An old day passes, a new day arrives.
The important thing is to make it meaningful:
A meaningful friend – or a meaningful day.
The Dalai Lama
How to live a meaningful life although in constant pain – that is the biggest question. The hardest thing as my back slid slowly downhill was loss of direction and purpose. It's one thing to be housebound and see doors closing, but far worse to lose meaning. It's like losing one's self. Trying to cope with grace only goes so far. Pain makes one passive and a victim, and accepting help has the same effect.
So the bigger task than enduring the pain and accepting its limitations was getting out of the victim trap. I still say to myself daily that “this is what you have got, you have a choice: whether to be happy or miserable.” Each day I make the conscious choice to be happy.
But that is not enough! Happiness alone is empty, although it falls on our actions like a grace. We need purpose: to feel there is a point to being here and alive. To quote Dan Ariely, who survived 70% of his body being burned and created a full and satisfying life, we need to feel “completion and acknowledgement.”
I believe deeply in a higher being, but that again leaves me, though comforted, in a passive role. We need to give as well as receive. When we first emigrated here in 1975, I felt a stranger, tripping over new ways – until the first time someone needed my help. That was when I felt we belonged.
Pain is the same: a lot of accepting help, a diminution of belonging. One sits outside life while it whirls by, like a leftover on a plate. Pain also limits action: because I can't sit or stand for long, I can't volunteer. Or babysit or drive friends. It is difficult to visit friends. So what, I asked myself despairingly, when we moved into town seven years ago, do I do to be part of this community? How can I contribute and how can I find a purpose to my daily existence?
My friends' lives are full of deeds; mine of contemplation. So if I can't DO, can I BE? Can I make my life a joyful meditation, filled with gratitude? I can watch life as it flows and see the goodness in each encounter because pain gives me the gift of time. I can take time – and listen – and care.
Purpose and belonging grow from service. Kennedy said, “ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.” Viktor Frankl pulled a man back from suicide with the question: “what does life still ask of you?” A new idea – that I owe life itself, smoky by being alive. So now each day, I ask life, “Show me what is needed”. And each day an answer, albeit small, comes: call, write, give.
Completion comes in pieces, like sound bites; acknowledgement in a touch or a look. Living in deep quiet, instead of my former to-do list, rushing life, there is purpose and much greater meaning.
The Upside of Irrationality: the Unexpected Benefits of Defying Logic at Work and at Home by Dan Arieli.