“We must stop being meaning-seekers & embrace being meaning-makers. The former leaves us vulnerable, while the latter is deeply empowering.” (Janice Selbie)
The world has changed more dramatically in the last two months than it probably has in the decade before that. I’m changing with the extraordinary circumstances, as I imagine you are too.
I intended to open my new practice in an office, and then perhaps expand and have a few teletherapy clients as well. The pandemic has changed that. However, I’m seeing a benefit to the new structure—this new genre, really—that this time of shelter-in-place has brought: I am already making more community online than ever before through Facebook groups, Instagram, Twitter, and of course Zoom.
An example: I was in a seminar on pandemic dreams through the C.G. Jung Institute of Los Angeles with about 70 other people last week. The collective experience, insight, and wisdom were inspiring to share. That isn’t what I thought I’d be learning right now, but in addition to beginning to garden in my somewhat neglected backyard and cooking more varieties of lentils than I could have imagined, I’m envisioning a practice that is fully online and location independent. You are most likely discovering new obstacles and possibilities too.
So what if the meaning of life isn’t something we seek, but something we create, as Seible asserts? What if meaning isn’t inscribed in what happened to us during the course of our life, but it nests in the story we narrate about that history, and to what we lend the most attention?
In the first lines of The Divine Comedy, Dante wrote:
In the middle of the journey of our life
I found myself astray in a dark wood
where the straight road had been lost sight of.
How hard it is to say what it was like
In the thick of thickets, in a wood so dense and gnarled
the very thought of it renews my panic.
It is bitter almost as death itself is bitter.
But to rehearse the good it also brought me
I will speak about the other things I saw there.
(trans. by Seamus Heaney)
This ubiquitous quote about mid-life crises (and Dante’s happened when he was condemned to exile) usually cuts off after the first three lines, leaving us directionless and in a dark place. I‘ve continued the quote longer above, because although Dante does say that this is “bitter,” he right away notes that we can choose to “rehearse the good” that dark and confusing times can bring us.
Being open to rehearsing the good isn’t to be a superficial Pollyanna. Rather, it is to be awake, strategic, and open to “the pregnant darkness” (Marion Woodman). Let’s shift from cursing uncertainty to cultivating what the poet John Keats called “Negative Capability”— that we are “capable of being in uncertainties, mysteries, doubt, without any irritable reaching after fact and reason.”
Maybe we always believed answers about the meaning of life could only come from authority figures, scripture, or great sages. Many of us, especially those who were raised in authoritarian families or religious groups, lack the confidence to make that radical-sounding shift in thinking. But let’s empower ourselves and risk doing that creative work!
As Selbie advises, let’s become “meaning-makers” rather than “meaning-seekers.” If this is the kind of healing, therapeutic dialogue in which you’d like to engage, feel free to get in touch.