Nicolae Tanase: Sandra, what is the meaning of life?
Sandra Joseph: Maybe we can never understand the meaning of life, but we can feel into the experience of being alive and, in this way, inhabit meaning. We have all experienced those rare moments of pure being, when time seems to stop. In those eternal instants, we sense that there is a profound connection between all life and there is something about that oneness that touches infinity. Perhaps we are closest to the meaning of life when we are children, before the mind and its incessant chatter trap us, when we are simply immersed in the joyful experience of being alive.
One beautiful spring day when I was four, I was sitting on the sun-soaked porch of our Harvard Street duplex in Detroit, drawing a sun with a yellow Crayola, when the nice lady who lived upstairs came down to talk to me. We had been chatting for a while when she posed a question I wasn’t expecting: “Where did you come from?” she asked, tilting her head and catching my eye. It was a funny question, but I immediately understood what she meant. She was not asking me how I’d come to be sitting there on the porch that afternoon. What she was asking was, “How did you come to be in the world?”
I looked at her, bemused, wondering how it was possible that she didn’t know the answer; to me, it was as plain as the yellow on the paper in my lap. But I answered politely, with a quiet self-assurance: “I’ve always been here.” I would have just as readily assured her that she, my dog, and the lilac tree in the yard had always been there and always would be as well. Maybe the forms changed, but the essence, the life within the life had no beginning and no end. I didn’t have the language to articulate it then, but I vividly remember the deep inner knowing I had and the sea of boundless connection and joy I swam in as a result. Everything was eternal. It seemed so obvious. There was nowhere to go that was better than where I was.
One day soon, though, that all would change. I would hear a call that would move me far away from my Michigan home and out into the world. Incredible adventures were to follow with some dreams dashed and others fulfilled beyond my wildest imaginings. I thought the dreams were what I was seeking. I thought they were the end goal. But I understand now that the whole point of the pursuit was to get back to that total immersion, that sense of connection and oneness, that timeless feeling of wonder and joy that I experienced on that sunlit porch in Detroit when I was four.
We all started out being utterly who we are and experiencing our own true luminous nature. Young children have no use for masks. But with age comes a filming over of the essential self and before we know it, we may find ourselves separated from our direct experience of life. To create a meaningful life, we can begin by reclaiming our authentic essence, to return to our true self. Fully inhabiting who we are is the doorway to everything we seek. For some of us, it’s been a long time since we’ve had moments of openhearted, directly felt experience of aliveness. That’s where the treasure is buried. It’s already within each one of us, just waiting to be discovered and brought to the surface where it can become part of the way we forge meaning out of the life we’ve been gifted.
~Sandra Joseph is a singer, actress, author, and speaker who holds the distinction of being the longest-running leading lady in Broadway’s longest-running show. For ten years and more than 1,500 performances, she starred in one of the best-known roles in Broadway history: Christine Daaé in The Phantom of the Opera. Along with New York Times bestselling author Caroline Myss, Sandra is the co-author of the 4-CD audio learning program Your Creative Soul: Expressing Your Authentic Voice. She has been seen on The Oprah Winfrey Show, CNN, The Today Show, The Early Show, Dateline, The View, Law and Order, Law and Order: Criminal Intent, Late Night with Conan O’Brien, One Life to Live, and As the World Turns.
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