What Makes Life Meaningful?
BY SARAH MCAVOY
Part of the human condition is to find meaning in our existences- we’re hardwired for it. And when we don’t feel we have it, things tend to go downhill (or feel that way, at least). We lose interest in our days and our journeys and we kind of go into auto-pilot. In my experience, the times I felt I’ve had the most meaning are the times in which I’ve felt super busy and overwhelmed. During these times all I wished for was for it to end so that I could move on with my happy, easy life. The funny thing is, as much as we long for a life of no turmoil or hardship, those are some of the very things that make us feel alive. That makes life meaningful.
It kind of sounds like a broken record as of late with all the “pain is necessary” talk, but it applies to so much, and realizing it and truly taking a moment to let it sink in can be… life-changing. Because when you stop running from your pain, you can begin using it. For good. For making life meaningful.
Yesterday started like any other day, and then I hopped on my phone to find a tribute video for a dog that had been rescued (after his owners had left him by the ocean to drown) and lived his last 15 months of life happy and loved. His back legs were paralyzed and his nose was covered in a cancerous tumor, but when they gave him some wheels, nothing could stop him. The man who rescued him said that even with all this dog had been through, he was the happiest dog at his shelter. That dog made a lasting impression on so many in such a short amount of time, including myself.
Before I knew it, I was sobbing to myself uncontrollably about this damn dog; the hardest I’ve cried in a long time. I couldn’t stop. It was like this river that had been blocked just suddenly started flowing again. Like I’d been disconnected from my own pain for so long and suddenly the connection was restored and all the feels were rushing through.
I often get discouraged at the fact that there’s so much pain and suffering in the world. It begins to overwhelm me and I start to feel hopeless and frustrated. I start to numb myself to it (by choosing not to think about it), so I can be a “normal” person and function within the usual constructs of society. But then I see a video of a sweet little being with so many reasons to hate the world, yet he has so much love for it instead. And it reminds me that we may not be able to change every single thing that ever happens in the world for the better (although I’ll always wish for that as my superpower), but we can certainly change ourselves. That is our superpower.
Our society has taught us that the horrors of the world are “just the way things are.” That there’s too much to even begin to attempt a resolve and that we should just accept it for what it is and go on about our mundane existences. That just focusing on work, online shopping, and whatever else we can distract ourselves with, will bring us eternal happiness and peace. What the hell is up with that? How can we just go to work, come home, and spend our only free time spending money on material things that we won’t even like in a year? We’re constantly chasing our “perfect” selves in our “perfect” lives.
Getting stuck on that hamster wheel is what makes it all meaningless. And I’m not saying going to work and buying things are bad- they’re not. What I’m saying is that we’ve been conditioned to think that those are the most important things and in actuality, we’ve been convincing ourselves of that because it’s a solid distraction from the fact that millions of humans and animals are suffering, in pain, and dying from preventable things Every. Freaking Day.
We’re all on this planet as souls having a human experience (that’s what I believe), and the thing is, this place is imperfect. I also believe there is a place where things are perfect, and that we’ve come here to learn. After all, there’s no learning in perfection. I heard once that “life is sandpaper for the soul.” I love that idea so much. Like as souls we want to come here and experience all the hardship because we know we’ll be better for it on the other side- whatever that is.
It helps me to think we’ve chosen this path, and it encourages me not to run from it. Life becomes meaningful when we find purpose and connection. As Glennon Doyle says in her book Untamed, “We all want purpose and connection. Tell me what breaks your heart, and I’ll point you towards both.”
Let us continue to normalize paying attention. To running towards pain to hold and sit with. And to helping one another do the same. To make this world a better place for all living beings; one loving, compassionate moment at a time.
What do you feel makes our lives meaningful? Would love to hear your thoughts!
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