Friday, December 2, 2011

About a Meaningful Life

I was ready a few days ago to write about what “home” means to me but the inspiration waned when I didn’t set to it right away. I don’t remember what I was feeling about it then. That’s the key. I need to have some sense of the topic, otherwise I’ll bore myself and my readers. Painting is like that too. One needs to catch it before it passes by.

Something that stirs me now and again is the expression “a meaningful life”. I quoted here before the words of writer-psychiatrist Irvin Yalom who speaks of life’s “givens”: death, isolation, groundlessness, and meaninglessness. He offers a choice of certain stances: to be “resolute” or “engaged," or courageously defiant, or stoically accepting, or to relinquish rationality and, in awe and mystery to place one’s trust in the providence of the Divine.” And then, elsewhere, he says: “The question of the meaning of life is, as the Buddha taught, not edifying. One must immerse oneself in the river of life and let the question drift away.” 

A meaningful life is not, I think, easily defined as a happy one or a morally good one. Most of us (and I speak of this western culture) make consequential choices while very young, choices that inform our entire lives — about schooling, career or vocation, spouses, having children or not, about where to live and work. We might make big changes later, but it all adds up; it is our story. Some of us make such big mistakes in our youth that the potential for a fulfilling life is lost. Looking back at my own life it seems I made most choices as I floated along on that “river of life” and operated partly as I thought was expected of me and partly provoked by some romantic appeal, responding to life’s questions as they appeared. There was no general plan. So there was marriage, children and a teaching job and life away from the US. All very rewarding and enriching. It was not until I was in my mid-forties that I stopped one day and said (to myself) “Hey, wait a minute. This isn’t my life.” I suppose that maturity, responsibility and the beginning of self-awareness begin when we realize how fast our lives are happening. There just isn’t as much time as we thought there was. 

Dostoevsky said: “It seems, in fact, as though the second half of a man's life is made up of nothing but the habits he has accumulated during the first half.” A life altering decision or crisis in mid-life might be far better than to reach old age and feel that one missed out somehow. How sad that would be.

Is it this time of year when I read of the wackiness of Black Friday and Cyber Monday that my thoughts turn to meaning in life?

The image above is Red-Blue. It is a new, small (17" x 11") acrylic collage now hanging at the Piante Gallery in Eureka in the Abstractions 2011 exhibition.


  1. Joan,
    Wonderful musings on my favorite topic - second half of life, third age, regenopause - whatever you want to call it, it's a second chance to get it right, be what we are meant to be, do it our way.

    Contrary to Dostoevsky, Jungian, James Hollis, suggests we have a choice of leaving old habits behind, discovering who we are separate from our past and waking up before we die.

    I can't help noticing vital people (often women) in their 70's, 80's, even 90's who seem more alive and brilliant than ever, people like you, who live well, learn, grow, discover, contribute, inspire, and enrich us all.

    Thank you!
    Great show last night too!

  2. Thoughtful reflection, Joan.

  3. Once again, you inspire me. Thanks.
    We were sad to miss the show this weekend, caught up in kids and life!
    Did enjoy a rare weekend of nesting, with your houses keeping me company.