I thought we could start small, with just the secret to life! Adyashanti asks us to identify what we value most in life, and to orient ourselves toward this. I feel that this is the single most helpful thing that we can do in order to live a meaningful life. What is most important to you, is it love and connection, or is it the pursuit of truth and wisdom, or maybe it's the creation of beauty? Let the sky be the limit, deep in your heart, what do you care about?
Whatever you decide is the most meaningful, can you commit to orient your life toward this? What might this look like? This could imply larger changes like your livelihood, which is always fun to ponder, but I'm even more curious about the little things. How might this orient your day-to-day actions? Your speech? Your priorities? How you spend your free time? Who you give your attention to, and what is the quality of that attention?
The Mahayana Buddhist Bodhisattva vows are a call to aim high. They take different forms, but here is my favorite from Roshi Joan Halifax's Upaya Zen Center: 'Creations are numberless, I vow to free them. Delusions are inexhaustible, I vow to transform them. Reality is boundless, I vow to perceive it. The awakened way is unsurpassable, I vow to embody it.'
That kind of language or orientation may or may not be meaningful to you. But what I think is interesting to consider here is the level of commitment to something higher, by your own personal value system. And I mean something you can't actually complete. Why? Because if we set our sights on something finite, and then we get there, then what? Plus, we might get trapped into judging ourselves if we don't get there.
I'm not suggesting that we never accomplish anything; of course we will have many fulfilling experiences along the way. I am suggesting a life direction that won't exhaust itself, and can't be used to fuel a cycle of self-contempt. An orientation that we can believe in without the trappings of conventional success, although such success will likely ensue from our joyful dedication. Something we can use to make moment-to-moment decisions as well as larger choices; something to feed our souls and our sense of purpose.
To help kick-start an inquiry into a meaningful life, here is a meditation adapted from Alan Wallace:
Take as long as you like to settle your body and relax your breathing.
Consider, what would make you truly happy? How would you envision your own well-being, deep and rich fulfillment, a profoundly satisfying and meaningful life? Let your imagination play; be bold. Imagine realizing such joy and well-being now.
This is clearly impossible without help. What would you love to receive from the world around you- friends and loved ones, the community at large, teachers and wise ones- to realize the happiness you most deeply seek? Imagine the kindness, compassion, and service of others rising up to meet you and aid you in your pursuit of genuine happiness. See yourself gratefully receiving, without needing to reach out and take. Envision all barriers dissolving, all conducive circumstances arising.
In order to realize such well-being, there must be inner transformation, a maturation in mind and behavior. How would you love to grow as a human being? From what qualities would you love to be free? With what qualities would you love to be imbued, that will nurture you and support you in the quest for genuine happiness? Envision becoming the person you would love to become, maturing and evolving day to day.
To realize the greatest possible meaning for yourself, an individual who lives in the fabric of existence in profound interdependence with others, what would you truly love to offer to the world around you: to those near and far, short-term and long-term, given your unique background, gifts and interest, such that at the end of your life you could look back with a sense of satisfaction, confident that your life was well led and you offered your best? Imagine here and now offering your very best.
It can be so easy to focus our lives on survival and self-protection. But when we reach the end of our lives, how will we feel about having let fear live our lives for us? I'm not suggesting letting go of self-care, or shirking our responsibilities. I'm talking about engaged living, in service of what feeds our hearts, in the midst of the circumstances in which we find ourselves. If we wait for circumstances and other people to provide meaning for us, we can go through some dry seasons. But if we turn inward and manifest on a moment-to-moment basis that which we crave, then we bring the rain wherever we go.