Saturday, September 28, 2019

A Meaningful Life

What does it mean to have a meaningful life?  Teilhard de Chardin writes of ‘a true act’ and the ‘zest for life’.  A true act is something into which one invests his or her self, believing it to be of abiding value.  The ‘zest for life’ is the fundamental energy—an evolutionary pressure born with reflective awareness that drives humans to create.  All creativity fuels hope and move us toward meaning.  To create can be as simple as finding a new way to tackle an old task or as profound as composing a symphony. 

Meaning doesn’t come from the accumulation of wealth and it can’t be reached with a ‘me first’ attitude.  Many suicides and much of the drug use results from a loss of hope and the failure to find meaning in life.

How does one find meaning?  It begins with having an appreciation for what is here for us that we ourselves haven’t created—which is almost everything . . . from the world in which we live and the air we breathe, to the food we buy in the grocery store, to the music and stories we enjoy, to our fancy gadgets from cars to smart phones, to electric tooth brushes; someone else is responsible for it being there for our use.  Meister Eckhart said, “If the only prayer you say is ‘Thank You’—it is enough.

A search for meaning requires a serious self-exploration asking ‘What truly matters to me?’  Some find their meaning easily but usually it is not readily obvious and takes work to realize requiring much thought, reading, meditation and moving out into the world, trying what is appealing but perhaps is scary and difficult.

The next requirement is to leave self-centeredness behind and begin to look for purpose beyond the self, asking ‘What out there matters to me and how does it affect those around me?’  That expands our awareness to taking others into consideration—from our family and their wants and needs, to friends, to strangers, to life and our world.  Some times in the search for meaning one finds support, but often there is opposition and that raises new questions: ‘How does their opinion effect me?’  ‘Can I stay true to what I seek without damaging others?’ ‘What in all this is truly important to me?’

That expansion allows one to begin to see that we are part of the flow of life in this One World and that One World is what it presently is by the choices and actions of all who came before us.  It is our turn now; we are making the choices and taking the actions that continue the flow of life that will go on beyond us.

As we awaken to meaning, we move out of our selfishness, to invest in something greater than ourselves.  We all need hope, and meaning provides the ground for hope.  To merely hope for a better world is not enough, it isn’t going to ‘just happen’—we must choose to make it happen, to hope and believe ‘I can add to the possibility of a better world.’  That is the beginning of a meaningful life.

Finding the answer to ‘What really matters to me?’ will be different for everyone.  For some it will be small and local such as making a good and loving home for my family.  Others desire a wider pursuit like giving expression in art, music or writing, and for still others, devotion to a worthy cause, but always it will be something beyond selfishness.

There is a deep satisfaction that comes of being able to identify what truly matters personally and pursuing it with devotion.  Life doesn’t become easier, it often opens the door to unexpected disappointments but if it be a ‘true act’, it gives hope and meaning that allows one to face whatever the challenges.

It is more than just an expression to say ‘it is in giving that we receive’; it is only in giving that we find our way to a meaningful life.