I have always had an interest in living a good life – perhaps a natural attraction towards positive psychology. An experience early on in life eventually taught me the value of seeing the self as far deeper than the finely curated fragments of body and mind that we spend a lifetime trying to conquer. It showed me, albeit exclusively, the faint and subtle yearnings of the soul that often went unheard in the noise and clamour of daily life.
The Journey to Finding Meaning
On an annual trip to my parent’s home in Pakistan, I decided to honor its call and spend my 2 weeks identifying a needy cause to which to contribute a portion of my time and finances. I did not have to look far. All around me were needy causes that deserved attention. The old and limping massage lady who supported a disabled adult daughter on her measly income. The tailor who supported his dead brother’s family along with his own, and lost half his income because of the daily power outages in the city. The little flower seller who ran behind me all the way to my car, begging me to buy a single flower so she could feed her starving brother.
All these lives tugged at my heart and made me realize that it had grown small in the safe quarters of my cushy life. But the most touching of all was yet to come when I took my children to visit a school for the homeless. In the dingy little classroom, close to twenty little children sat huddled over their textbooks, coloring in trees and faces and tracing the letters of the Roman alphabet. They smiled at me with a captivating coyness and eagerly showed me the fruits of their labor, searching for approval and acceptance.
As we were leaving, ecstatic at having found just the charity we wanted to support, my son handed a little boy one of the two wristbands we wore of his school team. We walked in silence to our car, until we heard the panting of a racing heart and the pitter-patter of tiny running feet. We turned around and saw the little boy, trying to catch up to us and holding out a yellow heart-shaped sharpener for my son!
Words fail to describe the beauty of the moment. From a little heart that had been shortchanged in the dice of life, here was a lesson in sharing. From a child who had little to give thanks for, here was enough gratitude to spread around. But most of all, from the most deprived of society, here was the desire to do good and rise to the best self that shone bright, even when many of us had deluded ourselves into the hopelessness of cynicism and the superiority of the intellect. From the very people I had hoped to help, came a lesson in the inherent goodness of humanity and the power of the immaterial, even when many of us had fallen prey to the lures of the material and the tyranny of choice.
Re-thinking and Pondering Meaning
It made me rethink my desire to be good. I may never answer the call of my soul by compartmentalizing it as a component of my being and fulfilling its needs over 2 weeks of summer. For the soul is not an assemblage of fragments that can be pieced together to find meaning. It is ever-present and slippery, and does not live only in our heads. It lives in our hearts and finds fulfillment when we open up to others in authenticity, understanding and gratitude.
It is perhaps the only way of finding meaning in the absurdity of existence, and making our lives truly worth living.