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A deeply meaningful life
This post is a description of how life became meaningful for me.
Growing up I naturally fit into the left brained category. I was skillful with math and computers. I was comfortable with knowing if my answer was right or wrong, and as long as I was getting right answers, I felt satisfied. Other subjects, like English or History, often felt more vague, more open for interpretation. I didn't like that. I just wanted to solve a problem and get a right answer, and I wanted to do this methodically. So I would prefer Physics over Chemistry, because it was much more methodical: Learn a few simple rules and practice applying them in different circumstances.
My jobs were always the same left brained type. I worked with computers and would do desktop support, programming, and systems management. I enjoyed getting different platforms to work together. I worked with Windows, Mac, Unix, Sun, and AS/400, interfacing and supporting many different systems. I did very well. But still I usually disliked going to work every day. It felt mundane and unsatisfying, but I couldn't really imagine any other option. I was well liked, but I always felt like I didn't do enough.
About 13 years ago I went to Florida on vacation and was in the middle of the Indian River on a small boat. The river was very wide and I imagined it to be at least 100 feet deep. In fact it wasn't really a river, it was a bay that was about 4 feet deep separated by an enormous sandbar that stretched for many miles, so large that houses were built on it. Thinking I am in a deep river, I spontaneously decide to dive backwards off the boat. My plan was to just relax and see how deep I can go.
Suddenly I'm hitting the sandy bottom and I am in shock. Time slows down enormously. I still remember the red tinted color and salty taste of the water. I feel certain that my life is about to end. The moment seemed somewhat casual. There were no trumpets, no grand finally, just the thought "So that's it, what did you think of your life?"
I suddenly feel intense anger and frustration. I felt like my whole life was a joke. None of it meant anything at all to me. I was convinced that if I am a good employee one day I won't have to struggle so hard and I will be able to relax and be able to enjoy life more. But that day didn't seem anywhere in sight. I saw that I wasn't really getting any closer to it. I felt tricked by a carrot at the end of a stick. I saw my whole life as an attempt to please everyone around me, and in that moment I saw that no one owes me anything. I was the person I had chosen to be, and that person meant absolutely nothing to me.
Then as suddenly as it started the enormous pressure of being upside down on the sand is gone. I stand up and the first person I see is my wife and I know that I didn't really want to be married, I just didn't want to hurt anyone's feelings and getting married seemed to make everyone happy. The x-rays show I am fine. There is just some vertebrate compression but that takes care of itself.
I go back to work two days later. I can barely turn my head or swallow, but I never would allow myself to take sick days because I never felt sick enough to warrant it. After the accident I start seeing through myself and the false person I pretend to be hoping to impress others. It was the only person I knew how to be, but it felt empty and meaningless now. I felt like Humpty Dumpty, having a broken shell and trying to put it back together, but I am not convinced of who I am anymore. I try harder than ever to become the only person I knew how to be.
For 4 years a sense of emptiness and meaninglessness grows steadily worse. Every day it becomes harder to see anything but the meaninglessness I experienced in the diving accident. Eventually I was divorced and alone and felt like I had nowhere left to turn. Nothing mattered at all. I could no longer convince myself that any of my dreams mattered to me in the least bit. And I gave up running and just decided to let the blackness I had been fighting off with all my strength swallow me whole.
That moment was the most beautiful moment I had ever experienced. Suddenly the blackness is gone and is replaced by a gentle white light that seems to come from nowhere and everywhere at the same time. I am enmeshed in it and it is enmeshed in me. I wasn't looking for this. I had no idea what had just happened. I thought the blackness was going to swallow me whole, and here I am experiencing a deeper sense of peace than I ever imagined possible.
I realized the depression I had fought was just the dim awareness that none of my dreams would ever really satisfy me. There's no place I could go or thing I could do that would make life deeply meaningful to me. It was all an act, a performance. None of my dreams could possibly reach any deeper than the surface, because the surface was all I knew and all I was attempting to address.
From that moment on life became much less painful. Instead of trying to make my empty and shallow dreams more meaningful, I started asking myself what it is that I do care about. What is most deeply meaningful to me? I didn't have an answer, but the question felt so good. It felt much easier than trying to make myself find hope in things that I didn't even care about that much.
When I try to find depth in superficial things I often end up feeling disappointed, and I'm okay with that. I now have the option of asking myself what it is that really matters to me. Every time I ask myself this question it seems to grow in strength. I am not so much seeking an answer as I am recognizing that at this moment I don't really know, but I do know that something somewhere is deeply meaningful to me, and it has been obscured by all the superficial things I thought I wanted. As I become less convinced in the possibility of superficial things becoming deeply meaningful, I start feeling the sense of deeper meaning drawing steadily closer, as if in some other dimension I can't clearly point at.
A sense of deep satisfaction grows steadily within me. A satisfaction that addresses all the subtle senses that something here or there might be missing. It's very relevant. It addresses everything. It leaves no loose ends. I realize every subtle sense of loss or incompleteness or vagueness or confusion or meaninglessness can be perfectly addressed. Instead of looking away from these things I invite them, knowing that underneath the fog all is well.
The emotions I used to experience all become intelligent messengers. They have a message and until the message has been received they will try over and over in all sorts of ways to get the message through. The moment the message is received they vanish in a moment of peace and relief. I learn to have patience with my emotions and my ability to receive the information they contain. What once appeared to be a world of persistent and threatening enemies becomes a world of devoted friends, incapable of leaving a single message undelivered.