Part 3 in a series: Let’s Be Frank about Spirit and Meaning
(Links below to previous installments)
With his typical intensity, Frank began searching for ways to deal with his emptiness. He checked out a few churches and attended introductory classes for various inner development and spiritual groups. He started reading books on spirituality, soul, and personal growth.
One day he came across a passage in an old report that spoke to him. It seemed like the authors were reaching across the decades to shine a big we-told-you-this-would-be-the-result spotlight on his life. Written in 1958 as part of the Rockefeller Report on Education, Frank felt like he was a victim of society’s failure to act on the warnings the authors sounded so many years ago; “What most people want — young or old — is not merely security, or comfort, or luxury, although they are glad enough to have these. Most of all they want meaning in their lives. If our era and our culture and our leaders do not, or cannot, offer great meanings, great objectives, great convictions, then people will settle for shallow and trivial substitutes. This is a deficiency for which we all bear a responsibility…. This is the challenge of our times.”
They didn’t solve it then, and it’s worse now, Frank mused. Why continue suffering?
A significant social movement is the search for meaning. Books on spirituality, soul, and personal growth are bestsellers. Social media, online discussion groups, and innumerable sites focus on our yearning for going deeper than success to significance. A Google search for the phrase “purpose and meaning” returns 7.5 million results.
The Great Resignation and “quiet quitting” following the COVID Pandemic shows a great rethink is underway about the meaning of work — and life. Many people are concluding Mother Teresa may have been on to something when she said, “To work without love is slavery.”
Albert Einstein’s Nobel Prize-winning work in physics led him to contemplate these deeper issues, “What is the meaning of human life, or for that matter of the life of any creature? You ask: Does it make any sense to pose this question?”
His response is surprisingly blunt, “I answer: The man who regards his own life and that of his fellow creatures as meaningless is not merely unhappy but hardly fit for life.” Whoa. No equivocation there.
In his book, Going Deep: Exploring Spirituality in Life and Leadership, psychologist, Ian Percy, outlines a useful change or development framework. He shows how the PIES model helps to chart the depth of commitment to a personal, family, team, or organizational change.
The first and most superficial level is Political. At this level, appearances are everything. We make “politically correct” changes and try to show that we will “get with the program.” The next level of depth is Intellectual. Here’s where a good business case or logical argument wins the day. Facts and analysis convince us that the change makes sense. Both of these first two levels deal with the head.
At the third level, Emotional, we’re dealing with the heart. The change feels right. We want to make it happen because it excites us. The fourth, and deepest level of commitment, is Spiritual. We make the change because it is in step with our deeper selves. The direction of the family, team, or organization and its underlying purpose touches our very soul. At this level, Ian explains, “there is no gap and no separation between belief and action. The gap has been filled by the very essence of who you are. You and the object of your commitment have become one.”
Eben Alexander’s soul searching after a near-death experience led him to conclude in Living in a Mindful Universe: A Neurosurgeon’s Journey into the Heart of Consciousness, “The answers truly do lie within, and learning to trust our intuition is an important facet of spiritual discovery. But achieving such abilities is never the end goal. Of highest importance is to be more aligned with our higher self, resonating our oneness with the universe. As we become more familiar and comfortable with our inner essence, our unique qualities begin to shine. We more easily access guidance and creative inspiration and gain a deeper understanding of personal events taking place in our lives. Meaning and purpose flourish in such an awakened environment.”
Frank is learning the downside of not working on purpose. He’s finding that by not leading a purposeful life, it’s easy to drift aimlessly and become snared in our own misery-series.
People who want very little from life and enjoy what they have can be wealthier than those who have a lot, but always want much more. And some people who just let life happen to them end up enriched and fulfilled. But drifting to a rich and full life is the exception. The most fulfilled lives are generally the most purposeful lives.
Based on his decades of research leading to his founding of the Positive Psychology field, Martin Seligman, explains that this groundbreaking approach “takes seriously the bright hope that if you find yourself stuck in the parking lot of life, with few and only ephemeral pleasures, with minimal gratifications, and without meaning, there is a road out. This road takes you through the countryside of pleasure and gratification, up into the high country of strength and virtue, and finally to the peaks of lasting fulfillment: meaning and purpose.”
Will Frank find this road less traveled? Or will he end up where he’s headed?
Let’s Be Frank about Spirit and Meaning Series