Finding Meaning, Creating Meaning

I think it is part of the human experience to seek meaning in our existence. I think it is also a common experience for most of us to at some time in our lives question whether there is meaning in our existence and common also to  feel the overwhelming pain of the feeling of “meaninglessness.” Why seek meaning if you perceive none? Because it makes life a heck of a lot more livable.

People find their meanings in so many different places. For some, it comes packaged as part of religion or belief in something greater than the self and humanity. For others it comes from the contentedness of humanity itself. For some in the experience of pleasure, for some in work or parenting or in a commitment to serve others. For some meaning can be found in the blossoming of a flower at yet for others it is a constant a struggle to find a sense of it at all. Where we find out meaning can change from year to year or even day to day.

Meaning can be found or discovered and just as easily, it can be shattered or lost.

I also believe that meaning can be created.

At a time when I was in the the depths of darkness and struggling to find a reason to continue, a wise friend put to me that asking “why live?” (as sincerely seeking a reason as I was) was a moot question that would get me nowhere and suggested that instead I ask myself the question “what would a meaningful like look life?” There was no overnight miracle escape from the darkness but what did occur was a profound and positive shift in my attention. When I stopped asking “why live?” and focused my energy on asking “what would a meaningful life look like?” I started experimenting. I also started playing with the idea that if I couldn’t find meaning, then maybe I could create meaning.

I feel a bit like an investigator at the moment. I live my days the best I can, juggling struggles and joys, and all the while, I take notes. In years past, I used to write more about what was wrong, which is fine if it works as a constructive outlet, but for me became a cycle of negativity. Now I write notes and pieces about “what worked?”, “what made living a little easier today?”, “what helped me feel more connected?”, “what did I do that brought about that joy?”, “what was it I did that made riding out that rough wave possible?”

I write because in times of darkness or times of overwhelm, I forget. I forget that it is possible to ride out rough waves, I forget that joy is possible, I forget what I care about and I even forget who cares about me. I forget all of those things that make my life meaningful. Writing these notes for me doesn’t simply record moments of joy or techniques that aid in tough times, but also re-enforce the existence of them by providing tangible evidence; evidence that there are things that help in tough times and evidence that there are things in my life that are important to me. The evidence or tips contained in that journal serve to strengthen the knowledge at the time and also provides something that I can refer back to when I lose my way. It’s also one reason I’ve started writing here again.

The other day I lost my way. All I could see was the darkness and I felt terrified –  I couldn’t for the life of me remember how I found the light the last time, what I cared about or why or how I’d occupied myself in the easier weeks that had just passed. I knew that I’d done something though and something intentional because I’d been taking mental and physical notes. First I remembered that it was difficult and felt counter intuitive at the time. Second, I remembered it involved connecting with others and getting out of the house / changing my environment. Something inside told me that walking helped, too. I remembered walking. Eventually I remembered that going to the library at some point had been helpful (and free!). In the end I went against everything I felt like doing and left my house to walk o the library, calling a close friend to chat to on the way. Each of these things meant something to me: connection or community or friendship or health. Later that day, after the fact, a little light found its way in. Then, when other things became illuminated I took more tried and true steps and the darkness eased that little more; I could remember more of what I cared about. It was still a rough day but there were some easier moments and some brighter moments. Even more importantly, instead of taking action that would have increased the darkness, I moved just a little toward the light and toward a day that, for me, held meaning. The more the darkness eased, the more I was able to remember what helped previously and to act on that knowledge. The knowledge I have now isn’t the end of it though and the tools I use today might not be the tools I use tomorrow. The things that make one day feel meaningful to me at that time may be the same or different the next, but there are themes. Constantly, constantly, I try new things, search for more tools, find different ways to cope and grow and build things that are meaningful into my day to day existence… and when something helps or something works, I document it.

For me, my daily meaning is very tied in with my values. I do have a broader, overarching meaning in preventing undue suffering, which for those who care about me means my choosing to stick around on this planet. That, however, it is not enough to help me live each day well. To live each day well I need to be doing things that line up with my core vales: community, family, connectedness, sustainable living,  health, integrity, service.

Today the darkness was a little closer again and things felt a little precarious, so I wrote in reflection a few points of things that had already generated slivers of light and helped me make it as far as I had – things that I care about:

  • handwriting a postcard to my two year old niece (family, connectedness, communication),
  • feeling more energized (after) doing yoga (health),
  • the small feeling of accomplishment in experiencing progress in my flute playing (achievement),
  • looking forward to seeing a friend in the afternoon (inter-connectedness, friendship, community),
  • riding my bike to my friend’s place instead of driving (sustainable living, health).

Writing them helped me see them, remember them, feel them, and tuck them away for future reference. Writing them helped me acknowledge their existence.

Meaning doesn’t always come from the places we expect, or even the places we look. Some times, meaning comes from those things we don’t feel like doing at the time (the same with motivation). Some times the meaning and the meaningful life simply comes from the search itself.

Wherever it comes from for you, embrace it and remember it.

Whenever you are without it, remember that it can return, maybe from a different place than last time.

Whenever you are feeling without hope, know that the search (or better yet, creation) is worth it. When your mind asks you “why bother?” remind it that with meaning, wherever it comes from, life is SO much more do-able (even enjoyable).

Wherever you eventually find it, don’t forget to take notes – it may make it so much easier the next time.

And may peace be with you…

Johansen

 

 

 

 

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