Back to the forests and the trees

In my previous post, I promised to explain these pictures in which the text to be mindful of the meaning appears on the canvas as seemingly detached letters, syllables and words.

  1. As soon as you read the whole thing you discover that the letters, syllables and words actually form a sentence of which meaning goes beyond that of its smaller components. (Hence the title Seeing the forest for the t r e e s)
  2. This happens only if you understand the language.

If you take this as an analogy to life, it would mean that getting the point about it and contributing to it in a meaningful way would fundamentally require mastering the language in which it is crafted.

But what is the ‘language’ of life? It’s the right worldview. The purpose of any worldview is to explain who you are, why you are here, and what the purpose of your life is. It helps you to solve the question how to live in this moment in the light of the bigger picture. In this sense, a worldview is indeed like a language that allows you to engage with reality. On the other hand, a lack of language skills leads to disengaging yourself from it, being left with a nagging feeling of dissonance.

Here’s an example. Imagine you know a couple of Germanic languages and want to get to Tokyo midtown, let’s say from a non-touristy suburb. What do you do when you see a sign that says 東京ミッドタウン? You can of course enjoy the beauty of the language, the elaborate curves of the characters and so on. However, that doesn’t help you with getting the meaning of the sign and making the right move based on that. That’s particularly disturbing if you really need to get to Tokyo midtown but miss the connection just because you didn’t know this sign.

I’ve done quite a journey in terms of worldviews. I guess the fundamental drivers have been my sought for originality, meaning and excellence. When I was growing up, I felt compelled to thrive in everything I did to fulfill these desires. Not always, but often things went all right. I was a fairly creative and active person and somehow found time to do sports, music, art, homework/studies, read books, travel and hang out with people, all of which are beautiful things by themselves. But the extent to which I was obsessed with seeking for affirmation from what I did was destroying me.

In retrospect I believe I got tired at the constant pressure that took place inside (and outside) my head and was therefore keen to find counterbalance. As a teenager, I got fascinated at worldviews that promised to relieve stress, eagerly testing their ‘grammar rules’ on my life. I remember being excited at carpe diem (seizing the moment), and used to call a yoga philosophy book ‘my bible’ at 18 and 19. Yoga brought me to explore Buddhism and Hinduism as well as mindfulness (the art of being here and now) that is rooted in those belief systems. I made up my mind to pursue cosmic awareness and peace of mind. However, the exercises that I did to reach these goals didn’t produce a peace penetrating my entire life but rather something resembling shallow islands amidst the other stuff on my agenda. Further, the outcome wasn’t associated with an unchangeable and deep sense of meaning, which was a problem as I was still longing to feel I was someone, instead of no one.

There is a lot more to say about my journey. In short, however, I can say it was a rough and confusing experience to have such contradictory worldviews tearing me apart. I often felt stressed and tired at the constant demands of speed and performance on the one hand, and achieving tranquility on the other. Deep down, I was longing for something that nothing I did could fulfill. I ended up vacillating between extreme highs and so deep lows you wish you didn’t ever get there.

What happened next came as a complete surprise. I encountered a totally different worldview, a language that ended up putting my life upside down (which has also inspired the name of my blog ‘Surprised by the Landscape’). The language was (and is) called Jesus. Its grammar has freed me from the tiring oscillation between performance and fragments of peace, directing my gaze from myself to God and what He has done for me. I’ve learned that each day of my life is a gift from God who has set me free from sin through the blood and resurrection of His only Son, Jesus. I’m called to build my life upon God’s liberating grace, to live now and forever for and with Him who loves me perfectly – and to love my neighbor as myself. My life is supposed to be for His glory, not mine, which is possible, because my merits have ceased to count. I’m no longer the one crafting the meaning and significance of my life.

This is the language in which the truth is written, making learning it a necessity. At the end, there will be a language test: we will face Jesus (who in the first place wants to be our savior but doesn’t force anyone), and He will judge all of us based on what we have done in life. Those who have placed their trust in Him (and hence have learned to speak the right language) will be declared non-guilty; only by grace we can be saved from perishing and have our names written in the Book of Life. For those, the rest of eternity will be magnificent – deeply meaningful, peaceful and full of joy.

Back to square one: I believe you can become truly “mindful of the meaning” through learning the language in which the meaning is written. Please let me know if you would like to find out how to get started 😉

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