Ilan Ramon was the first Israeli astronaut. He was aboard STS-107, the 28th mission of the space shuttle Columbia.
Upon re-entry into the atmosphere, Columbia disintegrated and exploded killing all seven crew members on board. Ramon was a great achiever. He was an elite fighter pilot and the youngest pilot who participated in Israel’s strike that destroyed Iraq’s nuclear reactor. Despite his success, Ramon asked poignant questions about life and its meaning that I think we should all ponder, for they are what give value to our actions.
Mr. Ramon sent his questions to Yeshayahu Leibowitz, a renowned professor of biochemistry and neurophysiology at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, who was also a prolific writer on Jewish thought and western philosophy. “For a long time, I have been pondering many questions that might be incorporated under the title, ‘What is man’s purpose in the world we live in?'” wrote Ramon. “The more questions we ask, the greater the contradictions and ambiguities. How do you explain the essence of life?” he asked Prof. Leibowitz. “How do you see man’s purpose and goal in life, and what is the way to achieve this goal?”
“Therefore, instead of living a fulfilling life as part of something higher than ourselves, we live only for ourselves, not knowing why we go through life’s hardships or the benefit we derive from our existence. This is the root cause of today’s increasing prevalence of anxiety and depression.”
Today, when many people are asking similarly poignant questions, we should look into them more closely. There is a reason for these questions; they are the compass that leads us to our calling in life, to our ultimate goal.
However, to find our purpose, we should start with the basics. We may not be aware of it, but humanity, indeed all of reality, does not consist of distinct entities and separate individuals. In truth, we are all parts of a single entity that functions like an organism, with us as its cells and organs.
The problem is that we are unaware of our oneness and perceive ourselves as separate beings. Just as we can understand the purpose of the existence of a cell only in the context of the organism where it lives, we can understand our own existence only in the context of all of reality. Because we feel like separate beings and do not recognize our connection to all creations, we cannot find the meaning and purpose of our existence.
Therefore, instead of living a fulfilling life as part of something higher than ourselves, we live only for ourselves, not knowing why we go through life’s hardships or the benefit we derive from our existence. This is the root cause of today’s increasing prevalence of anxiety and depression.
Our task, therefore, is to become aware of our interconnectedness. If we can come to feel as one entity, we will know our place in the world, how we can contribute to it, and how we should live our lives. We will be happy and confident knowing our worth and our place in the world.
However, we will never know about our connectedness or about the meaning of our lives unless we ask about it. These fundamental questions, which can be quite daunting at times, are the engine that drives us to seek answers. They are the force that drives humanity to learn and evolve. If we want to keep growing, we should never stop asking.