Practice and the Meaning of Life

How do we make sense of the world?  Where does meaning come from?

What are trials and tribulations?  What are those memories of life you most cherish?  Oddly for me, they are often those things suffered through.  Especially those where I entered into a deep darkness, and finally after many trials and tribulations, find myself in a breaking dawn of bright sunshine, green grass, and the fresh smell of spring.

We practice those things we care about doing well, or those things we think are important.  And practice is often frustrating, can even be discouraging.

Practice is suffering under control.  It is pain with a purpose.  It is the legitimate suffering neurotics avoid.

When we hang onto our practice through thick and thin, we become aware of our own perseverance, of our power to endure, and of the value of our goal.

The longer we endure, the longer it takes to reach, the more meaningful it becomes; and the more meaningful our life becomes.

On the other hand if we say something is important to us, yet we don’t practice it, in what way is it important?  Anything important takes time, and the way we spend that time is the way we practice.  No time means no practice.  No practice means no importance.

What am I saying here?  This is where journaling can help.  Take a moment to step back.  What are you practicing?  How are you spending your time?  What is important to you?  Are they in alignment?  If not how can you bring them into alignment?

I think a midlife crisis often comes of practicing things that don’t matter, to acquire things that don’t last, to put points on a scoreboard that doesn’t count.

But the practice itself will have taught you the discipline, the persistence, the faith, and hope necessary to change the pursuit of success into the pursuit of significance.

Why wait?

Life in the Slow Lane

When I was a young man I was always in a hurry.  I drove in the left lane, rode the tail of anyone driving “too slow,” and was impatient in traffic.  I got lots of tickets, and paid high insurance premiums.

Now middle-aged, I find myself in the slow lane most of the time.  I give myself plenty of time to get where I’m going, and listen to a book along the way.  When the traffic is slow, I wait.  When it moves swiftly, I go with it.

I like living in the slow lane.  I take time to reflect.  I do work that is deeply satisfying to me.  I focus on the work itself, rather than the status of my particular vocation or job title.

In the slow lane, less is more: less stuff, more relationships; less status, more significance; less travel, more walks in the parks.  It means having enough to share, and enough time for family and friends; it means having enough time to figure out what’s important to you, and making the time to do it.  You learn to find what’s real good for free.

When I lived in the fast lane I was in a constant state of stress.  I felt anxious without knowing what I was anxious about.  I continually measured my own life against the lives of others.

It’s easy to confuse status with doing good work, or living well.  It’s human nature to want the respect of our fellow human beings, particularly our peer group.  So much so that marketers have become expert at turning that need for respect into a desire to buy their product; we’ve come to associate those products with the thing itself.  That is, if we have the right job title, drive the right car, wear the right clothes, and travel to the right places then we must be successful.  If we don’t, then we’re not.

Living in the slow lane is very simple and very difficult.  It’s as simple as being aware of what’s driving your need for status, and as difficult as letting go of it.

What Is Scripture?

What is scripture?  Is it the Word of God?  Written text divinely inspired by God?  Or is it the written compilation of religious traditions of peoples from around the world?

What is scripture to you?  Do you read scripture?

Shortly after graduating from college, I read Mortimer Adler’s book, How to Read a Book.  That book inspired me, not only to read the Great Books of the Western World, but of the eastern world as well and the various religious texts in particular.  I figured if they were profound enough to inspire the religions themselves and millions of people as well, then they probably have something to say to me too.

They did, and still do.

I believe scripture is that body of written work on which you build your life.  It is the “first principles” of your life, the axioms and assumptions which underlie your thoughts, words, and deeds.

Scripture may be a religious text like the Bible or the Bhagavad Gita.  It may be some work of philosophy like Plato or Aristotle.  Maybe even a work of fiction like The Lord of the Rings.  For a time I read that book, or parts of it, nearly every year.

Perhaps you disagree with me.  In fact you may feel offended by the generic nature of my definition.  But I think even an atheist will want and need a written embodiment of what she believes to be true: the fundamental axioms or principles on which she bases her actions; or a vision for what life can or should be.

And let’s face it, there are certain texts that have acquired a sacred patina even though they are secular in nature: the Magna Carta, the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution of the United States of America to name only a few.

People and scripture are the bricks and mortar we build our life’s meaning with.  Without one or the other, it’s hard to build a lasting foundation.  That being the case, what are you reading?  What are you mixing your mortar with?  How do those words become the cathedral of your mind?  How do you turn that scripture into meaningful action?