I recently asked my writing students to write their obituary. An obituary usually cites the external achievements of a life, with the implication that they amounted to the value of that individual and the source of that person’s meaning. When you write your own obituary, however, you are more likely to see yourself from the inside out. These are some of the paragraphs that appeared on my own obituary page:
Fire in the Heart his first book was called, and whether he knew it or not, it was that fire that was the guiding motif of his life. A fire that burned lightly inside his chest, a passionate loving of living that when he was joined to it joined him to the world and all that is in it.
Joined to it he was sometimes not, however, and for much of his life that fire raised smoke in the form of a search for meaning and purpose; a search that was never satisfied by the conventional avenues to fulfillment and that led him to a lifelong questing for answers in the world’s spiritual traditions. For many years he had a classic case of Seeker’s Disease – the holy grail was always somewhere else. The illness caused him and those around him considerable angst, especially in his earlier years, and he was often so absorbed in his own wonderings and dreaming that he could often be absent while present with his son and his first wife.
He would sporadically feel a dizzying dark hole in his center that at times would render him helpless, unable to know what to do next. He would feel lacking in something he had no name for. He associated it with a lack of meaningful activity. Is this all there is? Surely I should be doing something more, contributing more. How best can I live this life? These questions were his frequent companions in the first half of his life, and they rarely came paired with answers; but he knew that the source of his lack was deeper than any external cause.
For years, then, nothing was ever quite enough; no one was ever quite enough. He himself was especially not enough, because he felt he was not living the fullness of life – although he had no idea what that meant. Yet as he began to stop fleeing from it – as he began to allow without resistance the gnawing in the pit of his stomach that no meal could satisfy – it slowly revealed itself to be the fertile ground he had always been looking for without knowing it.
It was as if he had been looking up at the night sky and instead of being enchanted by the stars had finally gazed into the fathomless dark out of which they and everything had come. Gradually, the more he relaxed into the stillness beyond all outer roles and identities, into the stillness of the presence of being, the empty void became a fruitful void; a loving aware presence that was to become the most intimate and wordless sense of meaning he would ever know.
Down through the years he fell in love with several women, and these intimacies were to prove foundational to opening his inner and emotional life. He was softened by them, moistened by them, was brought into his humanity by them, into his vulnerability and tenderness. His feelings for women opened another doorway to the transcendent, which he had no name for other than Being.
Toward the end of his life he came to appreciate the gifts and the beauty of ordinary human existence, and found his deepest meaning and most luminous moments there. He left behind the longing for the extraordinary, the exceptional, the dramatic experiences that had taken him through the Sahara, all over India, and the Middle East and was nourished instead by deep and loving friendships, the daily blessings of nature, and most of all by the stillness of being.
His books were all celebrations of the beauty, the fallibility, and the poignancy of human existence as known through his own existence; and celebrations, too, of the ever- presence of grace and mystery in the midst of life’s ignorance and suffering. His last book was aptly called Dropping The Struggle. Loving the life he had been given was what he was finally doing.
*Excerpt from the chapter Dropping the Struggle for Meaning and Purpose from Roger Housden’s new book Dropping the Struggle: Seven Ways to Love the Life You Have, which comes out on September 6. www.RogerHousden.com/Dropping-The-Struggle
~Roger Housden is the author of twenty books on poetry, art, and travel, including the bestselling Ten Poems series. He runs live and online writing workshops with an emphasis on self-discovery and exploration.
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