What do you want to be when you grow up?
It’s been years since I’ve heard that question. Most of us stop thinking about it after graduating from school and land our first “real” job. From there, reality takes over and life, in Robert Frost’s words, flows on its own melt.
In a time frame that feels like grade school summer vacation, we wake up “middle-aged.” An age when many of us begin to wonder where we are headed and what life is about. Questions of purpose, value, and meaning have more sway after age forty.
So, what defines a quality life?
The best guidance I’ve found came from a little book written by Viktor Frankl, titled “Man’s Search For Meaning.” (Presumably women also.)
Viktor Frankl survived internment in three Nazi concentration camps, including Auschwitz. From this experience, he concluded that given a chance to live, the difference between prisoners who survived and those who perished came down to one thing, meaning.
I first read this book in the mid-1980s. At the time, we had two children, a mortgage, and expenses that exhausted my paycheck. Meaning sounded like more of a luxury than a necessity, something I was too busy to think about.
I was intrigued by the idea, though, and I wondered, “What is the meaning of my life?” Being retired for nearly a decade, I’ve had more time to think about this.
Life is defined by relationships. Meaning arises from seeing where we fit in. That’s not always easy. Each of us must find our place. “Mindfulness” helped me.
When we slow down our “monkey mind” and get out of our own way. Awareness assumes new meaning. For me, this required some un-doing first.
Awareness always has a reference point. Usually, it’s “Self.” That’s a problem, not so much due to narcissism, but because “Self” divides the world into two, “Me,”/”Not Me.” This division pits desire against circumstance, a losing battle if there ever was one!
Have you ever noticed that some people are unhappy, no matter what?
That often accompanies self-centered awareness. When centered on “Self,” we behave as if life is about us, when in fact, it’s the other way around. We are about life! When we let go of “Self,” we stop paddling against the current, and our war with circumstance subsides.
That’s easier said than done.
I know because it doesn’t take much to set me off. Over time, I’ve learned to “check-in” when negative feelings arise. When I do, I find that, sure enough, awareness is centered squarely on “Me.” When I simply witness life, rather than being its victim, my emotional state always improves.
Perhaps a quality life is less about the cards we are dealt and more about how we play our hand. Learning to witness my reaction to circumstance, rather than being that reaction, increased the quality of my life a lot!
The more we become part of life, the easier it is to find meaning in its flow.
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