I have before me the daunting task of writing about spirituality. Sense of meaning. Finding purpose in something larger than ourselves. In my mind, kind of up there with creating world peace and
reversing climate change.
Which is exactly where my mind goes these days: to finding ways to promote world peace and fighting for environmentally conscious solutions to climate change. To expanding empathy to include those I fundamentally disagree with so that bridges can be built over the chasm of misunderstandings that has been created – or uncovered – this year. To discovering more and more ways that love can overpower hate, inclusiveness overcome isolation, reason prevail over irrationality. In this season when I look inward to find my personal connection to meaning in the world, it seems that the answers have been laid at my feet.
This leads to my next dilemma: How can I, one small person in an ever-growing world of massive proportions, take this sense of purpose and allow it to guide me in my larger life trajectory, in my daily life decisions, in my moment-to-moment human connections?
The drive to answer these questions is fundamental to who we are and to what makes us uniquely human. Over a half-century ago, those at the root of the positive psychology movement, Abraham Maslow, Viktor Frankl, and Carl Rogers, emphasized that once our basic needs are satisfied, we quickly turn to “deeper stuff,” seeking greater understanding of how to define our lives (Whitbourne, 2014). More recently, developments in neural and cognitive sciences echo these earlier claims, revealing that this higher-order search for meaning is central, not only to the human experience, but to the broader concept of flourishing (see Templeton Report, A Science of Spirituality for the 21st Century, 2015). The Report goes on to discuss the concept of “embodiment,” or the notion that this spiritual search for meaning and the revelations that derive from it involve not only the mind but the body, calling deeply on our physical awareness and leading to deeper thought, perception, and a sense of well-being. As the author states, “…the body is central to the direct experience of reality sought in spiritual practice, as well as the benefits that follow.”
Contrast this with another human reality: we function reflexively and unconsciously most of our waking moments. We’re not aware of where we’re about to place our foot for our next step, much less connecting with our mind/body revelations about our place in the world. It is this very reflexivity that poses a threat to us realizing our life purpose as opposed to complacently retreating into old habits and patterns, accepting that the battle for purpose is someone else’s to fight. We can’t sit on the riverbank watching our purpose drift by and assume it will “all turn out” simply because we believe it to be true. In fact, we must seize opportunities to follow our purpose and clarify our personal sense of meaning. It requires our active participation.
“However, when we want to see the world in new ways (…) we need to “wake up” to the habitual reactions that constrain and limit our perception” (Templeton Report, 2014). How can we catch ourselves in these moments of unconsciousness and “wake up” to our internal awareness, mindful of our thoughts and kinesthetic perceptions of all that is incongruent to our purpose? It only takes one deceptively easy step: PAUSE.
Stop the madness and pause for one second. It only takes a split second to breathe and find our connection to something larger than our individual reality. That one second “buys” us the time to expand our awareness beyond the Walter-Cronkite-of-our-brain that wants to give us up-to-date reactions, comments, and judgments of every thought that flies by. PAUSE.
What do you notice inside your body when you pause? Notice the parts of your body that are resting on a hard surface. Just notice them. Pay attention to your breath. Allow your body to take up more room just by thinking it into that new space. And PAUSE.
How does this relate to sense of meaning? Without this pause and internal self-reflection we run the risk of losing the moment-to-moment beauty, kindness of others, quirky events, sparks of hope and gratitude, the key elements of transcending the mundane and embracing that which is beyond our “full knowing.” And equally important, without these pauses, we run the risk of missing the subtle, or not-so-subtle attempts to turn back the clock on justice, wisdom, humanity, and temperance.
How will I bring this habit of “finding meaning” into my daily life? First, I will, PAUSE. I will notice the moments of kindness, forgiveness, and bravery as well as the moments of hatred, blame, and fear as one will inform action for the other. I will work diligently to expand the character strengths considered to be most tied to the virtue of transcendence: appreciation of beauty and excellence, gratitude, hope, humor, and, of course, spirituality itself – because it is through transcendence that I will most likely be able to find the kindness, forgiveness and bravery to move forward.
PAUSE. What will you do this season and this year that accentuates your own sense of meaning? How will you feel a connection to a greater purpose? How will you experience that purpose in your heart, mind, and soul and act on it in your thought, words, and deeds?
Simply believing life has meaning makes life better (Whitbourne, 2014). Acting on those beliefs deepens the purpose.