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Sushama Kirtikar


By SUSHAMA KIRTIKAR - [email protected]

"The meaning of life is to live a meaningful life." This quote may trip off our tongues easily, but what does it truly mean? Many of us schlep around in a fog looking for an illusive treasure called 'meaning.' With a dazed look, we ask the vague question, "What is the meaning of life?" We expect an outside source to provide us with a concrete answer. I tried stepping into the annals of philosophy on the subject of meaning and promptly got muddled and lost in the uncharted catacombs.

Scampering out hastily, I returned to the familiar land of psychology. Psychologists Fromm and Maslow speak of 'self actualization.' It is the task of discovering one's true potential to find meaning. In short, we delve deeper within ourselves to decode the puzzle. Frankl and Heschel refer to 'self transcendence.' It is the task of dedicating one's life to an end to find meaning. In short, we reach further outside of ourselves. Despite the seeming disparity between the two approaches, I believe both are noble and viable goals that can mesh neatly together.

It appears each one of us has a personal reason for our existence. If our reason for existence is unique, then each one of us can make our existence unique. Dispensing with prickly competition and harsh comparisons with others, we can be intent on gazing through the telescope to find our own personal meaning. John Kennedy had exhorted Americans, "Ask not what your nation can do for you �." Similarly, to paraphrase Frankl, ask not what meaning life has to offer you, ask only what meaning you can offer life.

The world is strewn with opportunities for identifying one's inimitable purpose in life. We have but to look in the right places. Ergo, we start by looking in the mirror. We do a personal inventory, recognize our special qualities and hone them to a perfect shine. It could be composing music, designing haute couture, sculpting a masterpiece, making a scientific discovery, or conceiving an invention. In the process, we may experience peak experiences through our own creativity and productivity. This brings great fulfillment to us and herein we find meaning in our life. It fosters happiness within us and around us. We make the world a richer place.

Next, we learn to step out of ourselves and look at something on the outside such as a valuable cause that draws us to it. We then utilize our strengths for a larger good. Life's work can be shaped quite simply by an evocative action. We can ferret out a role to perform in society and make a difference. This contribution can come in any form. It could be teaching a class at the Jamatkhana or Hindu temple; it could be leading the PTA at our child's school; it could be starting a softball team at our company; it could be working with the local congressman to pass a bill; it could be volunteering for Doctors without Borders; it could be championing World Wild Life; it could be joining the Earth Charter to meet its global vision. The nature of the work is immaterial as long as it makes an impact on the world around us.

In that vein, we can choose to love something or (and you may like this one) someone so deeply that it is transforming. As Frankl declares, only when you love someone intensely do the other person's qualities become clearly visible and glisten impeccably. Only when a deep connection is made with someone is it possible to discern his/her potential and then encourage him/her to reach it. This is said to foster pure joy within the person who is doing the loving. It isn't just about romantic love, but other loving relationships as well. We have to learn to step out of this rather taut and constrained circle that we term 'self,' leave this highly protected space, reach out and touch another. It isn't as daunting as it may sound. I am sure this will gladden many a heart, as well as motivate many of us to look at our loved ones more keenly. South Asians are by nature a collectivistic society so this might be relatively simple for many.

Both self actualization and self transcendence can go hand in hand. The key is to engage in an activity that holds significant value to us, another person, the community, the earth or the universe. It has to make an impact; small or big, now or later, is immaterial. If our intention is pure, we do not have to allow the flow of our goodwill to be choked by self doubts. Fretting about others' judgment of us only acts as unnecessary blockage. Let us do what we have to do, sit back and witness the result. The meaning that we are searching for, so frantically, is right at our fingertips. Come, let us relish the gratification it gives us and savor the happiness.

Sushama Kirtikar, a licensed mental health counselor in private practice, can be reached at (813) 264-7114 or e-mail at [email protected]

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