(Hu) Man's Search For Meaning
One of the perks of this job and lifestyle, and one that I hadn't anticipated, is that I've been emancipated from my never ending to-do list. I don't have to clean the house, mow the lawn, fix that thing, pay that bill, walk the dog, answer those e-mails, or make those calls. My life is very simple. I get up at 4:45, brush my teeth, do a bit of stretching, quick meditation, and start work at 5:30. When I finish work I try to do some exercise (before I rest or else I won't do it!) which usually consists of some yoga, swimming and sometimes weights. Sometimes I hang by the pool if it's warm outside. Then I have the rest of the day to do whatever I want before I go to bed at 8.
As a type-A personality who has a hard time relaxing before I've tackled some or all of my to-do list, this thrills me. The freedom of time has allowed me to read so many of the books that have been on my reading list for years! Not to mention I finally have the spare cash flow to buy them on my kindle.
Today I finished reading Man's Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl, a psychologist and Nazi concentration camp survivor. One cannot fathom the incredible pain and suffering this man, and his comrades have been through and lived to tell the tale. For me, it really put into perspective my own exiguous suffering, and my personal search for meaning, which I tend to overthink and complicate, like most of my life issues. I have to keep reminding myself to simplify, whittle it down as I often say to my yoga students. “One day at a time, one posture at a time, one breath at a time”...
In the concentration camps, so many men would lose hope, and that would be the end of them. A few days later they would die, having given up on life, no longer feeling that they have a purpose. Viktor said, in a speech to help moralise the group, that “they must not lose hope, but should keep their courage in the certainty that the hopelessness of our struggle does not detract from it's dignity and it's meaning..”. This helps me to reconcile the seemingly mundane and unexciting parts of my life that make me wonder what the heck I'm doing here? I once read in a book about buddhism in regards to life's purpose, that perhaps what you are already doing is your purpose. That to go on searching relentlessly causes so much stress that you are no longer happy, and that is certainly not life's purpose.
Even suffering in and of itself has meaning. Long after the war, a man who was mourning his wife and couldn't cope with the depression, came to Viktor as a patient. He didn't know what else he could do, and no longer wanted to live without his wife. Viktor's solution was to find the meaning in his suffering. He asked his patient what would have happened if he had died before his wife. He said it would have been awful for her, totally unbearable. So indeed, “...such a suffering had been spared her, and it was you who had spared her this suffering. Suffering ceases to be suffering at the moment it finds a meaning, such as the meaning of sacrifice”.
I am often caught up in thoughts of the future. What can I do with my life to contribute, to leave the world a better place than I found it? And these thoughts cause me so much stress and anxiety; that I'm not doing enough, that I don't measure up, that I won't leave the world a better place than I found it. For starters, the world is a daaang big place and there is a lot that is not under my control. But stressing about my contribution doesn't get me any closer to finding meaning. And perhaps if I simply relaxed and found enjoyment in what I'm already doing, a purpose may arise.
I guess we all want to leave our mark on the world, or do something really amazing that will benefit humanity. But it doesn't necessarily have to be something huge. Simply touching the lives of those around you with your particular spark everyday can have a huge effect. Recently someone that I used to babysit in my teens passed away from cancer, and it hit home to me, that anything can happen, at any time, at any age. I keep thinking, if I can just pay off this debt, I will finally be free to do the things I want and I will be happier. But what if, heaven forbid, something terrible happens? Perhaps I finish paying my debt, and get on the road to start my exciting travel adventure around Australia, and get into an accident and die? Then I would have spent the last year of my life cooking eggs and muffins and waiting for the next chapter to begin. I hope I can use Viktor's book to inspire my everyday life, but I am also cautious of being caught up in the search and forgetting to show up in the moment.
Viktor has some very good life advice that until today, I hadn't been able to put into practice. I read a lot of books about self improvement, and I've found that reading and appreciating them is one thing, absorbing them and remembering the content another, and then actually taking the steps towards change a whole other ball park. I'm sure I'm not alone on that one. In his book, Viktor advises one to live life as though you have already lived this exact life and you are about to do that wrong thing again. And instead of doing the wrong thing, you choose to do the right thing.
Initially I understood this in terms of large things like major life decisions. But today at work I had the opportunity to do the right thing, in an exchange with a coworker. I'd made an order and brought it out to the customer, “ham and tomato toastie” I said. When they asked if there was cheese on it, I said it wasn't written on the docket (to the customer, and in front of the woman who hadn't written it on the docket). I spent the next ten minutes thinking to myself, “that was so rude, she's probably pissed at me, now it's going to be awkward between us, I should have just said to the customer, 'sorry about that, I'll fix it up'''...
And instead of continuing to agonise about it or ignore the conflict like I usually do, I remembered Viktor's advice. I apologised to my coworker for childishly blame shifting the wrong order to her in front of the customer. And you know what? She said, 'no worries, didn't bother me at all, most people are much worse!'. Now don't I feel a lot better for actually saying something about it?! Not only that, I hope that next time I'll be able to catch myself before the act. One step closer to becoming a more conscious, self aware and compassionate human being. One step closer to having those attributes rub off on those around me, creating a ripple effect and spreading the positive change far and wide.. and perhaps even... one day, leaving this world a far better place than I found it.
I will leave you with a quote of my favourite paragraph in the book, which basically sums up my reasons for writing a blog and sharing my stories:
"The pessimist resembles a man who observes with fear and sadness that his wall calendar, from which he tears a daily sheet, grows thinner with each passing day. On the other hand, the person who attacks the problems of life actively is like a man who removes each successive leaf from his calendar and files it neatly and carefully away with its predecessors, after first having jotted down a few diary notes on the back. He can reflect with pride and joy on all the richness set down in these notes, on all the life he has already lived to the fullest. What will it matter to him if he notices he is growing old? Has he any reason to envy the young people whom he sees, or wax nostalgic over his own lost youth? What reasons has he to envy a young person? For the possibilities that a young person has, the future which is in store for him? “No, thank you” he will think. “Instead of possibilities, I have realities in my past, not only the reality of work done and love loved, but of sufferings bravely suffered. These sufferings are even the things of which I am most proud, though these are things which cannot inspire envy.”