A poignant capture of “back in the day” stands out from the classic mid-sixties “What’s it all about, Alfie?” The film and song push the recognition, as much needed today as any day, that all experience, even sex, loses significance when cut off from meaning. Our existence, including the world of possibility, has layers of potential meaningfulness. When a person is “done with” a level and another is poised for engaging, life suspends. Often it's frustrating and the person feels “nothin' matters” or put more emotionally “WTF!” This pregnant moment needs to be handled with care, not trashed, not indulged as cause for giving up, zoning out, medicating away.
Such a state does make for a dangerous junction; it’s a set up for violence to self and/or others. One form of violence to the opportunity is to numb the pain, commonly found in alcohol or other substances, over or under the counter. TV’s another possible semi-conscious substitute for vibrant engagement in life. Sometimes escape from the soul’s demand for meaning comes, at least for a time, by overworking or compulsive working out. Sometimes we lie to ourselves about the excitement of something new (e.g., travel, an affair) or something old (e.g. spirit-less religion, a false memory of “greatness”). Perhaps the escape becomes permanent, but the question remains and along with the accountability, waits or lurks, looking for the opening, maybe held until life’s closing confrontation or the next one’s judgment.
Why would a loving God let a life go unlived? Perhaps the persistent interrogation for meaningfulness comes from a freedom-loving, destiny-driving divinity; this offers a magnificent opportunity to move into a deeper level. Although it may appear too harsh to come from the god-we-wish-for, the impetus to force movement often requires leaving or re-making a relationship. The relationship to be broken might be with alcohol, with a partner, a workplace, a religion, a way of thinking, or some other engagement that seems to be just FINE. Louise Penny, my favorite contemporary mystery writer, has a star character, an old embittered poet authoring a book titled “F.I.N.E.” an acronym for fucked-up, insecure, neurotic, egotistical. Perhaps from a more divine perspective when a person persists in a finished state that’s lost meaningfulness, it’s time to realize this alternative judgment on “fine.”
The shift to a deeper level, to one that matters, is often traumatic, and it may come a-sudden or glacially slow. Sometimes a dramatic change is required, but other times a person can best do it within an existing relationship. The proof of moving to a deeper level comes in new vitality, in a different capacity for knowing and feeling, and in a stronger connection with destiny.
I’ve experienced significant movements in meaningfulness by staying within the same structure (e.g., teaching in the same university, horsemanship) and in leaving (e.g., divorce, place of residence, religion). Perhaps what has most stayed the course has been a conviction that meaningfulness is. The eternal. God.
Because my understanding is partial as well as changing, my perception of God moves. Old, deadened definitions and forms lose sense and leave, whether one likes it or not. In my limited understanding, the major religions (particularly Judaism, Christianity, and Islam) all confirm the need to continue to re-experience and move into deeper levels of the Source of Meaning.
My journey has been held and pushed by special containment: lovers, Jungian psychoanalysts, horses, guides. The attempt to run from God, like Jonah did, needs to be restrained by someone who can cleanly name a run-away and who can also discern when a person is “suffering” a “done situation” from when the person is faithfully enduring an alchemical process. The chosen guide needs devotion to the Self; a true guide always looks to empower the authentic inner voice rather than to impose control. Discernment also often finds confirmation and purification in sacred text, in good story, and perhaps most of all in love, another ever-changing, perfecting form.
To accept disenchantment with life as a move-on invitation offers the space for story, for good stories that participate in the continuous recreation of meaningfulness.