The hunt for meaning and purpose in life ~ a luminous dream and a hidden vision.

  The hunt for meaning and purpose in life ~ a luminous dream and a hidden vision.

 

For many, the belief that their life has a meaning is something that keeps them going through the hard times and through setbacks and tragedies. It’s a belief I have long wished to share, and moreover to know and to understand the nature of my own life’s meaning and purpose. The feeling that my life is without either contributes to a large extent to my bouts of severe depression; while I don’t believe it causes it, that fear of being a sort of joke without a punchline is a particularly nasty irritant when I’m already down.

In a discussion with a close friend, the concept was raised and explored that perhaps life is its own meaning, that living it is enough and that for every person to believe they have a special meaning or destiny is a flawed belief. It’s a product to some degree of the New Age movement and of the self-help industry and it may be contributing to discontent and unhappiness.

And yet.

Some of it might have its roots in truth and the distortion of this truth is what is bringing the devastation. Just as not every person is equipped to become a brain surgeon, not every person is destined for something out of the ordinary. It’s our perception of the ordinary that is at fault. We’re obsessed by success and perfection and addicted to higher and higher aspirations, and we judge both ourselves and others on the level we reach, as if it were some sort of hierarchy of achievement. Growing a great crop of raspberries is as great an achievement as any other. Climbing a mountain is no greater than someone making it to work everyday when their illness means it’s a struggle.

We’re funny animals, us humans. At one and the same time we wish to stand out from the crowd but remain within it.

And yet.

That said, I could never bring myself to accept that the meaning of my life might well not be anything ‘special’ or unusual or even terribly interesting. I feel driven, constantly, by a whole host of inner ideas. The fact that these never seem to come to anything however hard I have worked at them has reached a kind of tipping point lately. On Friday I finished writing a novel that has been driving my inner life for the best part of a year. For many that might seem a massive achievement but it didn’t feel like it to me. I felt empty, bereft even, because it’s no longer enough just to write the novels. Over the weekend I’ve felt some odd things going on in the background of my psyche and by the time I got to bed last night, I was feeling desperately anxious without being sure why.

I’ve had serious trouble with sleep for a long while, both getting to sleep and the quality of sleep. I wake feeling exhausted and drained and my head feels so fuzzy and unable to think. My dreams have been mental doodles and nothing more. Now, I believe in dreams, in their value to the mind and to the creative spirit and for almost a year, there’s been very, very little of worth coming through. I write down dreams that strike me as interesting and there’s nothing written for a long while. Last night, I prayed as I sometimes do, to be shown some sort of sign in my dreams, that my life has meaning and a purpose. I think that somewhere in the back of my mind was the feeling that should nothing be forthcoming, then I would let go and step back and accept that my life is not one of any real worth, or purpose and perhaps it was time to forget about the things that have driven me.

At about 2am, I woke from a dream, the kind of luminous dream that has such a grip on the mind and spirit that even now, seven or so hours later, I can still perceive the shining. I’m not going to describe the contents of that dream here, because like many dreams, the power is not in the telling but in the experience that often defies words. I’m also not ready to share what I felt that dream was telling me in any details, partly because that vision is still partially concealed from me and I have a feeling that there is more to be revealed.

Today I feel very odd, as if I have been breathing thin air for months and suddenly, I am back in an oxygen rich environment and my brain is still adjusting to it. I’m not saying I’ve found any answers to my questions. I’m not sure that there are answers, certainly not nice simple ones.

But I might have found enough hope to carry on living and exploring.

The Collateral Benefits of Misery or Why the Pursuit of Happiness isn’t Good for the Soul.

 

The Collateral Benefits of Misery or Why the Pursuit of Happiness isn’t Good for the Soul.

I’ve had a couple of busy weeks at work, both jobs, and I’ve enjoyed it mostly, even though some of it was stressful. But waking up this morning I felt the full weight of the default depression land on me like a big slobbery dog who’s pleased you’re back. All the petty concerns I’d put on hold while I was rushed off my feet came back and had a pity party in my head. My teaching job is currently in some jeopardy as they are moving premises and it’s going to be a lot harder to get to work; I’ve resolved that the first near miss as a car clips my bicycle signals me quitting. I love teaching, I really do; it’s one of my talents and in many ways, I am wasted where I work. If you’ve seen Robin Williams in Dead Poet’s Society, it’ll give you a clue about my style of teaching; but it also means that even had I the correct bits of paper, I’d be sacked in a week in a state school. So I am on the sharp look out for a new job, one that is year round, and which doesn’t have the substantial drawbacks of my current one (of which I will not speak here)

But my return to sullen misery has woken me up to something that slumbers much of the time. That’s the realisation that even changing jobs, changing homes or whatever significant life change I might sometimes crave is only a distraction from my real work in this world. Six months into a new job, or a new location, and the same old issues come creeping back, like rats who realise the ship was not sinking after all.

That’s a bit of a scary realisation. It means that anything I pursue, success, fame, wealth, whatever holds no power to change anything internally. If I become a NYT’s bestseller, nothing changes. If I get the job that seems to fit every talent or skill, nothing changes. Oh for sure my mood might alter and improve, I might even be happy for a while. But nothing deeper changes.

You see, any real change has to come from within, not from anything external to me. I’ve never been someone who found retail therapy anything other than a disappointment, and while I have certainly chased success as willingly as any writer, I’ve started to grasp the fact that such success does not and cannot make me anything other than momentarily happy. I can see now that my lifelong pro-wrestling match with the Black Dog has saved me some expensive mistakes.

Chasing things because you believe that they may make you happy is a futile exercise, and one that frankly underpins the whole economy of the prosperous West. It is endless and caustic to the human soul, because it is tantalising and drives you on to seek more and more and more to less and less satisfaction, and eventual bitterness.

What then can bring peace to the troubled soul? What can tame the Black Dog and make it an ally and not an enemy?

Well, my current theory is that it is meaning that brings peace. It’s certainly how people survive the kind of catastrophic experiences that send many over the edge and down into insanity.

It’s only a theory but is one borne out by such luminaries as Viktor Frankl, and also by personal experience. I can accept and even value my own sufferings when I realise that they have shaped me to be the person I am now, and the riches of compassion and empathy that have been uncovered within me. They’ve made me a far less selfish person than I would otherwise have been.

Native Americans have a saying, something they speak as a prayer when they enter the sacred space of a sweat lodge. They say, “For all my relations,” as they enter, and by that they do not mean their mothers and fathers, brothers, sisters and so on. They mean every one of us humans, and all the animals and trees and plants, right down to the Stone People, the rocks we kick aside and split asunder.

So my prayer today, in honour of all that I have endured as a human and all that I will endure, is that it is done in honour and support of all life, all creation, and that I will find meaning in all.

For all my relations.”

Amen.