The fearful acrobat is a dead acrobat.
“Just don’t tell me that I should know who I am. I’ve been avoiding that question for years and I don’t feel like digging into myself and stirring things up. It doesn’t lead anywhere, it just upsets me. I just need to figure out why I’m not succeeding when I try to do things right,” the man in his forties says in one breath. He decided to try “coaching miracles” and ended up in my chair for an initial discussion.
I am intimately familiar with this state of mind. Some people are afraid to touch their own values, beliefs, needs, and goals and build a healthy self-image and sense of their own life. They don’t believe it would be sufficient. They don’t believe they can do it. They don’t believe in their hope because they are influenced by media cynicism.
We are constructed in such a way that we need creativity, success, a sense of fulfillment, and meaning in our lives. And although we search for shortcuts to make some things easier, with some questions, it is not possible. They are so pressing that they will not stop nagging us until we answer them. Even if we resist with all our might to connect with our own inner selves, it will find a way to let us know that it wants our attention.
The sharp image of hazy meaning is useless to us.
Sometimes our efforts to search within ourselves resemble the expectation of riding an escalator on a meadow. It can be done, but what would be the point?
Antoine de Saint-Exupéry in his book “Citadel” says that the purpose of life is to become oneself. How simple and complex at the same time. It can be started simply by understanding oneself. This helps us to focus our consciousness on our inner self, where we can find all the necessary clues to answer the questions determining our direction.
Often in my practice, I experience that people are afraid to figure out what they can do for themselves. They expect me to tell them what to do so that they don’t have to confront themselves with responsibility. When things don’t work out for them, it’s my fault. I have no problem with that, but it doesn’t help them in any way. Without taking responsibility for what we do, why we do it, and how we feel about it, there is no possible path to discovering our own meaningfulness. At the beginning of all this effort is our realization that to exist means to create our own existence – independently, for ourselves, not according to the expectations of others.
The meaning of life is not made or invented
“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.” These are the words of Viktor Frankl, a psychiatrist and a man who survived the Holocaust. He experienced unimaginable horrors in the concentration camps and noticed that people reacted to their situation differently. Some gave up hope and threw themselves into electrified fences, while others became aggressive and helped the guards maintain order. Yet many prisoners chose a different path. Outwardly, they withdrew into themselves, into a more intense inner life. They escaped from the horror of the moment into the joy of the past and the hope of the future. He recalled how even in the greatest horror, prisoners would run out of their barracks just to see the sunset, marvel at the sky, and intoxicate themselves with its beauty. Even in situations where death was near, life was terrible, and the future seemed hopeless, they still maintained one area of their lives over which they could feel some control: their thoughts and feelings. Viktor Frankl concluded that no matter what the scenario, a person never loses the ability and freedom to choose their response.
Getting rid of everything that we are not
I hear some people despairing that they cannot fully and clearly understand life. Nevertheless, their lives can be full and beautiful. What is important for our lives is to build a solid center within ourselves where the world reflects in a unique and incomparable way – precisely because each of us has, according to Frankl, “our own mission or mission; each must perform a specific task that requires fulfillment. In this, he cannot be replaced, and his life cannot be repeated. So a person’s task is as unique as his opportunity to implement it.”
Michelangelo saw his sculptures already in raw stone and said that his task was only to cut away the excess material and reveal the beauty hidden in the stone. This metaphor evokes for me a spiritual understanding of oneself. To look honestly at ourselves, uncover the meaning of painful experiences and everything we have accumulated, so that it allows us to remove the “unnecessary” and what we are not. Then we will find and release our authentic self, which is ready to help us towards integrity.
In essence, we do not need to ask what the meaning of our life is, we just need to be responsible for ourselves and that we have one crucial “component” for a meaningful life, and that is to apply our strengths to support doing good… in service of something that transcends us.
“The tragedy of modern man is not so much that he knows less and less about the meaning of life, but that it interests him less and less.” – Václav Havel
When we imagine how we as humans are interconnected, it gives us an image of a massive wheel where each of us represents one ray. And although all rays are important for the wheel not to fall apart, no two are the same. The rim of the wheel represents our life in community, family, our relationships, but the common center where the rays meet is the place where human meaningfulness accumulates.
“We have become accustomed to the illusion that society offers us: that meaning lies in focusing on oneself – self-confidence, self-improvement, self-perfection – ‘what I want’, ‘let me do what I want’, ‘I’ll do it my way’. But wise literature of thousand-year history repeatedly confirms the reality that the greatest self-satisfaction and self-improvement lies in our ability to reach out and help others. Meaning lies in contribution, in living for something greater than oneself,” wrote Stephen Covey in his groundbreaking 7 Habits.
The guru of positive psychology, M. Seligman, confirms this: “A meaningful life is a life connected to something bigger than ourselves – and the bigger that something is, the more meaningful our life is.”