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What Does it Mean to be Human?

Silhouette of a person looking into a moonlit a night sky wondering What does it mean to be human from a perspective of spiritual development or a spiritual quest.

In this article, Jane Goodman opens up some of the many wonders, questions and challenges a person inevitably faces when choosing to explore one of the most basic yet often unconsidered questions of existence: "What does it mean to be Human?"


In this life, fragments of each of us are, each day, each moment, experiencing life near and far. While doing so, it’s a ponder as to how often the question is asked by you, by me, by anyone of the over 8 billion people alive and conscious, “What does it mean to be human?

Ask yourself, be honest with yourself – using this scale, what is your response to this question:

How often do you muse about what it means to be human?

Never Rarely Occasionally Often Persistently

A cartoon of a person confused about the purpose of human existence on his spiritual quest as other characters are pointing at him and telling him what to do.

If your response was never (not yet), rarely or occasionally, then what is the foundation for the direction of your life? What is leading your life? Is it:

  • the cognizant, self-aware you;

  • the semi-conscious you;

  • or the external demands/pressures you face each day that can be so loud and seemingly demanding?

A Spiritual Quest

You are most likely reading this article because you are on a spiritual quest or are just about to start you spiritual development journey. If this is so, then spending time dwelling with these questions could be essential to the steps along your path.

  • What is a spiritual journey without a growing understanding of the why and what of human existence?

  • In what ways can pursuing an understanding of the reason(s) for human life instruct one’s spiritual journey?

A growing understanding because what we come to at first is an inkling, a starter, rather than the answer.

Two pieces of a jigsaw puzzle silhouetted against the sun, are being held up to see if they might fit together, symbolising the self-awareness during a personal development process.

It’s a lifetime endeavor of traveling through the universe and beyond gathering clues, working out if they relate to one another and what might be the connection between them.


Be aware from the start that if you are a serious student of life and human purpose, the answers won't come all at once. They can't. It calls for persistence and continual wondering.

It asks to be your constant companion, one you learn more and more about each step along the way, year after year, with the opportunity to grow in depth, breadth and elevation.

Hurdles to Your Progress

As you have likely already come to know, overcoming obstacles is an important part of the journey. After each success and perhaps a rest, new challenges are bound to appear. It is the energies from the successes that are the fuel for what lies ahead. There are many growth opportunities that come to light when pursuing what it means to be human, and here are but a few.

Even though these hurdles might seem personal to you, they're absolutely not—and you have the power to do something about them.

Some of these hurdles are thinking, saying and doing to:

  • Gain favor

  • Be liked

  • Win

  • Gain advantage over others

  • Keep up with “the neighbors”

These behaviors place us at great distance from the unique part one has to play in being truly human. They are patterns of behavior to recognize without regret, guilt, shame, or any other demeaning attitude. Keep in mind that whatever your behaviors, attitude, and experiences up to the present moment, they somehow got you to where you are today.

Then there is being dishonest with yourself and with others so to be accepted, which is yet another of countless patterns that stop or stall a spiritual development journey.

And the list goes on, such as needing:

  • to be right

  • to have the answers

  • to be recognized by others, even at a cost to yourself

  • to feel superior to others or lesser than.

Finding the Way Forward

Whatever created the universe, the galaxies, this planet, and all the life here – mineral, flora, fauna, human – that thrive in and on it, provides us with the tools to find out what it means to be human. As far as we know, here on the planet only we humans, not an oak tree or a hummingbird or an iguana or a giraffe or a whale, have this opportunity of such discovery.

We are living in a diverse and enormous playground; it’s a massive library larger than what exists in all the library buildings combined; and it is right here in our backyards waiting for a lifetime of exploration into what it means to be human. Yes, it’s a lifetime journey with many “ah ha” moments along the way. Though your investigative muscles might be weak at first, with persistence, over time they will strengthen.

To that higher intelligence, here called God, you are not your job, your shape, your size, your clothing, your finances, your material possessions, or anything that is left behind when your time comes to shed this earthly suit. So then, what does it mean to be human?

The pressures of living up to the material and dogmatic ways of the world distance us from being the unique humans we have been, for millennia, and still are designed to be.

  • Do you ever wonder what created the stars, suns, planets, YOU?

  • What does it, if anything, have to do with the purpose for human existence?

  • Why is it that humans changed from walking on all fours to being bipedal, walking upright? What caused such a shift and what has this change triggered?

Spiritual Development Exercise

Here’s an exercise to try. It might seem silly to the adult you, yet remember to engage the child-like you who will play with zest, utter abandon, focus and without being self-conscious.

Try walking on all fours (crawling) for 10 minutes. While doing so, sense what it feels like to view your environment from that position. What is it like?

6 silhouette drawings in a line showing the progression of a baby at first crawling, then standing up, then walking, and finally becoming an adult walking man, symbolising spiritual growth.

Curious that once a baby crawls proficiently he/she is compelled to stand and then compelled to walk. Why?

And the child then enters a new stage of development as a toddler. Nothing can stop the child, as all humans are designed to be upright, and so much begins to activate from here on in.

Getting a Deeper Perspective

Yes, we have the innate faculties to succeed in living in a complex and insane world and not have it manage us. How is this possible? What moves us away from the dispersion the material world propagates and towards the truth of being human, the truth of oneself?

Living in this time, it continues to become more apparent/transparent that security does not live in material things. So, if security exists, where is it meant to appear out from? And what might this well-known saying from Pierre Teilhard de Chardin have to do with what security is meant to be for a life?

“We are not human beings having a spiritual experience. We are spiritual beings having a human experience.”

A spiritual journey can be the path to discovering the human’s purpose, and from there your purpose. What better security is there than that?

Alert! It’s not a one-time and “I’ve got it” affair. It’s a lifetime pursuit that strengthens, rattles, calms, and can bring a deep inner settlement. When saying settlement, it doesn’t mean “all done, accomplished, onto the next”. It’s an increasingly deepening feeling of coming closer and closer to being the human we/you are designed to be.

The world around us, especially the media, tries to convince us, and does so way too successfully, that being liked and from there, recognized, is of great importance, value. Liked/recognized by who? By what? Others, self, what created life? From the outside or inside?

Some Ponders About Your Life

To what extent is your life focused on the present and future? To what extent are you jailing yourself in the cage of your history? Hmm, yes that’s right, we do it to ourselves and it’s only you that can free you.

Have you noted that your head, eyes, nose, ears, mouth face forward to the now and future and not backwards to the past? Don’t skim over this one, instead take into consideration that this might be a simple yet profound elementary clue in the discovery of what it means to be human.

Our physical being replaces billions of cells every day and over a 7 to 10-year span every single cell is exchanged for new ones. Some are replaced hourly, some happening daily, some monthly, some yearly and some, like in the brain when there is an injury (neurogenesis). So, what is it that holds onto past experiences – joyful or painful – from childhood, adolescence, last year, last week? Might holding on to them keep us from experiencing the present moment and keep us from moving into a not-yet-experienced future, keep us from experiencing what it truly means to be human?

Making a Brave Start

3 children playing spacemen in an imagined galaxy on a spiritual quest.

As a child everything was new. We boldly faced each day as possibility. That childlike way can be with you today. Not childish, but the love of discovery, the focus of the moment, being bathed in newness. It is only you that can make the changes in yourself to come to see what you previously viewed with a new, today perspective.

Here’s a statement to sit with: The human is a processing machine, constantly receiving and expressing impressions. It is not meant to be fixed or stagnant or finished. So, when we hear ourselves saying “I’m like this” “I don’t like that”, “I am” followed by any adjective or adverb, we often lock ourselves in the jail of yesterday, into a fixing mental pattern.

You’ve likely either experienced or seen the person who keeps attracting people to themselves who are dragging, "bad" influences. The behaviors, self-views that perpetuate this most likely come out from old, fixed patterns that keep the person at distance from their inner “you”, rather than being with conscious, well-reasoned perceptions, feelings and thought processes against the now “you” choice.

It could be you are hiding from something you feel ashamed of or feel guilty about or are fearful of or… You look within and name this prison of your own making. Only you can turn the key to unlock the door and be released.

Seeking Your Inner Core

As with all organic life, what one is at core, is a part of the God-gifted design (higher intelligence). The clues are all around us, nature abounds with them. Studying the ways of the universe, the planets, this planet and all that lives upon her and yes, the human design (all its workings), perusing these creations will uncover clues, clues that something deep inside knows about what it means to be human.

Ask yourself, is the path you are either consciously or semi-consciously traveling a horizontal journey, meaning of greater breadth yet more of the same? If you feel at distance to the true you, more of the same is possibly a dead end.

Here’s another question you might choose to keep active in the background, it’s a question to ask while listening to your thoughts and watching your actions each day. In doing so, try to be both the actor and audience in the theater of your living, in the discovery of why you believe what you believe, why you do what you do. And while doing this, or at the end of the day when taking account, ask yourself “Where during the day did I feel a sense of fulfillment?” “If there were moments when I felt at home in me, when was that?”

Alert! If you choose to embark on this path, be aware that it isn’t an easy journey, as nothing of value is easy. Yet it can lighten your life, shedding pounds of no-longer-useful baggage. It can bring a richness beyond measure to this human experience of living.

A spiritual journey is diverse like this scene of mountains with, some of them snow capped in the far distance.

Being a Better Pioneer

Perhaps an apt analogy to pause with is in bringing to mind what it might have been like for the pioneers, who when traveling from east to west journeyed over the foothills and viewed the Great Divide of the Americas (Continental Divide). When traveling over these foothills, the weight in the wagons was too much, so they took out, left behind, the heavy possessions that would keep them from succeeding. These first travelers thought that when reaching the top of the foothill mountains they were almost “there”, that they were going to see vast plains and rivers in the rather near distance. Yet when reaching the top of this lower mountain range the view was the Continental Divide, and its enormity; there were many more ascents and steeper ones.

A photograph of a single wagon on its way past a high desert rocky hill, carrying a sense of the rigors of the human journey.

So they threw out of the wagon everything that was not essential, anything that would impede the journey ahead, that would keep them from reaching the land they were compelled to discover, one that until met was an unknown territory.

Finding the Unique You

Who, what, is this unique you? Here are a few starters to be with. What might it have to do with:

  • the way your experiences in life shape you, as well as how you handle and view these experiences

  • your attitudes form you

  • the qualities you give life to through your thoughts and actions, and most importantly actions.

Each of these and more can guide you into the realms of the unique you.

A girl on a personal development journey walking through a hilly rocky landscape looking for the meaning of human existence.

For us the greater journey is in the shedding of psychological “possessions” that impede the way ahead. Not all of them, or all at once. When the time comes, you will know which and when and, in the shedding, give thanks for the road already traveled as you make exploration into “What does it mean to be human?”.


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