Often when I conduct a workshop, speak before a civic group, or receive an email inquiry about spiritual counseling and inner wellbeing, there is a direct or inferred question about the meaning of life, or lack thereof. There is a hunger to connect to something bigger than self-interest. There is a desire to find relevance in a crazy world. There is a longing to transcend the mundane in our daily lives—like doing laundry, cleaning the toilet, or managing the office bully or nasty supervisor because bills must be paid. The mundane is part of everyone’s reality, and dwelling on it serves no purpose.
Consider getting into the routine of crafting the right questions for your life as part of your New Year’s resolutions. There are boilerplate questions too often asked that have no answers. “Why did this bad thing happen to me?” for example, is one of them.
There is a story that’s been handed down about the Buddha. He lifted a flower. That’s it. The whole lesson. What did it mean? Nothing. [pullquote]How will you experience joy after reading this column, even though happiness might be illusive if you’re struggling with debt, unemployment, or other personal issues? This question of personal meaning can take on a different dimension for LGBTQ persons of faith belonging to a certain tradition, like Catholicism.[/pullquote]
What is the wasp’s purpose? Does the tick who bites and infects have meaning? These irritants are part of everyone’s reality. They appear to be useless creatures. You could draw from Jewish wisdom. The wasp and tick teach humankind humility since they were created before Adam and Eve, or you may conclude it doesn’t matter. The reality is that they exist.
The Buddha advises against getting too caught up with the why, the external, and got-to-know, failing to focus on reality. Lost focus distracts from inner wellness. Think of your life as sacred. Does it really matter why the tick or wasp exists?
What does matter is that you exist. What counts is the meaning of your life in this moment. To modify an old saying, yesterday is gone forever (don’t dwell on what you did or didn’t do), tomorrow is something you plan for with no guarantees, and today is your reality.
How will you experience joy after reading this column, even though happiness might be illusive if you’re struggling with debt, unemployment, or other personal issues? This question of personal meaning can take on a different dimension for LGBTQ persons of faith belonging to a certain tradition, like Catholicism. The issue is not why Rome misunderstands and treats LGBTQ people harshly, because that’s reality. The deeper question is: how does an LGBTQ person who identifies as Catholic (as one example) manage the current limitations of their denomination while seeking to bring about institutional change?
You can expand this question to the tragedies and injustices all around us. LGBTQ hate crimes haven’t ended. Abuse and victimization against God’s transgender children are especially high.
The question isn’t “Why does God (defined gender neutral) allow injustice to occur?” Whether God is responsible for injustice is a pointless, academic exercise. The better question to explore is “How do I participate in my truth in making a difference in the reality as it exists?”
As you reflect on the past year and look hopefully on the new one, think about crafting personalized questions unique to your sacredness. Don’t expect answers to hit you over the head. Instead, do what the poet Rilke counseled a young man wondering about his path in life to do. Live and experience realistic, practical questions as part of your life’s journey, accepting the realities you can’t change that confront us all.
*Paul is an attorney, seminary-trained priest and founder of CorporateChaplaincy.biz, a firm committed to the spiritual wellness of professionals. He is also author of “Lost Sense of Self & the Ethics Crisis: Learn to Live and Work Ethically.”