" The meaning of life is to find your gift. The purpose of life is to give it away." Pablo Picasso
It was only months ago that my mentor suggested that I start writing a monthly blog and I was immediately thrown into a state of anxiety and fear at her suggestion. I chuckle to myself now, as I stand (sit actually) here taking on this huge question that theologians and philosophers alike have tried to unravel, understand and explain over the centuries. I have read many theories, explanations and opinions on the subject and always felt that I liked mine better. Maybe it is because we all have our own theories and they suit us best and our time that we have, here on this earthly plane. Maybe my theory and explanation will change at the end of my Journey when I am preparing for my own transition. While time has absolutely no relevance on the other side, here on this earthly plane, it is an opportunity to acquire both experience and knowledge. Time will tell.
I don’t think that I would ever have come to this explanation had I not lost two partners, volunteered in Hospice and worked in a Hospice, sitting with the dying. I write this blog this month as I prepare to return home to Long Island to see my Mom for her birthday. (early 90’s, we had a disagreement on the exact number) I have not been home to see her in 7 years, since my Dad’s funeral. This is the longest amount of time that I have not been home to see her since I left home in my early twenties. The reality is she does not have many birthdays left and that is something that I work on accepting as truth daily. She has both colon and stomach cancer, and has been through rounds of both chemo and radiation. The cancer went into remission and came back several times over the last ten years. She decided that she did not want to go through anymore and is waiting her time out. I thought that before I wrote this blog, I would call and ask her if she had any insight into this question. We have talked about Death before and her impending Journey and she seemed to be comfortable enough with the subject. I put the question to her with no expectation, and told her that I would be writing a blog about what I thought the meaning of life was. I think in some way that I wanted to satisfy my curiosity and see where she was in her process of transitioning to a higher consciousness, also known as death. She will be leaving an environment that she has resided in for over 90 years. Her explanation was a simple one. She stated clearly that she has always lived her life one day at a time with no regards for or thoughts on the future. She doesn’t believe in reincarnation and that this is it. When it is done, it is done. No more and no less. That explanation seemed like it fit the woman who bore me, who I am a part of literally and have known for almost 60 years. She seemed a bit defensive that somehow it was not more “earth shattering” (her words). I assured her that it was as good as anyone else’s theory and up until now there is no solid proof on what the meaning of life is and there is no right or wrong answer. She seemed more at ease. I suspect that comes from being a homemaker and raising five children as opposed to a full time "working woman. " To me, in retrospect, I think that is one of the hardest jobs that a person could take on. I cannot even imagine doing that task AND working a job, yet it happens all around me. Of course, she then asked what do you think? So I went on to lay out what I believe the reason for our existence is and what I believe the meaning of life to be.
When I worked in Hospice and had the privilege to sit in weekly meetings with Drs., Clinicians, Social Workers, Chaplains and others to discuss where patients were in the process of dying or being removed from hospice, two diagnoses fascinated me, “existential pain”, meaning that they were struggling with looking at their lives honestly and more often than not, being dissatisfied or unfulfilled, disappointed etc. etc. The other diagnosis was “terminal restlessness.” This was when patients were trying to climb out of their bed ( in spite of their condition- including broken bones etc.) in pursuit of someone or somewhere else. The solution to both of these, was anti psychotics. Since there was no way of measuring these symptoms, or solving them because they were usually in a state of dementia, they were just sedated. (think "Silence is Golden.") Whatever you do not resolve in your lifetime, will come up at the end of life and you WILL have to deal with it before you leave this earthly plane. Hint, hint to my readers and don’t say I didn’t tell you so.
Here is what I believe the meaning of life is. We are all here to learn lessons and they vary from one person to another. I do believe in reincarnation and that we come back over and over again until those lessons are learned. The main things that we all need to work on and accomplish are: unconditional love, forgiveness, acceptance and service to others. These are not simple tasks and they do take a lifetime to learn.
Unconditional Love- for ourselves as well as others. To love openly and accepting of all flaws and imperfections. We are all imperfect, yet we live in a time where imperfections are called out and judged by people as if they have none at all. To love ourselves, as we do others can be very challenging. This means wrestling with our “shadow self” or dark side and turning that grip, into an embrace. Treating and understanding ourselves the way we treat our friends, has taken me a while to get that down. We are our own worst enemies. Learning to be loving and kind to ourselves is quite an important task. Learning to love the people in our lives, strangers and humanity is a huge goal and one we work on our whole lives. This is especially poignant in a time when the world seems absolutely insane and out of control.
Forgiveness- this goes hand in hand with unconditional love. We cannot love unconditionally if we cannot forgive. Again, forgiving ourselves ourselves, our loved ones, friends, strangers. (think road rage for starters) How many times have we struggled to say the words “I’m Sorry.” They seem to stick to the tongue as if covered in velcro. Have we forgiven ourselves for the bad choices and or erroneous decisions that we have made in our lives? If not, now is the time to start dear reader. Don’t wait until you are on your Death bed. Death bed confessions are tough on the ones left behind to wrestle with their new found knowledge. Trust me, I know. DO NOT internalize it. It has nothing to do with you. That is coming from experience. We are human. We are imperfect. We are here to learn, and learn I have. My most valuable lessons, have come from my biggest mistakes. (Think Doctorate degree) Why is everyone so afraid to admit that? Is it because that they are so focused on the error that they miss out on the lesson? That is how it is supposed to be. We need to learn to ask for forgiveness and learn how to give it.
Acceptance- acceptance of what is in this life, Universal law. Think Serenity prayer. Know what we have control over and what we don’t. Make the changes that we are capable of and the changes that we cannot make, we accept. They are out of our hands and out of our control. Learn to trust that things will work out the way they are supposed to, according to plan. Not our plan, a Divine plan. Accept people for who they are and trust they are doing the best that they can, with what they have to work with at that time. Accept that life will never be what we want it to be and will always be full of surprises- good, bad and otherwise. Accept that life is not always fair. Accept it for everything it is and for everything that it is not. Learn to be open with no expectations. No expectations mean no disappointments. It is what it is.
Service- the reason this is important is the Universal Law of: “When you give, you receive.” What you receive is the privilege and honor of helping out your fellow Brothers and Sisters. If you have been through difficulty in your life and survived it, you owe it to your community to help others in similar situations. The rewards, transcend this life. They are Universal, divine gifts of connecting on a Soul level with a stranger. It is the reassurance that we are indeed all connected, all related and ultimately we are all one. It is the ultimate and unselfish act of unconditional love. Everyone’s time is so full of just "trying to survive" and "keeping our heads above water." How does one find time to give back? Well, start in small ways and by doing what makes you feel good. Start with small tasks, like picking up trash on your street or something similar. Pay the toll for the person behind you. You would not believe the joy in that. People are so perplexed by your generosity. It is worth ten fold what you pay and so unexpected in this day and age. Volunteer 1 hour a week somewhere. So many Organizations need help. 1 hour a week is usually the minimum amount of time that you can Volunteer at most Organizations. That 1 hour is valued by the Organization and helps to contribute to our self-esteem that we are doing something good for the World. It is also worth several sessions of therapy.
We can’t just take and take and take. We must also give back.
If you live consciously, so shall you die consciously. If you don’t, you will be one of those poor Souls that just keeps struggling and hanging on at the end, frightened to let go of "what once was, but is no more."
I took an amazing shamanic workshop by The Four Winds called “Dying Consciously.” We learned how to shut down the body’s chakra system and send the Soul out through the top of the head to exit into the next life. We all had to experience our own death, including role playing our last moments before our transition and who was there at our bedside. This included friends, family, partners, spouses and other loved ones. Then we went through the process of having our chakra system shut down by fellow learners and “died” for about 30 seconds. The end was full of chaotic emotions and tears, just like it is in real life and then ultimate bliss, once I made the transition. It was very ethereal, quiet, comforting and serene. I connected with my belated partner briefly and we embraced. We got to experience and share, that we were both ok, with no words spoken. I cannot explain the healing and satisfaction that experience gave me. Life changing? You bet. Just like every other loss I have experienced in this life time. Perhaps we over complicate things as we are so very good at it in this day and age. Maybe this IS it and our day to day existence IS what it is all about as my Mom shared. Maybe it is about the simplicity of it all and we make it more complex and over think it. I watch the joy on my dog’s face daily as we play fetch, usually three times a day. She is my muse and I look to her for her knowledge on simplifying one’s life. She is an “old soul” and has been around the dog park a few times. She lives for those moments. I know and experience the joy and satisfaction that it brings her and nothing makes her happier. I know she feels fulfilled and content. Isn’t that what we all want out of life at the end?
Ultimately, it is up to us to choose to believe what our time here is all about.
Whatever YOU choose to believe, use each loss that you experience in this life, as a time to take a step back from the hectic, frenetic pace of the ordinary day to day and evaluate what IS really important and what you need to work on or even change.
Death IS after all, life changing in many ways.
Use each loss as an opportunity and a reminder to celebrate life to the fullest and what it means- to YOU.