Sunday, June 20, 2010

Meaningful Living

I think it was the Buddha who said, “I can’t tell you people anything!” That’s what everyone who knows, knows. They know they can’t tell anyone anything. No one can tell us how to live our lives or where to find meaning. We have to make our own way to the Grail. All anyone can tell us is, " Look! Listen!" It takes a lot of looking to be able to see, a lot of listening to be able to hear. There are no shortcuts to be found in the morass of explanations, recipes, formulas and instructions. There are no shortcuts to a meaningful life.

Our life is an experiment with meaning. We have to live so as to experience meaning! We have to explore what that might be! We have to ask! Seek! Knock! Take up the Quest! To live meaningfully does not mean being in possession of meaning (As if!). We cannot put meaning in a pen in the back yard and go pet it when we are feeling down and out. We don’t own meaning. We can only live in the service of meaning, be on the Quest for meaning, throughout our lives.

Meaning is not a steady state of being. Our lives are more or less meaningful at any point, but the movement of our life is toward meaning. We live toward meaning by doing what is meaningful. The Quest is for meaning. What can we do that has the most meaning for us here and now? Where is meaning to be found here and now? The meaning in life comes with doing what is meaningful, in doing what matters, what is important, to us. How much of that is in each day?

If you are going to know anything, know what is meaningful to you, here and now. If you are going to do anything, do what is meaningful to you, here, now. We have to start somewhere. Start with what is meaningful to you and follow it throughout your life. As it changes, change with it. Don't get stuck in doing what was meaningful twenty years ago. What is meaningful here, now? Do it!

What should we do? Whatever is meaningful. Follow meaning. Live meaningfully. If the most meaningful thing you do is bowling, bowl. See where that leads you. The most meaningful thing I do is walking around with a camera looking for a photograph. It is not attending meetings. Not even meetings about photography. It’s the old two door challenge. If you stand before two doors, one labeled “Photography,” the other labeled “Lecture About Photography,” which do you choose? “Bird Watching” or “Lecture About Bird Watching”? “Heaven” or “Lecture About Heaven”? “Meaning” or “Lecture About Meaning”?

A meaningful life consists of a trail of meaningful associations. If you are awash in the complete absence of meaning, think of the most meaningful thing you can do and follow the path of meaningful associations out of there. See where it takes you. One meaningful thing leads to another, but we have to be alert to the movement or we'll become lost amid the glass beads and silver mirrors.

Nothing is more often imitated, fabricated, faked or forged than meaning. Everything pretends to be meaningful. Look! Listen! Be aware! Oh, a word of warning: Living meaningfully, doing what has meaning for us, comes with a high price-tag. We have to hand over our comfortable routines.

Do we want to be comfortable or live meaningfully? Meaning is incompatible with comfort. The more comfortable we are, the less meaning there is in our lives. We try to arrange for meaning without sacrificing comfort. That's where the glass beads and silver mirrors come in. Entertainment. Diversion.

We cannot buy meaning directly. We can only spend our money living meaningfully. It costs a buck or two to walk around looking for photos. But, buying cameras and computers and the latest equipment and gadgets won’t do it. We have to walk around looking for photos. We have to get up before dawn and stay out after dark, and carry a tripod.

This gets us to more bad news: Meaning is work. Meaningful work is the heart of LIFE. We can't just surround ourselves with the tools of the trade. We have to do the work. Apart from the work, the tools of the trade become props. Carrying a camera doesn’t make us a photographer any more than wearing a hat and boots makes us a cowboy. Looking like a photographer or a cowboy isn’t meaningful. We have to do the work. That’s the path that leads to the Grail, that IS the Grail. It’s waiting. On us.

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