About five or six years ago I was taking a cab in New York, and I was deciding whether to talk to the driver or not. You probably know the feeling. Should I start a conversation or stare at my phone? I didn’t want to just talk about the weather or even where he was from. I decided I wanted to use this opportunity to have a deeper conversation. What could I ask that would elicit that from a stranger? I had butterflies in my stomach as I mustered the words, “Can I ask you a question?”
“Sure,” he replied with some uncertainty.
“What’s the meaning of life?” I smiled.
He laughed, and I may have giggled. Then he opened his heart to me. He talked about purpose, god, and family, and I listened and related enthusiastically. I really remember the way I felt. I felt so awake, my senses heightened. I was so lucky to have this moment.
When we arrived at my destination, I was beaming! He was, too! I felt a loving connection to someone that I had just met, and I learned something new about the human experience. I felt so happy and present; I had an extra bounce in my step and a huge smile on my face. The combination of adrenaline and joy was intoxicating. I was hooked.
I started asking cab drivers all the time. It felt like a missed opportunity if I didn’t. I would sit there battling myself over whether I was going to ask or not. Of course, sometimes my friends or co-workers riding with me felt silly when I asked. Having to contend with my own nerves was difficult enough, but I usually asked anyway.
I rarely take cabs in Los Angeles, so I started asking people in restaurants, in elevators, and on airplanes. I wrote many answers down. It felt very purposeful and joyful. The act itself was meaningful to me.
I also began asking people that I knew. This was actually more difficult for me and maybe for them. I was more nervous asking most of my friends and family than I was asking strangers. It can be petrifying to be vulernable with the people closest to you. Maybe they felt like that, too. As I began to ask them, I saw them, too, as humans just trying to figure it out. Asking and listening opened a space to just be conscious, to see people as people. Sometimes when I asked someone I knew well face to face, they looked different to me. I felt like I really saw them in that moment.
The people I asked had different reactions to my question. Some were elated that I asked. One cab driver said, “That is a VERY good question! I am SO HAPPY you asked me that question!” He explained that he was a sufi and went on to describe how we are all going to the same place no matter what you believe. “It’s like driving. You can take the West Side Highway, or you can take 9th to 22nd st. There are MANY ways to get to the same place.” Different people take different paths in life and spiritually, but ultimately we are going to the same place. We are the same. Our separateness is an illusion. I cannot read minds, but I know that everything is made of the same energy, just ask my dad.
A five-year-old girl in a restaurant told me it was, “to have fun!” Then she added before I left, “Oh, and to enjoy it!” She so eloquently expressed that we should be aware of the fun we get to experience and celebrate it. Her innocence and insight made me so thankful and joyful.
Sometimes, I got funny answers. A man in the elevator heading to work one morning said, “Coffee.” I chuckled along with the other passengers and wrote it down. It seemed to matter when and where I asked. Answers varied from short to long partially influenced by the situation. Some of my friends and family had much to say on the subject. I loved to hear their philosophies and thoughts. Others had simpler answers such as love, happiness, and experience. Most of the time there was this common thread of love.
Steve was a doorman at my friend’s building in the city. We had casual conversations, so when we had a moment alone in the elevator one evening, I asked him. He said something close to, “I don’t know, but I did once ask a spiritual guide what love is, and he told me that it is ‘total acceptance.’ I think that is related to the meaning of life.” He went on to describe that he had asked because he found self love to be the most difficult of all and total acceptance of himself was something that he was working on, but seemed unsure that it was achievable. We so easily forget to love ourselves first, to be forgiving of ourselves, and to accept ourselves fully. We truly cannot fully express until we fully accept. Be kind to yourself first because the inner world is where you can truly make a change.
Some people told me that there was no meaning. Sometimes I simply agreed. Meaning is a creation of the mind. Though, I often rephrased my question, “What do YOU think the meaning of life is, or what gives your life meaning?” I started to realize that I wasn’t looking for the answer from them. I was beginning to feel the answer for myself.
During this time, I found Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl at the library. He shares his experience and revelations after surviving Nazi concentration camps and offers his unique psychological perspective and approach. Meaning gives our lives purpose. Love is the ultimate purpose, the highest energy state. Love is available to everyone because we all have it within.
I’ve also recently discovered that Tolstoy spent a lot of time with the meaning of life later in his journey after considering suicide and falling into depression. He, too, felt that love is our highest intention. He also recognized that our desire to live meant that we are either ignorant to the fact that we are finite beings or we hold a belief that connects the finite to the infinite. Meaning is what keeps us alive.
Aha! The meaning of life was answered for me each time I asked through what I FELT. Connection to others, to life is what gives my life meaning. Feeling that I exist as part of a stream of life connects me to the infinite. Listening to people talk about meaning was my active meditation, my way to become the stream. I have glimpsed the awareness that life is more than minds’ experience. As I can enter that flow, I can escape the trappings of the mind and duality. Through acceptance and allowance, I am learning to live as the stream instead of thinking I am in the stream.
Eckhart Tolle writes, “There are three words that convey the secret of the art of living, the secret of all success and happiness: One With Life. Being one with life is being one with Now. You then realize that you don’t live your life, but life lives you. Life is the dancer, and you are the dance.”
Please share your meaning here or with me in person, I would love the opportunity to listen! If you feel inspired, ask another person the meaning of life. I would love to hear what that is like for you!