In my clinical experience I have found it critical to help people find the meaning of their experience within their perception of life to be critical. Victor Frankl was very perspective when he described that it was precisely this factor that predicted whether prisoners would die or live in the POW camps he was in. In my work with cancer patients there were three basic responses to whether they would probably live through their disease or die. The first type were those who just did not want to die. They were afraid that their lives would be different and just wanted their disease to go away without any effort on their part. The second group lived for someone else. Usually it was an event they wanted to witness, such as birthdays, graduation, etc. And they would live until that event usually. But the third type were those who looked forward to singing a new song, dancing a new dance, etc. They knew that the message of the disease was the need for transformation and they sought it out.
Existential philosophers have developed their therapeutic protocols about this very concept and identified this search as the main difference between the animal kingdom and humankind. Whether it is the individual in a vision quest or a community identifying its particular vision in which its members can participate, we all are in search of why we exist at all and how we begin the hero’s journey toward our own destiny and purposeful mission.
The meaning of life to me takes on a matrix type process, similar to a spiral that emerges from one chapter to another in a rhythmic dance of purpose and exploration. The simplest form is the self itself and its destiny to the purpose of humankind. From the time my mother told me that I was to “make a difference” in the world, that sense of mission meant that I had to prepare myself through the tuition of life wisdom internally and the educational resources externally. This meant that I had to pay “my dues” to whatever station I was elevated to and await the opportunities that God afforded me.
However, the process of “meaning” also took on the context of not only being the star of my own show but also being the audience for others’ destinies and life journeys. I learned that I needed to applaud others in their processes of growth toward their goals, and to do it with love and support. This is the rebound of inspiration and commonality with one another. Some of my best teachers were my “enemies” and most of them may have been unaware of their tremendous treasures of wisdoms they gave to me. This dance of influence is an amazing experience as the spiral widens with each encounter.
In a similar context to Maslow’s developmental chapters of life; however, the process is never linear but spiraling as we age. Again, there is the rhythm of stress and relief, push and pull, that each of us endures in this life. It is a cycle of old and new chapters that polishes and scrubs of who we think we are by the enduring standards and goals we set for ourselves in a ever expanding universe of events. But it is the consistent interpretation of meaning that maintains our purpose. Like a North Star, we rudder toward that destination that pulls our world together. We live in a different world every day. New technology, new politics, new puzzles that are occasionally relevant to our personal lives. Our bodies change in predictable and under unpredictable circumstances. At times we are weak and other times are strong, and we must use what we have in a world of multiple dimensions. Yet we hold ourselves to be accountable to ourselves and the destinies we are specially designed for.
While I mention “life” often, this does not mean the 90 or hundred years for which this body is designed. Yes, I believe in an after life just as well as previous ones because I have experienced that reality. In 1995 I died from a heart attack, and presumed dead by those that conducted an analysis at that time. It was during that time I witnessed the amazing power of love that surrounded me, and I was not afraid. That was a brief exposure to another state of being that has been reported by others as a death experience. It was glorious.
Perhaps a better title of this piece would be “The Meaning of Lives” because the term life is expansive beyond birth and death. There is a persistency from one life to the next. As in Bell’s theory of how the spin of an atom when collided with another may affect both regardless of time or space, our thoughts and actions have that power over time. The average life time can be calculated to be 2,529,792,000 seconds, which sounds like a lot, but it isn’t when we think of the billions of years of human development and trillions of years of the universe. With that in mind it is not hard to believe our souls are immortal, which is the stuff we are made of.
Many people have the arrogance to think they know the secrets of the riddles of life, but until they can tell me how a bee flies or how the ant builds its amazing communities, I think not.
~G. Frank Lawlis, Ph.D., A.B.P.P.
Dr. Frank Lawlis has pioneered research and clinical methods in research methodology and statistics, imagery techniques (cancer), pain perception and rehabilitation, biofeedback, transpersonal psychology, and most recently, psycho-neuro-plasticity. He has published 15 best-selling books incorporating these concepts and published over 100 articles in research journals. Some of his classic books include The ADD Answer, The IQ Answer, and Transpersonal Medicine. He has served on the teaching staff of five major medical schools and professorships in five major medical schools, including Universities of Texas Health Science Center at Dallas and San Antonio, Texas Tech University Medical School, and Stanford Medical School. He has earned board certification in both clinical and counseling psychology from the American Board of Professional Psychology, Inc. and has been awarded the ranking of Fellow by the APA for his scientific contributions to clinical psychology. He also has served as Chief of Oversite Production and Resources on The Dr. Phil Show for 16 years and has gained international fame for his participation on the show. He has joined Dr. Phil in Congressional Hearings on such topics as Foster Care and Addiction issues. Presently he is also Supervisor of the Testing Program, American Mensa.
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