Friday, September 14, 2012

Pierce the Fog with Your Significance

Everyman is more than just himself;  he also represents the unique, the very special and always significant point at which the world’s phenomena intersect, only once in this way and never again.

                        Hermann Hesse

Walking into the coffee house in a total fog even though the sun was shining here in Santa Monica, I sought refuge in a corner seat.  Almost immediately a fellow denizen of the place came over to visit.  In my vulnerable emotional state that moment I shared the raw state of my mood—emptiness, self-loathing, purposelessness.   A highly empathic and clear thinking guy, he instantly sussed out the essence of my issue.   Hopelessness, miasma, and self-abnegation were written all over my face and he said, “We are all important all the time.  Everything counts. We are significant by existing.”  That got me thinking and more importantly feeling.  Almost in tears, I looked at the bright sky and noticed my experience right then.  I got that every this moment is just fine right now.  As a meditator for almost thirty years, that was not a radical idea.   The first lesson in meditation?  Be Here Now.  

I was functioning on auto pilot that morning but the conversation started me thinking:   What is important for this day?  What will fulfill me?  What is my purpose?  And the biggy, Who am I?  Trite, common place, and abstract questions, I wondered do they serve me anymore?  Rather than engage the unanswerable, I put fingers to keys, inviting the muse to tell me.

Then another road block:  Why bother?  What makes my story significant?  Worth telling? Important to others?  NOTHING!  I recalled my friend’s conclusion that it isn’t the bigness or smallness but ultimately just ISness.  And in its isness, you, me, and everything makes a difference.  Not in an abstract, metaphysical way.  Not the ‘god’ wants me to live and make a contribution manner.  But that what I do affects everything else.  By virtue of that, we are significant and our lives have meaning.  It has been said that we make up meaning in life.  That is true.  On one level, my actions may appear to be insignificant compared to ‘important’ people in history.   But that makes size important.

For example, while I was sitting there at the coffee house a woman came up to me with a strange request.  She said:  “Would you put my coins in the meter? I have a phobia about dogs.”  Odd request but very important to her.  She did not want a parking ticket and didn’t want to invite an anxiety attack.  Even odder, I used to have an extreme phobia about dogs that I have worked on over the years so that at least I can tolerate that species.   She gave me a few coins and I inserted them.  Mundane but significant to that woman.

Accepting our significance, then what gives a life purpose or meaning. The great spiritual teachers often say that service is what we are here for.  What is service?  Is it limited to ‘do goodism’ such as uplifting others from poverty or suffering?  Perhaps it is simply following one’s hedonistic desires? I have found purpose in a big definition of service—‘sharing my deep, authentic self.’  That is not altruism or hedonism.  It is the Self I have had glimpses of periodically throughout my life.  It is that self that wants to be of service.  Making a difference, a contribution in my unique way.

Jack Klarin, still giving his service
Example:  My father was a civil engineer in his career.  Civil engineers build roads, dams, missile silos, you name it.  Now in his late eighties you would think he is done with that.  Not yet.  I have a project at my house that requires some building and he loves to plan it, think about it, and even lift the shovel for this project.  It is just who he is.  He knows who he is and does it.  That is integrity, that is purpose and when he is doing that stuff, he is living life on purpose.  Is he always ‘happy’ doing it?  Not at all, construction is often difficult and challenging.  The value for him is in a job well done and in the doing of it.  Significance or meaning comes for him in the doing what is at his core.  The other side of the equation is achievement of a goal.  The personality craves completion or closure.  It allows us to savor our experience and move on. 
Getting to completion can be rocky.   Shipping or actually finishing an intrinsically generated project often demands fortitude.  How do you sustain the will to get to the end?  Keeping your eyes on the prize helps, but what gets and keeps us in motion?  Motivation has many components that we have discussed often in this column (see Self Determination Theory) but we can’t do it alone.  One of the elements of SDT is relatedness.  Attending to that aspect can be enhanced by building partnership and accountability.  Around projects that push my edge, I make overt agreements with my writing colleague, the Ravendove.  Both of us agree to do a certain task(s) and email it with a defined time line.  When the due date arrives we discuss our efforts.  Any breakdowns or barriers are discussed and we support each other by offering a different perspective.  That usually brings up new ideas and solutions.  On a practical level, it keeps the ball rolling and on the creative level it inspires.
Finding my core self and its deep purpose or significance has not been easy.  In fact, it has been scary and difficult.   Cutting through that foggy, groggy morning was thanks to the coffee shop conversation, from my personal awareness to supportive accountability.  Then,  I put fingers to keyboard knowing that at the end of the day I was significant and accountable! 
The sun is shining brighter now.

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