Nicolae Tanase: Allan, what is the meaning of life?
Allan Lokos: After the waiter had allowed me a few minutes to peruse the menu, he came back and asked, “Do you have any questions, sir?” With that invitation I really wanted to reply, “Yes, do you happen to know the meaning of life?” After all these many years of study, exploration, investigation, and ponder, perhaps this young man had the long-sought answer. I’ll never know since I instead proceeded directly to ordering my Caesar salad (no anchovies please.)
I have long held that life itself––the ongoing unfolding of conditioned events––does not have inherent meaning. Rather, it is what each of us brings to life that is its meaning. In other words, we noble beings, through our thoughts, words, and deeds, create whatever meaning life has.
I was in a plane crash on Christmas day, 2012. My injuries were such that doctors in four countries agreed that I would not survive. Yet, unless there is a specter conjuring up these words, I did.
One day, about a year later, I went for a therapy session in the hospital, and while I was waiting for the elevator, a woman walked up to me and said, “Do you remember me? I was one of your nurses in the burn unit.” “I’m afraid I was in bad shape at that time,” I replied, “I don’t think I would recognize anyone from the burn unit.” “Oh, that’s okay,” she responded. “I can’t believe how good you look. We all thought you were … we thought you were going to …” I helped her out. “You thought I was going to die.” “Well, your injuries were so bad. But you were always so kind … so kind.” The elevator door opened and she said, “May I give you a quick hug?” As I held her I could feel her start to sob. She wiped her eyes and said, “I’m sorry, I’m just so happy you’re okay.” “Thank you” I replied. “Me too.”
The elevator doors closed and the crowded car ascended slowly to the eighteenth floor. I thought once again about how, when someone suffers injuries to the extent that I had, they do not usually get to chat about it a year later. Gratitude, humility, and awe filled my being. I had survived. I was alive. Why and how barely hold passing interest anymore. What I do with my remaining time means everything. Above all else, when I am finished with my days, may those who knew me say, “He was so kind.”
That is how my life will have meaning.
~Allan Lokos is the founder and guiding teacher of The Community Meditation Center in New York City. He is the author of the best seller Patience: The Art of Peaceful Living, Pocket Peace: Effective Practices for Enlightened Living, and Through the Flames: Overcoming Disaster through Compassion, Patience, and Determination. Among the places he has taught at are Columbia University Teachers College, Albert Einstein College of Medicine, The Barre Center for Buddhist Studies, Marymount College, The Rubin Museum Brainwave Series, NY Insight Meditation Center, The Milken Institute, Tibet House, and Insight Meditation Community of Washington.
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