Tag Archives: life

In a Strange Land: Fourteen

In the hour of my death, would I regret that my life had no meaning? Should that be a regret, after all?

It seemed that some people—often those who offered sage advice about aging—advocated a search for meaning in one’s life. It was seemingly a noble cause. If you wanted to feel that you had successfully grown old, then you must find a meaning or a purpose for yourself.

I hadn’t done it yet.

I imagined the scenario at the end of my life. There I would be, my life blinking down to its very last moment. Would I be asking myself what my life meant? If I had followed the sage advice I would have my answer ready. My search for meaning and purpose would be over by then. If I had successfully aged, I would have found my meaning. Just before my life’s final blink, I would be able to answer myself: This was my meaning. This was my purpose.

Putting aside the question of whether, having discovered my meaning, I would be able to achieve it fully before that final hour, I had begun to question whether finding meaning and purpose was so important. In the end, who would know that I had found my meaning? For that matter, would I myself know that I had found it?

More important than finding meaning, it seemed to me, was choosing a way of being. A way of being was part instinct, part inclination.

Not being too mawkish about it, I chose a way of being that was motivated by kindness and appreciative of the kindness of others. It was a way of an open heart and an open mind. It was a way of seeking beauty and of finding joy in the beauty that I found. Beauty, I thought, was not just in the eye of the beholder. It was a shared experience, and being so it was so much larger than myself. Discovering how I could participate—exploring the extent of my own ability to create beauty—this seemed to be a worthy cause, a righteous purpose, even.

It was a pursuit of the awesome. It was an experiment in making my ethical will.

There was no end-point to this exploration, this quest for discovery. There was no meaning to be finally found. There would always be something that I could not reach. A way of being was not a goal. It was a process.

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Some other stuff for later,

  • 84
    This month, I have had the privilege of playing Neil in a community theater production of The Quality of Life, a beautifully-written, award-winning play by Jane Anderson. Neil and his wife Jeanette are living in a yurt on their property in the Berkeley Hills in Northern California after losing their…
  • 72
    The English version of this post—Becoming Neil—was posted here on March 29, 2016. This Spanish translation is my own and may contain errors. I invite native speakers of the language to comment on my errors and to suggest corrections. Aquí está una traducción en español de Becoming Neil. Me gustaría…
  • 71
    Three years into exile, and I knew that I would become “old” soon enough. Maybe I was already. I hoped to be one of those people who enjoyed good health and a sharp mind right up until the end, but for many people, some sort of affliction came with the…

In Pursuit of Meaning

Happiness—what it is and how to get more of it—has long fascinated this blog. The Pursuit of Happiness observed that “happiness is not a random event” and explored the notion that personal growth is the source of happiness.

“Personal growth can mean learning something new, mastering something difficult, acquiring new insight, or being moved to joy in some inexpressible way by a work of art or piece of music. It can mean developing physical strength, health or endurance. Personal growth may mean achieving a higher level of emotional or spiritual connection with another person or with the natural world.”

Personal growth is about change, how you perceive change in your life, and how you respond to it. Personal growth comes from experiencing life’s changes as positive and affirming.

Optimal Living looked into the idea of “successful aging”—the idea that success in aging means achieving maximum satisfaction and happiness. Optimal aging—or “optimal living”—might be a better objective, because we should not think ourselves unsuccessful if we fail to achieve maximum happiness. There is an underlying hopefulness about seeking an optimal life. Life is not pass or fail. The discovery of what is optimal for ourselves is ongoing and evolving. Some of the benchmarks for what is optimal are quality of life, feelings of satisfaction and happiness, balance, capability, control and purpose.

The Center for Spirituality & Healing at the University of Minnesota has suggested that our goal should be making a more meaningful life for ourselves. Life is “meaningful” according to the Center when you feel “engaged, connected to purpose, and able to connect your gifts and passions with your highest values.” Meaningfulness is a “component of happiness,” and the pursuit of meaning leads to contentment. We can cultivate a sense of meaning through attention to four themes that wrap around a meaningful life: belonging, purpose, transcendence and storytelling.

We cultivate a sense of belonging by forming and deepening relationships and by joining with others in a community.

We find purpose by becoming aware of our individual values, our distinctive passions and our unique abilities—our gifts—and by applying those values, passions and gifts “to bring knowledge, joy, ease, or safety to others.”

Transcendence is our sense of connection to something bigger than ourselves. Transcendent experiences may be found in nature, in creativity or in spirituality. Later, Comma described the experience of transcendence in an earlier post, The Pursuit of Awesomeness and another post, An Expression of Spirituality, explored the intersection of spirituality and transcendence.

Storytelling in the pursuit of meaning refers to the story that we tell ourselves about ourselves. Storytelling is how we talk to ourselves about the significant experiences that have occurred in our lives. We can change how we tell our story. We have the power to edit our story with the passing of time, to view the facts of our experiences in different, more positive ways, to reshape ourselves by the retelling of our past. Just as our perception of change affects our experience of personal growth, the narrative voice that we hear telling our story affects how meaningful we perceive our lives to be.

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Some other stuff for later,

  • 85
    The concept of “successful aging” haunts me of late. Maybe it is just that I have time to think about aging now that I have achieved retiree status. Maybe while I continue getting older and older I wonder whether I am getting as much out of life as I should.…
  • 64
    I was a spiritual skeptic. I believed that compassion and kindness were good things, but I doubted that spirituality had anything to do with it. My sense of morality had its origins in my childhood experiences, the influence of my parents—who somehow managed to teach me right from wrong—and the…
  • 64
    In the hour of my death, would I regret that my life had no meaning? Should that be a regret, after all? It seemed that some people—often those who offered sage advice about aging—advocated a search for meaning in one’s life. It was seemingly a noble cause. If you wanted…