I've been feeling really counterculture this week. Maybe it's because I've been reading the archives of Frugal Woods, Becoming Minimalist and Zen Habits and appreciating the different perspectives they offer. Or maybe it's because I've had to make a few decisions in my personal life about which road to take next. Whatever the reason, I'm really grateful for this subtle shift in my thinking because it's pushed me to ponder the following question in more detail:
What Does A Meaningful Life Feel Like to You?
My word for years now has been 'connection'. It's what lies at the heart of my search for a meaningful life at a very deep level; it's what I complain that I feel is missing when I'm not slowing down, being mindful and keeping up my meditation practice; it's what I feel is lacking in many human interactions and relationships; it's what I feel that we've lost sight of as a society, on both an individual and group level; it's what flies out the window when I am moving through life too fast. What connection really embodies for me is that feeling of belonging, of compassion for all beings, of care and purpose and gentleness, of deep inner peace within my heart. I really feel that it is an important first step in crafting a meaningful life to first work out what that feels like for each of us as unique individuals and at each stage of our lives. Change is a part of life and we need to be able to flow with that, as best we can.
If it's That Simple, Why Aren't We All Arahants?
I've come to realise that the journey into the heart is a largely solo one. That is not to say that we can't have friends, companions and teachers at different points in the journey, but at the end of the day you are the only one walking your path. And herein lies the conundrum: living a life that is meaningful to us on a deep, inner level will mean that inevitably, at some point, we have to step into the complete unknown. Now I don't know about you but for me that is not necessarily an easy thing to do...and I consider myself to be a fairly independent, courageous, not-deeply-embedded-into-society sort of person. Whenever I start to really, truly walk my own path, I have an eerie sensation that I am leaving behind all ties to 'normal' and I can get a bit spooked. The unknown is exactly that...so unknown and unfamiliar, and like all change it can leave us pining for the familiar, even if we know that's not where we belong. I see in myself and a lot of other people that when we're trying to make changes in our lives there's a dance that begins to happen, where it's two steps forwards and one step back. Defining your ideal, meaningful life is purely one step on the path but there is a whole lifetime of living it that comes afterwards. That, I have found, can often be the greater challenge. Not so simple after all, huh?
So, how do I do this?! Help!
I used to be a 180-degree turn kind of girl. I'd suddenly decide something like "I'm going to get healthy" and I'd completely flip my whole lifestyle around based on that decision. Inevitably, or sometimes really quickly, I'd fail in the endeavour. There are plenty of reasons why but the most important one is that we humans don't actually work like that. We are creatures of habit and like I mentioned above, most of us are not naturally inclined to embrace the unknown wholeheartedly. Instead, I like to think of us as snails or turtles; we slowly move toward our destination at a rate that suits us. If we can know this about ourselves then we can learn to work with this, harness our inherent nature for all its benefits, and use this to help us get where we'd like to be. Just as in health, wellness, fitness, relationships, career, spiritual practice, I like to advocate a considered, one-step-at-a-time approach to living a meaningful life. Not to be cheesy, but Lao Tzu was right; the journey of a thousand miles really does begin with one step. Start to move towards living your meaningful life by doing ONE THING that makes you feel like that feeling you've identified above; that tingly "ooh this is right for me" feeling. It doesn't need to be major, it can just be one thing you do today, this week, this month or even this year that brings more of that feeling into your life. It can be a habitual practice, or it can be a one-off, but keep asking yourself: what's one thing I can do to bring more of this into my life? I can guarantee you that if you keep this up, time will pass and you'll be living a much more heart-warm, meaningful, deeply soulful life and you won't even have noticed how gradually you've been stepping into the unknown. This is my best solution for stepping into the unknown and diverting from society's standard path to give yourself a life that is more meaningful, that sits deep within your heart, but that also doesn't overwhelm you or leave you feeling adrift. Remember, we're all in this together, even if the journey is ultimately a solo one.
I'd like to gently invite you to spend some time in quiet contemplation this weekend of what your meaningful life feels like. Remember that it doesn't have to be a word. 'Connection' is just how it's been showing up for me for a while now. It can be a vision, a colour, a texture (e.g. warm, comforting) but try to really focus on the feeling.
I hope this post finds you at the right time and helps you make peace with your journey.