(Dr. Norquist is on vacation this Memorial Day weekend. We are re-running a letter that was published earlier in this column.)
Dear Dr. Norquist:
I’m struggling with feeling kind of empty, and bored with life, off and on for the past year or so. I get up and do the same thing every day – same bed, same morning routine, same job, same or similar co-workers, same long work hours, same evening TV shows, etc. I’m often very busy, but not really enjoying my life. Maybe this is just what life is. Its ok, but I’m certainly not enjoying it, so I wonder what it’s all for. You wrote a column recently about finding meaning in life. What can I do to find meaning and contentment in my life?
Dr. Norquist responds:
Take time to be still, to tune in to yourself and to experience life as it unfolds before you in that moment. If you have ever spent time just being with nature, the experience of stillness is probably already very meaningful to you. It is in these moments that we really live our lives, rather then just pass through the days of our lives. In stillness you can experience your heart and feel connected with what is most meaningful to you.
Most of us spend our lives living off-center, focused on how the outer world sees and responds to us and the goodies it has to offer. Our senses quite naturally propel us towards a focus on the outer world. Eventually we come to live our lives based on garnering others approval, avoiding disapproval, criticism or rejections and dedicating ourselves to achievements that are valued by the outer world.
You are looking for a sense of contentment with your life. The problem is, contentment is not available in any sustained, consistent way through this outward focus. Contentment is an inner experience, discovered through turning within, and allowing moments of stillness in your day.
When the time is right, the need for stillness will beckon you. You will long for its’ nourishment and you will make it a priority to bask in its’ re-vitalizing energies. The more you make this a part of your day, the less you are pulled off-center by the emotional waves of life that are triggered by our outward focus. Adversity is often the stimulus for the longing for this inner experience; this “coming home. Many religions describe stillness as the doorway to the experience of God’s presence. It is a prerequisite for discovering your own path, your own “fit” with this life. In stillness, we listen inside for the answers to our questions and our longings and for a sense of meaning in our lives.
Life is for living, and for experiencing. When we are young, we believe experiencing life and living fully comes from outer world adventures; stimulating experiences and activities in the world. As we gain experience with life, we recognize that living life deeply and meaningfully requires emotional connectedness with others; love and compassion. We realize that what we offer or contribute to life and to others (vs. what we get from life or from others) ultimately determines what that experience is and what meaning it holds for us.
I believe Kabir expresses these ideas most eloquently. He states … “jump into experience while you are alive! What you call “salvation” belongs to the time before death. If you don’t break your ropes while you’re alive, do you think ghosts will do it after? … What is found now is found then, if you find nothing now, you will simply end up with an apartment in the City of Death. If you make love with the divine now, in the next life you will have the face of satisfied desire. So plunge into the truth, find out who the teacher is.”
Life is the teacher. How open can you be to the teachings she is continuously offering you? In this also you can discover meaning.
(Dr. Sallie Norquist is a licensed psychologist (NJ #2371) in private practice and is director of Chaitanya Counseling Services, a center for upliftment and enlivenment, in Hoboken.)Dr. Norquist and the staff of Chaitanya invite you to write them at Chaitanya Counseling Services, 51 Newark St., Suite 202, Hoboken, NJ 07030 or www.chaitanya.com or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org, or by fax at (201) 656-4700. Questions can address various topics, including relationships, life’s stresses, difficulties, mysteries and dilemmas, as well as questions related to managing stress or alternative ways of understanding health-related concerns. 2013 Chaitanya Counseling Services