who am I?

When we talk about everything that lies to the heart of 8WiseTM and all of the elements, it’s about understanding who you are. Who are you, what do you want? Why do you want them? How are you going to make them happen? How are you going to manifest them into a life? And how are you going to cope with the struggles of life that come with them because that’s what’s going to happen. And so really, I wanted to go through this particular chapter with you to get you to refocus, to get you to rethink about who am I? What is the meaning of me? What is the meaning of my life? What is it for me to have a meaningful life? You’ve got this amazing brain. You’ve got these amazing inbuilt systems, and if you go further, that’s only half of chapter two. If you go through the rest of chapter two, it’ll tell you so much more about how amazing your brain is and how you can use it to develop this most amazing life, but also how you can do it, how you can use it effectively to help you manage and master your own mental health and wellbeing so that you can live a happier life, a healthier life, a better quality of life.

That’s all I’ve ever really wanted for 8WiseTM, is for those people who pick up the book and read the book, can go through it and actually change themselves, become happier, become healthier. It’s all in the title really. I wanted to give people that formula that says this is your life, how are you going to live it? Why do you want to live it that way? How are you going to make it happen for yourself? I know that the challenges of life are what hold us back most of the time and it’s also what causes us to have those frazzled minds, those dips in our mental health, those other issues that we experience. But by knowing who we are, by knowing what we want, by knowing how we fit into everything, or at least having some thoughts with regards to that, it can make some of those darker days a little bit easier.

So, I ask you this question, I ask you to think this about yourself. The self-reflection question from this episode really is, what is the meaning of your life to you? What are you doing to live a meaningful life for you? How are you using your body? How are you using your brain? How are you using the people around you? How are you creating a life that brings you meaning, that brings you depth? How are you developing the self-care plans that help you to make sure that you are living the healthiest and happiest life possible? How are you doing that for you? 8WiseTM Ways to a Healthier, Happier Mind can provide you with that formula, but you have to do the work. And when I start working with clients, that’s the big question. The big question they all say is can you fix me? No, I can’t fix you, you have to meet me halfway, you have to commit to that process yourself. You have to be the person who takes action. You have to be the person who commits to that. I can help you by guiding you, I can help you by listening to you, I can help you by sometimes showing you the mirror of your own amazing brain and your own amazing life but I can’t do the hard work. You have to do that for yourself.

So, if you are listening to this going, I just need help with my anxiety. I need help with my depression. I’ve got all of this stuff going on my life. Why is this happening to me. What can somebody do to help me? Then my answer to you is you have it all already. I promise you, no matter how deep in the darkest depth of despair you might be, you have the power, you have the answers, I promise you.

You are built like a superhero. Your brain allows you to be built like a superhero. It’s about learning how to use what you have to create what you want.

I hope that helps a little bit, but it is all about deciding for yourself what is the meaning of your life, and are you leading, are you living a meaningful life?

You have this wonderful inbuilt system that helps you do that. You have your survival system, you have that brain, and as I said, if you continue to read through chapter two, you’ll understand the other parts of the brain that help you with the different parts as well, which if you ever come and work with me on 8WiseTM or ever doing the 8WiseTM training, you are taught how to use it effectively as well.

Don’t ever forget the power you have by asking for somebody else to constantly fix you, for asking for other people to constantly take the blame for situations you’re in. You’re always giving up your power. You’re always giving up your control. You’re always saying you are just a pawn in this big game, where actually, science says something different.

Science says you have powers. Science says you have control. Science says you can use them whenever you want to. You just need to learn how to and then commit to the process and that is part of Living the 8WiseTM Way, learning about your powers, learning how to use your system so that you can create a really good foundation of wellness so that you can master your internal world so that you can then manifest a wonderful life in your external world and develop a lifestyle that suits you, who you are and allows you to have the quality of life that you deserve.

That’s, my lovely, that is definitely what I mean by Living the 8WiseTM Way.

So, if this has been your first episode, thank you for joining. It’s a little bit different to my normal episodes, but it gives you a little bit of an idea of how I mix these two concepts of philosophy and science together to help us to understand who we are and how we can make the changes in our lives that we need to have better mental health and wellbeing. For those of you want to access the book, you can get the book in around about 39,000 bookstores all across the globe. So anywhere you can get a book, you can go and order the book and also you can contact me directly, you can get them from my website. I do advise though, if you are living outside of the UK and you want to get a copy of the book, go to the bookstores, you’ll probably get it a lot quicker. We’ve got a postal strike in the UK at the moment, so getting the book sent out can cause some problems, but you’ll probably get them a lot quicker if you go to those normal places you can get them online. If you’re in the UK, by all means, it’s a little bit easier to get books to you from within the UK at the moment and I’ll happily get them sent to you. If you would like more information on 8WiseTM then I do recommend you go back and listen to the other episodes if you haven’t listened to them before, or head to my website for more information.

The great news is, if you would like to work with me and you would like to work with me on Living the 8WiseTM Way and maybe going through some personal development for yourself and personal growth in order to help you to manage your mental health and wellbeing, then as of January, we are going to be delivering our next cohort of 8WiseTM training, which all the information will be up on my website in the next couple of weeks. So please keep an eye out for that and it’ll be great for you to come along. They’re all going to be done online, they’re all going to be done via Zoom so wherever you are in the world, you’ll be able to access all the lessons and be able to come and join me in that group.

I hope that you want to get involved Living the 8WiseTM Way, get the books, you’ve got the podcast, go and check out all the free resources on the website or come and join me on some of my training events that are coming in the future.

If you’ve liked this, please click the like button, the subscribe button so you don’t miss out on anything and please, please share. I always say this, I set this up. I created 8WiseTM in the first place to help as many people as possible to look after themselves. I’ve done the podcast so we can reach a wider audience because there’s a lot of people out there who are really struggling in silence and some of the information that we’re covering could really, really help them.

So the shares are really about getting this formula into the hands of people who might really, really need it so they can live a healthier, happier life.

If anybody has got any questions or queries about anything that I cover in these podcasts, please feel free to contact me directly at my email address at Kim.rutherford@daltonwise.co.uk.

So that is all for today. I hope this has got your brains triggered a little bit. I hope this has got you thinking a little bit. I hope this has got you celebrating who you are and the magic of being a human being and everything you bring to the human species because you are here and I hope that Living the 8WiseTM way is helping you to live a healthier, happier life and improve your quality of life, because as I always say, you deserve it.

So until next time, take care. My name is Kim Rutherford, Psychotherapist, author and creator of 8WiseTM. Bye for now.

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