I often receive notes from readers asking for perspective regarding life’s perplexities. I’m taken aback that I would get such inquiries, and that some of you think of me as some sort of shaman. I’m just a street kid from the Bronx. What the heck do I know?
Got one the other day. “Dr. Joe,” it read. “…I just can’t seem to find meaning in life. Do you have any thoughts?
I fired off a response. “Read Victor Frankel’s ‘Man’s Search for Meaning,’ and William James’ ‘What Makes Life Significant.’ I’ll follow up with some thoughts via the Valley Sun.”
Let me begin by cheering you up. Are you kidding? I have a few ideas, but nothing definitive. I should’ve written about how to cook hot dogs.
You know, the top three philosophical inquiries of human concern are meaning, love and divinity. The great thinkers have never reached consensus. Believe me, I’ve read every idea out there and I’m still baffled. When it comes to meaningful pursuit, there’s was nothing better than being 16, sitting in the bleachers at Yankee Stadium, eating hot dogs and drinking Ballentine beer.
However, years ago I learned something from the Buddha: “Life has no inherent meaning; it’s up to us to bring meaning to life.” So I’d bet the significance of life is not a matter of what you find; it’s what you do. It’s sort of like taking responsibility for your own contentment.
After reading the works of Joseph Campbell, I believe we should change the question to, “How do we find satisfaction in life?” We’d get a whole new set of answers.
Satisfaction is found in myriad ways. Native Americans find it in nature; poets in expression; writers in words; some find it in love, religion, work, family — and the list goes on.
I am convinced that meaning/satisfaction is derived from action. What have we done, and what are we doing, to cultivate bliss? The essence of meaning/satisfaction is awareness. It’s our ability to see life’s blessings and fortuitous moments.
Let me share a passage from a book I’m writing. The excerpt is based on a serendipitous moment that occurred 47 years ago:
“The story begins on a snowy evening in the Bronx. The streets had absorbed the first snows of winter, leaving everything white in its wake. The clock in the window of the “Five and Ten” pointed to midnight. I had been out for hours combing the neighborhoods, searching for that special moment I could not define.
“Life works in strange ways. Instead of finding what you’re looking for, you find what you need. I was a sophomore at Mount Saint Michael and found a teacher who would influence my life. Brother Raymond opened my eyes to the magic of words and ideas. For the first time, I had learned to see. Thoreau says, ‘The question is not what you look at, but what you see.’
“I stood at the pinnacle of 233rd street and saw the neighborhoods below. I was overtaken by the simple peace and absolute silence. This moment had defined my walk in the snow.
“My thoughts flowed and what I saw formed a quilt. On this dark and cold night, I wrapped this moment around me.
“Many of us go though life as watchers. Thus, special moments in time pass us by. We need to recognize the miraculous. But the miraculous is not profound; it’s simplicity. Simplicity is sublime.
“Walt Whitman understood this; his words create a conduit toward meaning. ‘Why, who makes much of a miracle? As to me, I know of nothing else but miracles.’ When I read Whitman, I’m convinced that the Buddha is everywhere.”
My dear reader, if the Buddha is everywhere, then he must be in you.
JOE PUGLIA is a practicing counselor, a professor of education at Glendale Community College and a former officer in the Marines. Reach him at email@example.com.