That was IT ?! This was her birthday speech?
We had a long-standing tradition in the team I worked with. . . the Birthday Speech. That's when we shared with everyone what we learned in the last year.
It had become quite the event, with folks even bringing in poems and inspirational readings. It was always uplifting as we all tried to be profound (when we weren't trying to get out of it). But now the gauntlet had been thrown down. We looked around at each other, quick sideways glances. Surely she must be joking. A few nervous twitters were heard.
Maybe she's just a little depressed on her birthday? She can't mean this, not really. We love her, her life has all kinds of meaning! Should we be worried? Meanwhile, there she sat, serene and looking faintly amused at the head of the table.
"It's true, " she said. “Life is empty and meaningless. It is we who take it and decide, for ourselves what our own lives will mean. " There isn't really a set of rules or a blueprint that you follow, or some book somewhere that is going to tell you what you life means. You just have a big blank sheet, and probably a lot more freedom that you realize or could ever be comfortable with, to create this life however you want. To make it mean whatever you want.
How are we each dealing with the responsibility, and gift, of having a whole life to create, or to fritter away? It's funny really, when you stand back and look. I think life scares the heck out of people. It appears we live in a world that is doing it's level best to keep us occupied so we forget about our choices and forget to live. What would it do to the economy if we were actually content and fulfilled?
I had a reader contact me last month who told me she took her TV out of her entertainment room. She said it was a small step. I think that was huge! I wonder how many of us would be willing to do that? How many of you reading this have had some portion of your life planned around your favorite TV show?
I'm not here to pick on TV (where is the challenge in that?), but it's a fine illustrative point. It's very easy to go on automatic pilot and to fill our lives with all the clutter. . . the TV shows, the stuff we have to buy because it was on sale, the junk mail we stack up that clogs all kinds of space, the e-mail jokes we send to each other that makes us feel like we are communicating when actually we haven't at all. . .
So why do we embrace clutter? Yes, I said embrace. I think it's because it protects us from the fact that life is empty and meaningless. Note: I didn't say your life. I simply said LIFE. Our distractions keep us safe from the responsibility of really living consciously and deliberately and making this trip worthwhile. We keep ourselves distant from ourselves and from each other with our busyness and stuff.
What would our families do tonight if none of us were allowed to use any electronics? What would happen if that were the rule for an entire week? What would we all do if our ‘to do’ lists were all taken care of for good? Who would we be then, with nothing urgent that had to be done? What would it feel like to really have space in your life that you could do anything with and it was your choice to fill it?
Have you ever been in a relationship with someone who was so busy doing things for you that they weren't actually able to be with you? Maybe you do that yourself. Maybe you are running around busily taking care of everything and letting the most precious, open, empty moments slip by. I think sometimes people can't relax because they are afraid. It's hard to be present with folks! What if they actually see you? I mean really see you. Really want to know how you are.
In Ayn Rand's The Fountainhead. There is a section where one of the characters, an architect, is meeting with prospective clients who are telling him what they want, or, more accurately, what they think they want due to cultural and societal influences. This architect, Roark, is quite outside the mainstream so he's been offending the sensibilities of the community. As he is listening to his prospective clients and what they want he often draws the conclusions “There is no such person as ‘X'", meaning they are just an empty container filled with all the opinions of their friends and society. They don't really know what they want because they have ended up an amalgam of all those things other people have taught them to believe they should desire. So, what is filling your container? You or someone else? Do you exist in an authentic way?
Many people determine the course of their actions based on what they think others will accept. Ironically, a good deal of this time, folks are caught up in how they will be perceived by those they don't even know, and sometimes by those they don't even respect or care for all that much.
You used to be an empty vessel. So did I.
You, and I, have been filled to overflowing with many, many messages about what it takes to make it in the world. What we need, what we should want, what is appropriate, or not for our behavior, for our goals, for our needs, for our desires. It's very hard to clean that stuff out. I don't know how possible it is to clean it all out. Some of us have a hard enough time keeping the tops of our desk clean!
So, if my friend was right, and I tend, at this point, to think she was. . . if life is empty and meaningless and it is up to you to create something with the portion you have given, make sure that you exist.
It matters. To all of us.
Need help moving from insight to integration and implementation of these concepts? Laura Young, M. A. is a life and business coach and owner of Wellspring Coaching . Laura specializes in working with individuals negotiating midlife transitions (personal and career), self-employed individuals on business development strategies and high level leaders on communication and leadership skills. With over 25 years of experience working in personal development, Laura has written extensively on such topics as stress management, motivation, finding one's life purpose, achieving life balance, cultivating a healthy lifestyle and improving communication in personal and professional relationships. Please visit her blogs and website to tap in to her extensive resource base.