Susan Galvan
Susan Galvan is a published author, speaker and facilitator with expertise in transpersonal psychotherapy, ministry, spiritual mentorship, and financial life planning. Seeking answers? Ask Susan a question via email

The Big Question

by’s resident Wise Woman tackles the BIG QUESTION….”Why Are We Here?”

The Big Question

Our friend Laurie asks the Big Question:  “Why are we here? We are born. We grow and learn. But we struggle, as spirits in human form, with the atrocities that we commit unto one another in the name of someone’s god, be it a spiritual god, religious god, dogmatic god, political god, or monetary god. Some of us will die horrible deaths without ever achieving whatever it was that we worked for so hard.  Some of us do the same thing day in and day out, year after year until we die. Some of us will hit the jackpot and live the life of luxury and opulence with no thought as to our actions. Some of us do not care what we do to the environment or to the creatures who share this earth with us and will poison what we can just to make a living. Some of us will “get it”, but I believe that number is too few to make a difference.  But what difference can they make anyways? What *IS* the point to life?”

This question has been raised in every time, place, and culture in human history.  It is the existential quandary:  why ARE we here?  IS there a point to life – and if so, what is it?  Books, scriptures, Vedas, hadiths, songs, stories, and ceremonies have all been created in response to those questions and the subsequent questions that arise from suggested answers.

Unlike the “lilies of the field” who “take no thought of tomorrow”, humans are mind-driven.  We ruminate about yesterday and imagine tomorrow.  We assign positive or negative values to our own thoughts (and the thoughts of others, as we learn of them), and then have emotional reactions to those mental formulations.  Our behaviors are then shaped by those thoughts and feelings we have experienced – or, in some cases, repressed.  We seldom review our thoughts or feelings for accuracy, let alone truth.  Instead, we project our own unknown (because still unconscious) self onto others and the world about us – and then feel overshadowed by what we have projected.

This is perhaps the point of the story of Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden.  The garden represents being alive in nature, like the trees, animals, plants, birds, and all other naturally-occurring forms of life.  As Voltaire pointed out, “Ignorance is bliss.”  But the human soul has an itch that other life forms on this planet don’t seem to share – we want to know, to grow, to evolve, to experience, to awaken consciously – to explore who we are and what is possible for us beyond ignorance and innocence.  In the story of the Garden, Adam is given “dominion” over all other life forms created.  How do humans exercise dominion most effectively?  Through the mental gifts of intellect and intuition, another way of saying Adam and Eve.  So Eve, following her intuition, must pick the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge and share it with Adam, that humans might take their first steps on the path of unfolding the full spectrum of human possibility and potential through an evolution of consciousness, of Knowingness, of mind and heart.

The Sufis say that only humans can be higher than the angels or lower than the beasts.  The animal kingdom has intelligence but not intellect, so it remains innocent in its essence – incapable of evil.  The angelic realm has purity but lacks possibility – angels can only be good.  What is unique for the human being is the power of choice, bestowed by the gift of Knowledge.  Like all powers, Knowledge in and of itself is neutral and can be used either to create or to destroy, depending on what we choose to do with it.  In this way, it is God-like and we, as its possessors, are also God-like. Unique among all species, we humans can  choose how to apply the Knowledge we acquire as a result of the gifts of Intellect and Intuition.  The choices we make are how we become either higher than the angels or lower than the animals, as we choose between benevolent and malevolent thoughts and actions.  We are no longer either innocent or purely good.  Our goal is different.  It is wholeness, and wholeness encompasses the whole spectrum of possibility, of light and of shadow, as does that of Divinity however we characterize it.  In this sense, we are indeed children of the Most High.

Our task, as humans – should we accept it – is to explore every facet of what it is to be human, conscious and alive on a dualistic planet and plane of consciousness, and to preserve the fruits, the Knowledge gleaned,  of that exploration in our awareness.  It is the very contrast between darkness and light, goodness and evil, pain and pleasure, masculine and feminine which compels us to become conscious of differences and thereby to experience the emergence of Knowing and to receive the invitation to respond with Love.  Imagine, if you will, trying to paint a masterpiece that is composed entirely of highlights/pure light.  It is a blank white canvas.  Without the contrast and depth provided not only by the dark shadows but also by every tone and hue and shape in between, the highlights would have no meaningful reality.  We couldn’t even perceive them.  It is the entire spectrum of experience that awakens an awareness of wholeness – an infinite potential of Being that is broad, and deep, and inexhaustible in its capacity for both light and dark.

And that is our challenge as human souls who can consciously Know or Intuit this potential to some degree.  With what then do we align ourselves, given that we are essentially free? What will bring us back to the Garden and the Tree of Life (Wholeness)?

We can be whatever we choose to be – not in the details of how life happens to us, perhaps, but certainly in how we choose to respond and act as beings equipped with the Knowledge of Good and Evil, of Life and Death.  We can love or we can hate, we can build up or we can tear down, we can serve or we can dominate.  It is your choice, every day of your life – and it doesn’t depend on the circumstances of your life but rather on the condition of your own heart and how you want to be.  What do you choose?

That is the only point that really matters.

Share your thoughts. Leave a comment:

8 Responses to “The Big Question”

  1. Sarah Creekmore
    September 23, 2010 at 12:13 pm #

    Beautiful. Just lovely. Thank you for sharing this with us.

  2. Laurie ૐ Willow Beacom
    September 23, 2010 at 3:52 pm #

    I want to be happy with your tackling job….but…I have troubles (and I know for the most part, it is part of the spiritual road I am having difficulty navigating currently)….but…if I were to ask the same question “what is the point to life” as a child who was on the verge of starving to death in Ethiopia, I don’t think your answer would make any sense. I can see the process of furthering the human collective through evolution, I just wonder if it comes at the expense of unimaginable pain and if so, why?? What is the point of the human child being born only to live a life of complete hunger before dying from this existence, disappearing as if s/he never existed? I understand the paradigm of karma and multiple lives/multiple lessons and I like to think that maybe that’s how it really is….but…what if it isn’t? It isn’t as though that child chooses to be hungry, chooses to starve to death…? Media brings so much to our attention and as of late, it has been horrific. I can’t witness to the collective human pain currently (overloaded and trying to ground the energy) but is that what we are supposed to do to further the evolutionary process? Just struggling to understand….

  3. Susan E Galvan
    September 24, 2010 at 12:06 pm #

    Laurie, your questions clearly arise from your heart. You are deeply troubled by the very real suffering that permeates life and the apparent meaninglessness of that suffering. Philosophical nostrums don’t help those in extreme pain. I thank you for taking this a step deeper.

    My spiritual teacher used to say: “Your pain is your calling card to the truth.” It rips away all the veils of illusion that the mind would provide us. The truth is that life can impose intense suffering of one kind or another on any or all of us. Buddha pointed out, “Life is suffering” or dukkha. Yet ultimately it seems to come down to how we talk to ourselves about what we are experiencing. There is involuntary suffering (the starving child or the child battling cancer) and voluntary suffering (those who are willing to endure pain or deprivation in service of a greater good)- my sense is that you are asking about the point of involuntary suffering, especially among those who seem helpless to affect their circumstances, like small children.

    First, my perception is that no life is meaningless, regardless of circumstances. I may not know HOW it is meaningful, but I’m confident that each life is essential and significant. Each life impacts others, whether many or few, in a whole range of ways helping other souls to experience what it is they need to realize. The meaning is found in the interactions, the relationships, the connections which are always some blend of both positive and negative. A child may be hungry yet still experience being cherished and loved. A child may be well fed yet still suffer from lack of loving contact. Each soul has its story, its life path to follow, its lessons to learn. Without the experience of suffering, we would not recognize joy – or ease – or fulfillment.

    I don’t say this glibly. I have experienced great pain in my life – not physical pain so much as emotional pain – and yet each experience has transformed me from within and I have grown stronger and richer in life as a result of each and all of them. I have no regrets and would not change a thing. And each experience has challenged me to either respond as a victim or as a spiritual being on a human journey.

    It is all in how we talk to ourselves that the decision is made. If I lament, whine, cry – am bitter, angry, blaming – then I’ve chosen to experience my life as a helpless victim. If I accept my circumstances, whatever they are, as essential to my SOUL’s journey and path of awakening, then I expand my sense of what it is to be whole. That’s not to say I don’t cry when I hurt – I do – and then I move on because I know that my pain has meaning for me and what I’m aiming to realize in this all-too-human experience.

    See if you can find the difference between the ego’s perspective on life experiences (the small, local personal self) and the soul’s perspective (the trans-personal self). We each have both perspectives within us, but not everyone awakens to the more comprehensive understanding of the trans-personal one – even though it is there. Without that broader perspective, suffering certainly seems tragic and unnecessary.

    Finally, my sense is always one of being loved, no matter how dark or difficult this moment might be for me. Love is the foundation of Being, and we are immersed in it even as we struggle to awaken to our oneness with it. Like Dante in “The Inferno,” the way to arrive in Paradise is always to travel through Hell first and come to know it for what it truly is – the cauldron of transformation.

  4. Laurie ૐ Willow Beacom
    September 26, 2010 at 3:41 pm #

    Thank you, Susan, for your words. I know I struggle at times with the ‘big picture’ and sometimes get way too caught up in it to see the ‘even bigger picture’.

    I liked this: ““Your pain is your calling card to the truth.” It rips away all the veils of illusion that the mind would provide us. The truth is that life can impose intense suffering of one kind or another on any or all of us”

    The mind has a fantastic way of creating illusions for us to live in and the trick is, when is it okay to…swim in that illusion and when is it better to strip illusion away and see the stark reality? Raising the social consciousness is an adventure in stark reality and sometimes, I get sucked into the undertow that leaves me awash in depression. It just seems like the more we raise the global consciousness, the more evil comes to light and it just seems as though we are truly going nowhere fast. Pain is everywhere. Was it always like that? Or is this the sign of the times?

  5. Susan E Galvan
    September 27, 2010 at 10:12 am #

    Laurie, you write: “It just seems like the more we raise the global consciousness, the more evil comes to light and it just seems as though we are truly going nowhere fast. Pain is everywhere. Was it always like that? Or is this the sign of the times?”

    Think of consciousness as a tiny circle of awareness in a vast field of Reality (whatever that is). Let’s assume that the field of Reality encompasses the full spectrum from light at one end to dark at the other(and probably at each point as well). As our individual consciousness expands, the CIRCLE of awareness enlarges – in all directions simultaneously. In other words, as we open to more light we simultaneously open to more darkness. We become aware to a greater degree of the whole nature of Reality.

    This is something that has often both confused and upset those who have had “openings” into transcendent wonder, beauty, love, etc. – a taste or glimpse of the Divine. Along with the new experience of ecstasy comes a new experience of agony, it’s correlate in wholeness. It tends to follow, and comes as a crushing let-down after the bliss of being enlightened even a little bit. It’s like the crash after the high. The pendulum swings to the other side.

    It’s a dilemma. You can’t open to the ecstasy without also, at the same time, opening to more of the agony…becoming more conscious of the pain, of the suffering, of the travails of many, of their spiritual darkness/unconsciousness.

    If you direct your prayers to “beings of light” you are quite likely to also experience an increasing presence of their antipode, “beings of darkness” or an expanding awareness of that pain and suffering so many experience.

    So what’s the solution? Ignorance, like Voltaire claimed? What works for me is to attune to the Source of both light and darkness, which emerge together and always accompany each other (like the yin-yang of Taoism). I go past the duality of light/dark, good/evil and bring myself into the presence of that which creates both/all. I do this in meditation, by letting all thoughts and feelings subside into stillness, by centering my awareness in the silent sanctuary of my heart. In that silence and stillness, on occasion, I can hear the still, small voice that only speaks truth – and then in very few words. Even the silence and stillness ground me, center me, remind me of what lies beyond and behind all the phenomena of life. A mantra I often use is: “All is calm, all is bright.” And then it is. In this case, “bright” means alert, weightless, free of all internal noise, as well as peaceful, serene.

    Then, from THIS awareness, I can behold my world and whatever is happening within it from a non-judgmental, non-interference perspective and simply “Let it be.”

  6. Susan E Galvan
    September 27, 2010 at 10:18 am #

    One final thought: just because I can shift my awareness to a universal equanimity doesn’t mean that I fail to respond with all my human attributes to what is happening in my immediate experience. For example, if a child is being abused in front of me, I will intervene. I’m not suggesting a tolerance for malicious behavior at all. I don’t confuse my greater knowledge or awareness with my responsibility to act locally with love, power and integrity. I seek to be awake on several levels simultaneously, and to respond appropriately within each, without being identified with any one of them to the exclusion of others.

  7. Laurie ૐ Willow Beacom
    October 2, 2010 at 1:30 pm #

    Yes….after years of living and loving in the light, the pendulum swung hard into the darkness of my being and I have been kinda stuck here for the last 3 years. In that time, I have left the teachings of my elders and thought for a while that perhaps I was an atheist underneath everything. But even that did not bring the peace I had when lightness was all around. Part of the journey for me since 2007 was to write my story, bring to the light all that I have hidden from my childhood. Perhaps that is why I seem to be seeing more darkness around me. Intrinsically, I am aware of “Spirit” when I am quiet and that has allowed me to keep my sanity while I traverse this bizarre wilderness I am in right now. What concerns me most is the growing of cynicism in this darkness. I am not a cynical person or at least I wasn’t. But now, I find myself snapping at all manner of spiritualness *sigh* My dream and desire is to trust that it’s ALL about the learning and the lessons and to take the cynicism in stride, ride it out and find….peace…

    Thank you so much for your words and your energy, Susan. You have given me much to contemplate <3

  8. Alisa Ruby Bash
    October 15, 2010 at 9:28 am #

    As a therapist, writer, and spiritual seeker, I just wanted to let you know how moved, impressed, and in agreement with your superb writing and wisdom in this article. I am almost even more moved with your responses in the comments, Susan. I rarely resonate so well with someone else’s answer to this eternal question. But your words are articulate, poetic, intelligent and bridge the gap between the esoteric and the practical beautifully. And yes, no one gets through a life without suffering and experiencing joy. We do need the contrast to experience wholeness, as we are microcosms of a greater wholeness. Our pain and all of the moments of negativity are really there to inspire us to try harder and stretch ourselves into realizing our true potential. Thanks again and I wish you many blessings.

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