Excellence Reporter: Gail, what is the meaning of life?
Gail Brenner: This is a beautiful, fierce, and illuminating question, and here’s my story about it.
For over 20 years, I lived in the painful process of struggling to discover the purpose of my life. The days seemed to pass by, one by one, and I felt an urgency to know the answer. I wanted so desperately to feel fulfilled and satisfied, to feel like my life had meaning, but I didn’t know how to make that happen.
When I thought about my life, I felt a huge hole, like something essential to the very core of me was missing.
At the same time, I was intensely committed to a spiritual path fueled by the desire to discover how to be free of suffering. When I read ancient spiritual teachings that said enduring peace was possible, I believed it with all my heart. I didn’t know how to find this peace, but something in me said, “Yes!” I was absolutely on fire to know it in my own experience. After all, if the Buddha could discover it, why couldn’t I?
Following the instruction of teachers, I started to turn toward my inner experience to study my thoughts and feelings. I was shocked to realize how much my thinking process described me and my life as negative, inadequate, and lacking. And there was a cauldron of unprocessed emotions—fear, grief, anger, and despair. No wonder I couldn’t be clear about my life’s purpose! There was a lot of confusion inside.
I learned to be present for these thoughts and feelings as they passed through my awareness. I became more peaceful as I realized I had a choice as to whether or not I played out old conditioned habits. I started to experience spaciousness and times of deep peace, as the concepts that defined “me” unraveled and fell away.
It wasn’t immediate, but over time I felt happier, lighter, and much less stressed. I didn’t worry about making the right decision or trying to figure everything out. As the mind quieted down, I lived more in the moment—present, grateful, and relaxed. I gave up the steering wheel—and the mind-driven way of being—and surrendered fully to the inner voice of truth I finally noticed.
What was once a life of lack and disappointment transformed into overflowing fulfillment—and the only thing that changed was how I relate to my present moment experience. I can feed fear, doubt, judgment, and inadequacy, I can live in distorted stories and a limited personal identity. Or I can rest in infinite openness, accepting everything and letting life unfold.
And how it unfolds leaves me living in not knowing. But my experience so far is that without the commentary of the mind in play, life is benevolent, compassionate, and unendingly loving.
At some point, I realized, with a smile on my face and joy in my heart, that I was no longer searching for the meaning of life. What is my purpose? To rest in infinite stillness, to be the deeply welcoming presence for whatever appears, and to serve love.
~Gail Brenner, Ph.D. is a clinical psychologist and author who joyfully helps people discover that suffering is optional—and a lover of truth with a fire that burns brightly. She blends her experience as a psychologist with the loving presence that invites people into harmony with all of life. She is gifted at meeting our humanness with nondual understanding in ways that are practical and loving. She has worked with clients and groups for over 20 years, bringing laser-like clarity to personal struggles. She is the author of the award-winning The End of Self-Help and Suffering Is Optional. Please visit www.GailBrenner.com for articles and videos—and to sign up for her popular weekly newsletter, Friday Inspiration. Gail works with clients worldwide.
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