Thoughts on Meaning in Life – Ed O´Rourke

See this from Joe Zantanello.  He and I were teachers at Saint Thomas High School in the early 1970s.  Just about everybody has read Viktor Frankl´s famous book.

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Joe offers his thoughts.

Loose Leaf HollowView More PoemsRetreat ScheduleRelease, Relax & Rest in this Space for GraceOP-ED IN THE KENTUCKY STANDARDLife, Liberty and the Pursuit of MeaningYour life is shaped by the end you live for. — Thomas Merton
The heart and soul of the United States can be found in the aspirations of our Declaration of Independence. I say in our aspirations simply because at the time of its writing, we still had a lot of growing to do as a country. We still do. In 1776, neither African slaves, nor any Native Americans, were considered to be human beings. And poor white men, and all white women as well, were not allowed to vote.So given that reality, it’s fair to say that in 1776 “the unalienable Rights of Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness” applied only to wealthy White men who owned land. Yet, the greatness of our Constitution is that it allows us to develop a wider, more inclusive interpretation of who we consider to be a human being. Our founding documents are great, and have endured, simply because they’ve allowed for, in a word, change!Obviously, what our founders once considered a human being has changed. And while it’s tempting to launch off into a discussion of the several different areas of civic and political life that are crying out for change, I want to focus on a single concept that begs for our scrutiny. That concept is “the Pursuit of Happiness.” I welcome happiness whenever it arises, yet I have learned that when it finally does arise, that it vanishes pretty quickly! And I am firmly convinced, after over 70 years of grievous experience, that the more you pursue happiness — the more elusive it gets! Which is why I’ve replaced it, in my personal Declaration, with “The Pursuit of Meaning.”First of all, what do I mean by “meaning?” Well, the simplest and best definition of “meaning” that I’ve ever found was formulated by anthropologist Gregory Bateson in his Steps to an Ecology of the Mind.  The essence of meaning, according to Bateson, is simply: “The pattern that connects.” When you find the pattern that connects, in physics, or politics, or a relationship — you’ve found the meaning. And why do I think meaning is a far more worthwhile aspiration than happiness? Happiness does come, but it also goes. Happiness comes when we get what we want, but it always goes with the all too quickly passing of time. But what if we’d got exactly what we’ve always dreamed of? Wouldn’t we be happy all the time? Well, The Beatles dreamed of one day being “bigger than Elvis.” To their surprise, it actually happened! The Beatles achieved their life’s dream when they were in their twenties. And then an even bigger surprise happened — they discovered that they were discontented with the life all their success had brought!Oh sure, they had fame and fortune, yet ironically, they felt less free and quite disillusioned. John went to heroin for the pain of it all. George led them all on a Magical Mystery Tour to see if the Maharishi could show them a way to be happy. Ringo disappeared deep beneath the waves of Beatlemania in a Yellow Submarine. And “Paul was dead” (we miss him, we miss him, we miss him…). Actually, Paul wasn’t really dead —but he was hyper-focused on keeping “The Beatles” alive, as a commodity.So if a stable state of happiness eluded the Beatles, what chance is there for the rest of us? Well, perhaps we can look at what kept all four of them alive and connected after the happiness went poof (as it always does!). Paradoxically, out of their pain and disillusionment, the Beatles kept pursuing meaning by creating some of the most sublime music and lyrics of the 20th century. Sgt. Peppers, The White Album, The Magical Mystery Tour, Abbey Road and Let It Be — each of these albums was a constellation of sound and sense that forged a deep meaning that has endured for half a century. And that meaning shows no signs of wearing thin. Watch the tsunami of interest that will wash across the planet when Peter Jackson releases his long-awaited documentary on the final days of The Beatles, sometime next year. We can learn something important from The Beatles. To become a fulfilled human being, we should certainly take happiness when it comes — but we should give up pursuing happiness as if it was a kind of Holy Grail! Are you unhappy? Perhaps it’s because “happy” is what you think you should be! Instead, we could aspire to create meaning in our own unique way. Any of us could create a “pattern that connects” by doing something as simple as smiling at the checkout person in Kroger; or calling an old friend that you’ve lost touch with. Simple gestures like that.In the end, all of us are beckoned by our deepest nature to create a meaningful life. We may not have the musical skills of The Beatles, but all of us can strive to connect with our true self. This is the most meaningful challenge for any human being — to be real, to be authentic, to be connected with your true self. Thomas Merton, a man who lived a meaningful life, put it this way, “What we have to be is what we are.” So simple, but definitely, not easy!The pilgrimage to create a meaningful life, “to be what we are,” is a long and winding road. But I promise you this: when you get a taste of this road, you will happily give up your “pursuit of happiness.” What a counterfeit coin happiness is — compared to the true riches of living an authentic life, a soulful life, a life brimming with meaning.PoemsRetreat FormatsSchedulePhotographsLoose Leaf Hollow250 Loose Leaf DriveBardstown, KY 40004502-348-0201

Sincerely,

Ed

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