Finding Meaning in Life
I just interviewed to work with an 83 year old woman. I left contemplating finding meaning in life. We were both in the process of finding meaning, but at very different life stages.
Overall, she is very healthy, and until recently, was able to walk quickly with no problems. She lives in a wonderful independent living facility in Boulder, Colorado. Why then does she need a team of people around her?
Her three sons all live in Boulder and brought her here because her husband died a few years ago. So, she lives far from everything she knew, lost her husband and is very afraid of being alone. She calls her children frequently for visits. So, they are looking for people to help her, basically help her find meaning in her life, outside being a wife and mother.
As a woman I so completely relate to this. It seems to be in every cell of our body to care and nurture on some level. We have the very new ability to do much more than care and nuture and some women have no desire to have children, which is wonderful we can now choose!! But, most every woman I have met has an incredible ability to care and nuture. Birthing, feeding, clothing, and caring for others has been most of the scope of womenhood since we crawled out of the sea or were dropped down from heaven or goodness knows what. It’s what we do and how we find meaning.
I just spent the last year and a half with a goal of building some websites and selling our home, then moving into a new home. I worked many long hours at all of the above, but since creating new work for myself and moving homes is very unsettling, I continually thought about what meaning there was in my life. I was in the process of creating new work and a new home. What did I want this to look like? What had meaning for me and how did I want to incorporate this into my life? Really, what was the meaning of life, now, for me?
I really wanted to learn to enjoy my life and be a mother. I didn’t really know how to enjoy life while being unsettled around work and family. Work had always given me meaning. I started working at the age of 9 babysitting four days a week, graduated high school just a few days after turning 17 and college when I was 20. After getting a business degree, I knew I wanted to do something meaningful with it, but ended up working with children and adolescents who had very difficult lives, instead of working in business. This seemed very meaningful, but also very taxing to my being. At any given time I was around many children at one time, all needing attention and help, and I felt lost in their ocean of troubles. How exactly could I help? Being one kind person in their day or week was nice, but didn’t feel like the amount it taxed in the negative me was really creating an equally positive impact on their lives.
My Master’s Degree from Naropa University was very helpful in making meaning of working with them. My job was to focus on finding their brilliant sanity- the beauty of spirit unique to that child. I think I did a great job. Life took me in the direction of being an Event Coordinator for Naropa University for four years instead of a therapist. I loved the work. I helped put on amazing classes that many people benefited from and that helped them touch their heart in many instances.
The department closed and I was left feeling pretty certain I wanted to start my own business and the best idea I had was to start a website for family services for Boulder County. That started a snowball of learning about all things internet. A fascinating world, but not very relational and hard to make meaning of the work. My focus was on working hard now to set up a somewhat passive revenue stream for the future. I worked on another website for many, many months about product reviews on the hopes of making a healthy amount of passive income. Almost one year into it, I make very little. I tried to make the site helpful for consumers, but the passion for it came from one day being able to have my monetary dreams come true, not from the day to day building of the website.
My hope was with the amount of money I hoped to make from the website, I could have the time to do things I loved. Paint, garden, play with my 3 dogs, have fun getaways with my husband, meditate and go on retreats, and above all, earn enough money to have children and have everything our family needed including time, material resources and paid help. I worked everyday hoping it would pay off so I could be a happy, well resourced mother. As time went on and the websites didn’t turn very profitable (it’s only been a year and a half since the first went live, so I still have lots of hope for them) and babies didn’t show up, I was left with much uncertainty as to where to go, which brought up the search for meaning again. I wanted to be a successful entrepreneur and I really wanted to be a mother. With neither on the horizon, what meaning did my life have or could it ever have?
I am very lucky to have spent much of my adult years developing a spiritual life. The most brilliant teachers I have connected with, the Dalai Lama, Thich Nhat Hanh, Trungpa Rinpoche and Pema Chodron say very similar things. Meaning comes from being of benefit to others and to the world. While my websites were of benefit to people, I wasn’t benefitting from them. I rarely got any appreciation from those that used them and got very little monetary return for my work. So, that equation didn’t hold much meaning for me.
I sunk into a dark place where I couldn’t see how my life had been of much meaning to anyone. I felt like a big failure at businesses and at becoming a mother. I was pretty sure until I was successful at business, we probably couldn’t conceive a baby because I would feel too stressed on how we’d afford the expensive little bundle of joy. I was a nanny for much of the last ten years to supplement my income and was certain I wanted to be a stay at home mother. This seemed to be the best scenario for the children. No one who cared for them could love them like their parents. So, every minute with other caregivers was time around people doing a job instead of time around the people who loved them more than they could believe.
I worked my entire adult life, except for the time working at Naropa, caring for children because I wanted to have all the wisdom I could as a mother. From these experiences I developed a strong vision for a well resourced, supportive, joyful family life, but it had neither a successful business or family in it. Yes, this made it pretty empty and depressing!
The one thing I loved at this point was my psyhic clairvoyant classes. I loved my teachers, my fellow students and loved developing my psychic intuitive abilities. It was my favorite thing since my studies at Naropa. This had meaning for me. When I did my psychic readings for those who came to the center to be read, I could tell the readings were very helpful and cleared some blocks for them. Well, I still needed to make money and being a psychic wasn’t going to pay the mortgage yet since I was still an undergradute psychic student and wanted to wait until I graduated to make the leap to doing this on my own.
Weeks turned into months where I was in an increasing state of depression. Numb to the joys of life and very aware of the pain. The only future I could see was one without anything that held meaning. I loved my husband and doggies and new home very much and felt rediculous for being so sad, but I didn’t want to work as a 40 hr per week slave just to pay the mortgage on a home that we spent a lot of money on because it would be a great family home, way too much for two people, even with three dogs.
I couldn’t imagine a full time job that would have a lot of meaning and at this point I couldn’t really fathom what could possibly have meaning that I could do well. I have more skills with children than almost anyone I know, but no longer had the energy or desire to make that a full time thing outside of being a mother. It was really just devastating not to have a child yet. I felt I’d spent more than a decade preparing for a job in a field that was not hiring at this time. I imagined I felt very similar to the mother whos children just left home. The meaning to her life and what she was the very best at in the world no longer needed her on a daily basis, maybe only for a few hours monthly.
I felt like without being a mother, I just saw a future that was shallow and the only meaning it might hold would be to search for others to help to try to ease my pain of longing. I didn’t see much joy in helping these people since it was only in lieu of doing what I really want to do, but it might give me meaning and hopefully a renewed reason to keep on with the insanity of life. How could I suffer less was what I focused upon. Yeah, feeling the depths of my sadness and suffering I felt was important, but a few months of that had to give way to something else because sinking into it more seemed like it would only leave me a pile of rubble on the floor and of benefit to no one!
In my search for work, I found a job posting for a caregiver for Belle, the 83 year old woman. I felt drawn to this posting though not sure why. As I listened to her children tell me her story, I realized that we both are searching for meaning and feel a little lost in the process. I have known for years that even when I did have children I would have to find meaning outside of them to not smother them and put the pressure of being my reason to live upon them. I have not yet found a strong passion, except for being a psychic healer eventually and knew that if I did end up working with Belle, I would be able to help her create meaning of her life and find a light for herself to continue on, as well as work with my past life karma of having no meaning outside of being a mother and falling apart once that meaning was gone. As I might help her search for a new meaning to her life, I might also discover one for myself, both of us as women without any children to give us meaning, finding one for ourselves.