How does one live a meaningful life?
I have a feeling as I sit to write this that this will not be the only article I write on the meaning of life, ha! The question above has stayed with me for many years, becoming like a shadow that follows me everywhere. And as I walk in my life, this question reveals layers and layers of answers.
The seedling of this question initially sprouted as Is this life that I’m living a life worth living? I asked this question while working as an engineer in New York. My life mainly consisted of work – 10 hour long days, an hour or more commute each day. Thank goodness I finally tuned in and asked myself whether or not I was actually finding meaning in what I was doing – I realized I could sit at the same desk until I was 60 years old avoiding this question. The tough thing about truth is that once we see it, once we admit truth to ourselves, we can’t un-see it. “No”, my inner voice said, “This doesn’t feel like meaningful work. This isn’t how I want to spend my life.” So soon enough, I left that job to look for a life that I deemed “worth living.”
And I’ll admit, this quest for worthwhile living has been a meaningful pursuit. It led me back to myself, at an Osho ashram in the Israeli desert. I found meditation, the entry point to the inner universe. And it’s led me to take risks, to shed parts of myself, to leap deeper and deeper into the wellspring of truth that is offered in our human existence. It’s been an incredibly destructive process – burrowing into my conditioning, finding out the I formed by culture and society versus the true self without those fatty layers. And now, I’ve come across another threshold that I must walk over to get to the next exploration of this question.
What I’ve come to realize is that I have a tendency to focus on the physicalities (I know that’s not a word but it’s going to be for this moment) of life – profession, income, relationship, home. This hangup on physical realities inform the majority of my choices. They seem the most real to me. And of course, they are to some extent real, but what I’ve come to realize is that the structure of these realities are much less important than the meaning I assign to them. So for example, after I left engineering, I held myriad jobs. From assistant work to bereavement counselor to house cleaner, I can keep going but I won’t, I’ve explored a variety of work scenes. And I often get frustrated feeling like the work that I’m doing doesn’t mean anything to me, it’s not worth my time, why am I doing it? I come to this space that itches to find the job…the life…that will bring me meaning. You see where I’m going?
“You will find meaning in life
only if you create it. It is a poetry to be composed.
It is a song to be sung. It is a dance to be danced…” – Osho
Osho, speaking the truth as always, reminds me of the hard, difficult truth that lands responsibility on my lap. I must create the meaning. It doesn’t matter if I’m cleaning a toilet or saving the world, it’s up to me to assign the meaning of what I choose to funnel my energy into. The work itself is just the set of a play – without meaning, it is nothing! So I could go on searching for the rest of my life to find meaningful work or a meaningful life, waiting for it to come, for some magic meaning to arise, for some perfection to roll up to my doorstep, and I will die never finding it. It is my participation, my care, my love, that brings meaning. It’s like notes on a page of music – they hold no value until they are orchestrated, until they are played, until they are brought into creation.
My mother reminded me of this, she offered me a shift in my perspective on how to hold my work with care, with purpose, with meaning. Gosh, how we underestimate our parents. In her own words, she spoke words to me that pointed to the poetry that Kahlil Gibron spoke about work in The Prophet:
And what is it to work with love?
It is to weave the cloth with threads drawn from your heart, even as if your beloved were to wear that cloth.
It is to build a house with affection, even as if your beloved were to dwell in that house.
It is to sow seeds with tenderness and reap the harvest with joy, even as if your beloved were to eat the fruit.
It is to charge all things you fashion with a breath of your own spirit,
And to know that all the blessed dead are standing about you and watching.
I look at my life right now. I’m helping two wonderful women spread their work in the world. I am midwifing their birthing creativity. And yet, it’s been so easy to approach this meaningful process in such a cold, linear, contrite way. To look at it merely as tasks to get done. My mother asked “Well, how can you treat the work like it is that of your own?” How do we assist in this birthing process with each other, strengthening the network between one another, to create a meaningful world? How do we respect the timing and the sensitivity needed in this natural birthing process?
Ah, I come back to the relief that comes from perspective shifting. It is up to me how I perceive this reality, how I choose to look at the experiences of my life, how I sing the song of meaning into my life.
May you find meaning in your life.