Thursday, May 12, 2016

About Meaning

I’ve been thinking a lot about meaning. And I’ve been meaning to write about it…Well, the truth is that I’ve been thinking about it since the beginning of this year and this is nineteenth variation of this blog post (so much for not overthinking, huh? See previous post on that topic) I have been starting and stopping it, writing and rewriting it for a long time.  Seriously, who has a blog and doesn’t post anything on it for months? Apparently, I do. 

As I get older, as the world turns and I feel blessed with brief moments of deeper awareness, I am often faced with a question - what is the meaning of [insert anything in parenthesis – life, suffering, work, parenting, illness, health, relationships, friendships, marriage….] For example: there is a big project, it will take hours and days and perhaps months to complete and to do well. What's the meaning in this work? And, an equally important question: is that meaning worthy enough of the precious hours of my life? And as the weeks pass by, I take stock, more questions: What have I accomplished? What was the meaning of the tasks I got done? And what's the ratio of meaningful things and actions to meaningless things and actions? And am I pleased with that ratio?

And these questions then haunt me and don’t let me sleep. They demand answers. These questions demand resolutions. Above all, these questions demand a certain specific way of living one’s life. The voice in my head (the loudest one) screams: "Are you lockstep with your values? Are you making a positive impact in the lives of others? And is that impact meaningful?" 

Now, let me admit right up front that the answers are fuzzy and ill-defined. Who am I kidding, most of the time I don’t have any answers. (Yes, you read it right – there is no punch line or a big reveal down below.) As Joan Didion, an American author, famously said “I don't know what I think until I write it down.” I suppose, I write to find meaning. This post isn't a set of answers but rather an invitation to join me in my private / public conversation with myself in search for meaning.  

Last year, I read a whole book on meaning. It shook my consciousness like few other books ever have. The book is called Man's Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl. If you haven’t read it, you must…

Frankl writes: “Life ultimately means taking the responsibility to find the right answer to its problems and to fulfill the tasks which it constantly sets for each individual. These tasks, and therefore the meaning of life, differ from man to man, and from moment to moment. Thus it is impossible to define the meaning of life in a general way. Questions about the meaning of life can never be answered by sweeping statements. “Life” does not mean something vague, but something very real and concrete, just as life’s tasks are also very real and concrete. They form man’s destiny, which is different and unique for each individual. No man and no destiny can be compared with any other man or any other destiny. No situation repeats itself, and each situation calls for a different response.” Is that powerful or what? Frankl survived an incredibly hard life and found meaning in it AND lived to write about it.  Does it mean we all can?

While it may seem that the meaning of anything needs to be grandiose, too big to grasp, theoretical, what Frankl teaches us is that meaning comes from putting one foot in front of the other, doing the work, showing up for life, even when we are broken, even when things are hopeless, even when we are hitting a new low every day… Just taking responsibility for one task at a time. It may sound un-glamorous and yet it feels so right.  

There is a lot more written on the meaning of meaning…and I can fill this blog with a ton of quotes (you know, I am good at finding good quotes. If not, just see my previous blog post.) Instead I want to leave you with some questions:
  • What is meaningful to you? 
  • Are you sure about that? 
  • How do you know that it is meaningful? 
  • Since you are so certain about that thing that is so meaningful to you, what are you doing about it? Yes, you – are you creating more of that meaning in your life?

Earlier this year, I declared that this will be the year of “Meaning,” with a big M. While I am far from clarity, what I know for sure, is that finding meaning feels immensely important to me. Does it to you?