Exploring the meaning of life…

Years ago, I went to hear a young revival preacher.  I found myself nodding off and unable to stay interested.  Then, he said something that I wrote down, which has impacted my whole life:  All the battles of life are won or lost in the mind!  That is one of the most powerful truths that I’ve ever encountered.

The Bible has much to say about the mind.  My favorite is Roman 12:2: Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.

So, how then do we renew the mind?  What kind of metamorphosis is needed?  I like what writer Martha Beck has to say about the subject:  “I used to think I knew how some caterpillars become butterflies.  I assumed they weave cocoons, then sit inside growing six long legs, four wings and so on.  I figured if I were to cup open a cocoon, I’d find a butterfly-ish caterpillar, or a caterpillar-ish butterfly, depending on how far things had progressed.  I was wrong.  In fact, the first thing caterpillars do in their cocoons is shed their skin, leaving a soft, rubbery chrysalis.  If you were to look inside the cocoon early on, you’d find nothing but a puddle of glop.  But in that glop are certain cells, called imago cells, that contain the DNA-coded instructions for turning bug soup into a delicate, winged creature – the angle of the dead caterpillar.”

We go through many changes in our lifetime, some good – some bad, and each time we are given the opportunity to learn and transcend something, usually a problem we faced that seemed to rob us of all joy.  But the key is to allow this metamorphosis to complete itself.  We don’t go from caterpillar to butterfly overnight, and maybe not even in our lifetime.  The trick is to learn the lesson that has resulted from the “problem,” renew our minds, and go on to the next issue that comes our way.

If you’ve ever read Kafka’s Metamorphosis then you know that Gregor, the protagonist of the story, wakes up and has been totally transformed into an insect.  Hopefully, that will never happen to us.  But, sometimes, life presents us with problems that seem even worse than Gregor’s fate.  We can’t see anyway out – we feel hopeless and doomed.  It seems that our world is crumbling before our very eyes.  Sometimes, we just need to step back and be still for a moment or as long as it takes to see that a metamorphosis is taking place in our lives and in our minds.  If we can listen long enough to hear God’s voice, we can trust that He is in charge of this whole metamorphosis process, and if we trust long enough, we will see the “butterfly” that is emerging.  We can renew our minds and prepare for the next stage of our growth.  And, for as long as we are alive, this metamorphosis will continue until one day we realize it is time to meet our Maker.

Trust God’s voice and have a happy journey!

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I am honored in my career as a nurse that I have been able to witness a number of miracles.  About twenty years ago, I worked in the Intensive Care Unit of a small hospital.  An elderly woman had been in the ICU for a number of weeks, comatose after a heart attack.  The physician advised the family that they might want to consider turning off her life support and letting her go since there were no signs of recovery.  The family looked crushed when they heard the words of the doctor.  They asked that the doctor and I join them at her bedside as they prayed.  We all held hands as the family prayed and told the patient that it was OK for her to go to her heavenly Father.  After the prayer, the family went in tears to the cafeteria as we turned off all of the life-support machines.  We agreed that I would page them when she passed away.  I sat at the desk watching her heart on the monitor.  The room was very still and quiet.  Then, suddenly, in a loud voice, I heard someone say, “Where’s my teeth?”  I turned to find the patient sitting up in bed, looking around for her dentures.                                                                                                               

She seemed to sense my amazement and said, “What?  Can’t I have my teeth?”

“Of course you can,” I said, handing her the dentures.

I went back to the desk and paged the family to return to the ICU.  I knew they would think that she had died, but I had no other way to communicate with them.  I will never forget the looks on their faces when they saw her sitting up in her bed as if nothing had happened.

She went home the next day.  I lost track of her after that day, but I have never forgotten her or the miracle I witnessed.  How do you make sense of something like that?  You don’t even try.  God is just God – all the time.

Have a happy journey and keep your mind open to a miracle!

 

Not Chaos-like, together crushed and bruised,
But, as the world harmoniously confused.
Where order in variety we see,
And where, though all things differ, all agree.
Windsor Forest – Alexander Pope

Most of us as rational human beings would prefer order to chaos.  We equate order to harmony and chaos to madness.  Is it possible that in our faulty perception of the world, we can’t see the order in the chaos?

Author Joseph Campbell points out what German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer penned about chaos:  “Schopenhauer…points out that when you reach an advanced age and look back over your lifetime, it can seem to have had a consistent order and plan, as though composed by some novelist.  Events that when they occurred had seemed accidental and of little moment turn out to have been indispensable factors in the composition of a consistent plot.  So who composed that plot?  Schopenhauer suggests that just as your dreams are composed by an aspect of yourself of which your consciousness is unaware, so, too, your whole life is composed by the will within you.  And just as people whom you will have met apparently by mere chance became leading agents in the structuring of your life, so, too, will you have served unknowingly as an agent, giving meaning to the lives of others.” – Joseph Campbell.                                                                                                                

So, if your life seems to be in a state of chaos right now, don’t panic!  Perhaps in the chaos, an aspect of your being is under construction.  Sometimes we require a breakdown of some part of ourselves in order to bring change.  Love yourself, bear with yourself, and forgive yourself.  There is a Divine Purpose in your life trying to get through to you.  Be still and listen.

Have a happy journey!

Persius

“Learn what God has willed you to be
And find your place in the human world.”
Persius, Satires, III, pp. 71-73.
 
While thinking about what would be a good New Year’s resolution, I found these words  penned by Roman philosopher and poet, Persius, who lived in 34 AD.  At the time, I was thinking – what would be a good New Year’s resolution?  These words totally changed my attitude of the yearly pursuit to formulate a resolution for the coming year.  I could think of many – weight loss (ugh) or more exercise (really any exercise would be more truthful).  Then, I realized what a waste of time and effort I would expend in choosing either one of these goals.  Not that they are poor goals, it just occured to me that I needed to resolve something that would matter in the context of the world.  This may sound lofty, but everything we do changes the world in some way.  So, if I feel the urge to focus my resolve in a certain direction, then I want it to matter. 
     Persius summed it up for me – why not resolve to learn what God has willed me to be and find my place in the world?  Finally, this is something that is worthy of my day-by-day, moment-by-moment pursuit.  For me, it is the only thing that really matters.  I want to focus my life to discover what purpose I have on this earth.  It isn’t something that can be discovered quickly or without effort.   But I resolve to head that way.  I may not know exactly where I’m going, but I will know I’m headed the right direction.
 
Where are you headed?
 
Have a happy journey!
What do you see?

Are you familiar with the allegory of Plato’s Cave?  The story details what happens when a group of people are placed in a cave from birth.  They are chained to a wall and are unable to look anywhere except straight ahead of them.  Behind them is a massive fire that provides the only light source for the cave.  Behind them, people can walk, but they can’t see the people, only the shadows they project on the wall in front of them.  Therefore, they see the shadows as reality, not realizing that  people exist who are making the shadows. 

     When I first read about this story, I immediately thought about my own life, and  how many times I’ve been fooled about “reality” – about what is real in life and what is only our faulty perception.  I know that many people are content to see the shadows, but if you are like me, and you are searching for Truth, make a New Year’s resolution with me.  I resolve to always look further for the Truth and not settle for the shadows of cheap perception.
 
Have a Happy New Year!
 

Have you ever experienced something  in your life that appeared to be a coincidence, but you wondered if it could be more than coincidence?  For example, when my daughter was four years old, she didn’t feel well one day and started running a fever.  I stayed home from work that day with the intention of taking her to the doctor.  A couple of hours after she awakened, she started watching her favorite show on tv – Barney.  I was listening to the show as I got ready to take her to the doctor.  The story was about Baby Bop who was breaking out with bumps all over, and found out she had chickenpox.  Not long after the program ended, my daughter showed me that she was breaking out with bumps like Baby Bop.  And indeed, her doctor confirmed that she had chickenpox.  Was this just a coincidence?  Things like this have happened to me repeatedly in my life and so I began to search for an explanation.  I found it in the works of psychologist Carl Jung and his ideas of “synchronicity.”                 

Jung defined synchronicity as the experience of two or more events that are apparently causally unrelated or unlikely to occur together by chance and that are observed to occur together in a meaningful manner.  Looking at my situation with my daughter getting chickenpox at the same time that she watches Baby Bop get them on tv, if just a coincidence, would seem unbelievably farfetched.  What if I had turned on another program?  Are these two events related in some meaningful way?  Jung explains it as a governing dynamic that underlies the whole of human experience and history – social, emotional, psychological, and spiritual.  Following discussions with both Albert Einstein and Wolfgang Pauli, Jung believed that there were parallels between synchronicity and aspects of relativity theory and quantum mechanics.  He also believed that this “deeper order” was embedded in an orderly framework and was the focus of that framework.  So, what does this mean?

Swiss psychologist Carl Jung

Consider another incidence of synchronicity that happened to me.  I decided to take my two female cats to the vet to be spayed.  The night before I was to take them, I dreamed that one of my cats, Precious, was a boy.  When I awakened, I laughed and wondered why I dreamed such a silly thing.  About an hour after I took the cats to the vet, I received a call informing me that one of the cats, Precious, was a boy.  For a minute, I didn’t know what to say.  I was a nurse and yet I had never seen any “evidence” that my cat was a male.  Coincidence?  It is hard to get a handle on.  I am keeping an open mind as a new generation researches and defines the grand order of things.

What do you think?  Please leave a comment.

For those of you that would like to read more about synchronicity, try F. David Peat’s book  Synchronicity – The Bridge Between Matter and Mind.                                                                             

Have a happy journey!

   The means to gain happiness
is to throw out from oneself,
like a spider, in all directions,
an adhesive web of love,
and to catch in it
all that comes.
Leo Tolstoy

 

I love this quote from Tolstoy.  So much has been written about love by poets, songwriters and those who are head over heels in love, but this is the first reference to “throwing out an adhesive web of love” that I have ever read.  Like the Apostle Paul, Tolstoy had an amazing transformation that made it plain to him that he had missed the boat in his life.  He was a successful Russian writer of great aclaim, but his life was empty. He experienced a depression during which he questioned everything about his life and the life of all mankind.  His entire system of beliefs seemed to crumble right before him, and it almost killed him.  In order to survive and reorder his belief system, he held tight to one belief – that God existed.  For him, it was the only thing that gave meaning to life.  Many others have shared his struggle.  Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard said it this way, “The thing is to understand myself, to see what God really wishes me to do: the thing is to find a truth which is true for me, to find the idea for which I can live and die.”  For Tolstoy the truth was that God existed and was manifested in love.

                                                                                                         

Leo Tolstoy - 1908

Tolstoy received much critisism after his conversion experience, and many doubted his sincerity.  However, if you have read “The Death of Ivan Ilych,” which was his first work after his conversion, I don’t think you could have much doubt that he truly experienced a spiritual awakening.  For me, it is in every page of the story in a way that I don’t believe could be written by anyone that had not come to a truthful understanding of what is valuable in our lives.  In the above quotation, he lays it out for us – it is love.  That is what brings real joy and happiness.  He discovered these truths toward the end of his life, but not too late for him to experience true love and not too late for his readers to understand the value in life by reading “The Death of Ivan Ilych.”  If you are searching for the meaning in your life, give it a try.  Read the book.  You have nothing to lose.

Here’s to love – have a happy journey!            

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