Some druids are rather existentialist in their outlook, not feeling there is any external source of meaning, and that the relevance we find in life we make for ourselves. Others feel that existence is full of inherent meaning and that the world of spirit is constantly trying to communicate with us.
When huge events unfold in your life – especially hard and painful ones, it’s reassuring to think it serves some kind of purpose. Christians will talk about God having a Plan and needing to trust that it is all for the best. That’s very difficult to do when you are reeling in pain, shock and grief. Some people end up feeling like God’s Plan isn’t remotely benevolent. You can’t really have external sources of meaning without external arbiters of meaning – usually deities, watching over things, keeping score, cranking the gears of reality so that experience Means Something.
Moments of wonder, awe and beauty can also suggest meaning. Stood on a Portland beach, my arms around Tom’s waist as we looked out at a double rainbow, seemed laden with meaning. I’ve never seen two rainbows like that, with so low a curve, and one bow inside the other. Knowing we were soon to be parted, those two rainbows seemed meaningful, like a good omen. But then, we both wanted, needed a good omen.
The druids of old apparently were able to divine the future from natural phenomena, and for as far back as we have had stories, people have searched for meaning in the movement of stars, the flight of birds, the death throes of sacrifices, and other random events. If all things are connected, then one thing can provide insight into another, right? Even if that is so, the meaning derived from it depends on human insight. A shooting star the night before a battle cannot be a sign of victory to both sides, after all.
I think about those twined rainbows. To a person recently bereaved, they might have offered a very different interpretation. To a woman longing for a child, a different story again might have suggested itself. Each person brings their own history, need and expectation with them, so that many people all viewing the same event can understand it in radically different ways. It’s not a good idea (I think) to imagine that reality is laden with personal messages just for us. That can get crazy very quickly.
Life is full of weird coincidences, inexplicable setbacks, powerful moments of beauty. We experience them, or we tune them out depending on our own natures. Moment to moment we can find richness and hear the voice of spirit trying to guide us, or we don’t perceive that way. We can take every experience we have and discard it as meaningless, abandoning all hope of self knowledge and control. I think it is important to know what we have shaped, and what experiences come back to us from our own actions. Some people don’t. We can stray too far the other way, convinced that the secrets of the universe are coded into the raindrops on the window, paralysed with the need to understand what is inevitably beyond us.
I believe that we make our own meaning, but we do not do so in isolation. The world is full of other self aware things, spirit is present and perhaps sometimes it does wish to communicate with us. I try not to assume too much in either direction, holding to my own ability to find, or create meaning out of the experiences I have, and to accept when I can’t. Sometimes the meaning I ascribe comes down to ‘shit happens’. I don’t imagine for a moment there’s any right way through this, although I think the extremes of avoiding or seeking meaning are dysfunctional. What I think is important is conscious engagement with experience, taking each one as it comes, and being able to accept it as part of your life, regardless of its impact. Whether you find inherent meaning or not, that’s ok, but pretending something isn’t happening to you really doesn’t work at all.