Anyone Can Find Contentment Today

August 19, 2011 by  
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Posted below is an interesting post about the meaning of life. The central idea is there is no meaning out there to be found, but only the meaning we make.

I fully agree with the post. You can give two different people a set of circumstances and they will feel and react differently.  One person might find meaning in the situation.  The other may not.  So what makes these two people feel differently? Who they are.  What they bring to the experience.

Meaning is a very personal experience. I may find meaning in writing while someone else could experience it as sheer hell. That is why no one can tell another how to live their lives in order to find meaning and contentment.  Actually to me meaning equals contentment.

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What Will Keep Us Happy? Real Expectations

November 17, 2010 by  
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I think a major frustration many people feel as they jump into the self-help book, workshop, lecture world, is from the misguided idea once we do “this or that” we will be happy ever after. It’s like all of a sudden we are bad math students in search of final answers to problems.  I say bad math students because a true visionary knows our understanding of the universe is interconnected and always evolving.

What we often do is, one day we realize we need to work on some specific issue about our behavior that is creating chaos and pain in our lives.

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Meaning Of Life

May 9, 2010 by  
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“When the world seems to be falling apart, stick to your own trajectory; hang onto your own ideals and find kindred spirits. That’s the rule of life.”
– Joseph Campbell

I am often reading, thinking, searching and writing articles about life.  Since I was a child I have been perplexed by the inequities and randomness of life.  I search for myself but share the path and the findings.  I search because I don’t want to accept – and I know – what is presented and obvious about life as its totality.  It would be too despairing if it was so.

I am a second generation Jewish Brazilian woman.  I’m the granddaughter of Russian and Polish immigrants that left behind all their possessions to start anew in a foreign country, and I’m the daughter of a woman abandoned by her father.  Depression runs in my family and a sense of worth is a foreign feeling.

When I was eighteen I left home and moved to the US because I wanted my heart beat to beat with the world.  I needed to be out there.

In my adulthood I have had many experiences, some good and some bad, just like everybody else. And my greatest pain is having lost my husband to cancer.

My story is just like yours.  But when I step outside myself and see the world, the quest that started in my childhood for a deeper meaning, becomes a closer reality.

I believe we lead a push and pull life.  We know life is more than our day to day.  We know it is more than succeeding at a job, being famous, or wealthy.  It is even more than being a member of a family but somehow we can’t trust that.  So we run back to putting one foot in front of the other always scared that something bad is going to happen; afraid of thinking outside of the box.

By no means do I think I know where life comes from and why.  I of course understand evolution etc. but what about the very first first?  Anyway, I do know, as I continue to expose myself to life and dig into who I am with courage and honesty, I open my heart to love and compassion.   And maybe one day, I’ll get to experience what Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor (http://www.ted.com/talks/lang/eng/jill_bolte_taylor_s_powerful_stroke_of_insight.html) said about her transformational experience: “my earthly body dissolved and I melted into the universe.”  And if that is too new age for you, another gain from being connected to life in a deeper way is a greater contentment and acceptance and a great ability to laugh your heart out.

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Hospice Volunteer

January 31, 2010 by  
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HOSPICE VOLUNTEER

by Wendy Hammond

Lately, I’ve been middle aged.  I suppose this is why I wake up at two in the morning and consider my life.  Usually I’m horrified.  I wander around my dark house listening to the music and rhythms of my husband’s breathing, and I think about the things I’ve always wanted to get out of life, and I wonder, in my middle aged way, why none of it feels meaningful anymore.

The search for meaning led me, several months ago, to get on the internet and type “hospice + volunteer” on the Google search page.  I had read Kubler-Ross’s Death and Dying, and Tuesdays with Morrie and I figured that by working with the dying I’d find the meaning in life.

So I signed up for volunteer training at a nearby hospice.  Every Wednesday night about 40 of us met in the Hospice cafeteria.  We watched Nurse Betty demonstrate how to put on and take off latex gloves.  We listened to lectures on the stages of dying, bereavement, and color therapy for the sick.  We practiced healing each other with energy from our hands.  For our last class, a college professor spoke about the life lessons we would learn from the dying.  Then Helen, the director of volunteers, gave each of us a blue paper with scrolls xeroxed on it.  The paper certified that we had graduated from the volunteer training and were now ready to minister to the dying for one shift every week.  We ate sugar cookies and hugged each other goodbye.  We drove back to our homes imagining how we would sit at deathbeds and commune with the souls making their way to the world beyond.  We would hold their hands and talk deeply about life.  Some of us would write our own books: maybe not Tuesdays with Morrie but certainly Fridays with John.

That first night, I presented myself to the nurses station full of expectation.   I made myself notice every detail — the rose colored carpet, the buzz of the fluorescent lights — because I wanted to remember every moment as I began my journey into the depth and breadth of life’s meaning.

The receptionist looked up at me blankly.  Apparently she didn’t know I was coming.  “Wait here,” she said.  I leaned on the counter and waited.  Every so often a nurse or CNA ran past the desk. “Do you know about this volunteer?” the receptionist asked.  They all shook their heads and kept running.  Finally a short muscular man named George grabbed my elbow.  “I’ll take her,” he said.

George raced around the floor pointing out where to fetch chucks, diapers, wipes, gloves, gowns, towels and topical medications.  I ran behind him hoping I’d remember half of what he said.   He showed me where to put soiled laundry and how to deposit biowaste, then he turned and looked me over.  He frowned.  “How strong are you?”

“Pretty strong.”

He kept frowning for a moment as if he didn’t believe me.  Then he smiled, wickedly.  “Good.”

I held no hands that night; I didn’t discuss the meaning of life.  I cleaned up shit.  George and I went from patient to patient turning them, changing diapers and chucks, replacing soiled bedclothes with fresh, putting salve on bed sores.  The smell of shit was constant.

As I worked I thought about Tuesdays with Morrie, how wise Morrie was, how much he liked to talk.  Most of these patients were too sick or too medicated to say anything, much less impart wisdom.  Some of them slept, some stared.  Some patients looked dully at television sets.  Every few seconds a TV character got shot or fell off a building.  It struck me how easy death was on TV and how hard it was for these patients.  These people had been dying a long time, and most of them had months to go.

I must have made a face because George said, “Do you mind this?”

“No, absolutely not.”  But I realized that wasn’t the truth.   I didn’t like that truth, I’d been trying to ignore it, I felt ashamed of it, but here it was.  Death, the process of dying– it was pissing me off.  Here I’d spent my valuable time training as a volunteer, and now I was doing smelly, hard physical labor.  I had expected, in return, to find meaning in life, but I wasn’t finding meaning in life.  I was watching the meaningless suffering, helplessness and medicated boredom of people slowly dying.

George and I started to work on Liz.  A nurse had already given her the maximum pain medication allowed, but still she winced badly even when we touched her arm.  “Can’t we just leave her be?” I asked.

George pointed to the blood on the bed pad near her bottom.  “Her bed sores are infected,” he said.  “You want ‘em to get worse?”  Liz was a large woman, and we heaved and pulled and cleaned as gently as we could, all the time watching the agony on her face, now lessening, now getting worse.

As we worked, I began to notice the transaction I had expected — my time and labor in exchange for a sense of meaning.  I considered how much of my life had been a transaction.  My effort in exchange for money and success.  My nurturing in exchange for my family’s love.  Was I a human being or simply a consumer?  No wonder I didn’t find meaning in life lately.  And what a horrible thing I was doing tonight, trying to buy a sense of life’s meaning off these sick and dying people.

When we finished, Liz’s face was flushed red and covered with perspiration.  I wiped her forehead with a cool washrag while George adjusted the pillows under her knees.  She started to whisper, “You’re so good to me.  I can’t thank you enough.”

I wanted to believe she was talking to us.  If I couldn’t get meaning out of this, at least I could get gratitude.  But her unfocused eyes told me she was speaking to someone not in this room.  George stroked her gray, matted hair.  “Go to sleep, Sweetie,” he said.  “Go to sleep now.”

She closed her eyes.  Her body twitched, agitated.  Finally I understood:  Liz wasn’t getting anything out of dying; she was just dying.  And I wasn’t getting anything out of cleaning her; I was just cleaning.  I was doing the work simply because it needed to be done.

Suddenly the shouting in my mind quieted down, and for the rest of my shift I lifted and cleaned and comforted as best I could, free for the first time in years from the questions like hungry monsters in my mind: what can I get out of this, where’s the meaning, what’s in it for me?

Wendy Hammond is a playwright now living in Asia and setting up the drama department of TischAsia (Tish NYU).  She is also a minister and a mother.

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