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The quest to find a life rich in meaning and purpose has become very popular. After all, who wants a meaningless life? Caroline Myss gets to the to heart of the question.
This topic has certainly come up at my workshops on numerous occasions, and the same questions are always asked: How do I find meaning and purpose in my life? Where do I look? How do I begin such a grand search?
I always wonder why people think the lives they have are so meaningless. What have you decided is missing from your life? If you are really looking for the love of your life, then don't tell yourself you're on a quest for purpose and meaning, because you'll only increase your frustration. Name the quest you're on accurately: love, job, purpose and meaning. But don't mix them up, because you'll only drive yourself nuts and you'll only continue to be disappointed.

But if you really have reached that juncture in life that calls you to evaluate the quality of choices you make each day and how you are investing your life force, then you are feeling the pull of the quest to go inward and examine this question: What really gives my life purpose and meaning?

That is a depth charge of a question. In fact, asked in certain settings such as your own sanctuary, it could be considered a prayer. The words "purpose" and "meaning" are subjective. Each of us fills them in according to our own life experience, but there are some special types of experiences that are especially suited to these two words. Think of something in your life, for example, that has meaning to you. That could be anything from a family holiday or birthday tradition to a sentimental gift a cherished friend gave you. Or perhaps you have brought a friend home for the holidays, as I have, and you've had to introduce them to all the many traditions that the family follows that make the holiday "the way we've always done it." The Christmas and Easter traditions in my family, for example, include everything from having to eat a certain meal to singing certain songs and so on. These traditions are meaningful to my family, but no matter how enthusiastically we introduce our guests to them, we cannot animate their souls with the sense of meaning that is shared by my family.

Find your purpose and meaning without searching for it
Caroline Myss
Of course, in and of themselves, the meal and the songs and all the other sentimental things we do have no meaning except for that which we project onto our personal world of events, objects, relationships and traditions. Meaning, as well as a sense of purpose, are subjective inner currents that are sculpted in us as a result of our experiences in the larger arena of life. But in addition to our exterior field of influence, what gives our life meaning and purpose is derived from experiencing the inherent creative power contained in our own capacity to make a choice and set a consequence in motion. Becoming truly aware of your own ability to actually set the wheels of creation in motion because of a choice you've made is the essence of what gives any life meaning and purpose. We long to create. It is the universal passion of the human being. We are driven to experience our place on the wheel of creation, to add our weight to the way it turns and spins. We yearn for our independence not just so we can go where we want to and speak up when we want to, though that feels good. But that's child's play and ego-driven. The deeper part of us yearns to create, to fulfill whatever it is we were born to do—and that requires we take charge of our own power of choice. Meaning and purpose is driven by the engine of choice, make no mistake about that.

Further, a sense of meaning and purpose evolves into something masterful when a human being invests his or her power of choice into the service of others in order to make the world a better place. Numerous people have inadvertently realized that they were living a meaningful and purposeful life, having never had to search for it. Purpose and meaning found them as a result of their having found a cause greater than their own problems to solve. In trying to help solve the problems of others, they drew upon creative inner resources they did not know they had and in the process, changed the lives of others as well as themselves. One example among so many comes to mind of a man named Ken who was going through a very dark and difficult time in his life and decided to volunteer at a hospital in order to take his mind off of his own problems. He told me that his decision was actually selfish; he wanted to be with people who were worse off then he was.

While he was doing volunteer work, he began chatting with some of the patients, sharing with them that he was actually a psychologist. Though he never really articulated it, we could say that this psychologist was on a search for meaning and purpose. His vulnerability seemed to create a trust bridge as a handful of patients over the couple of months Ken was volunteering shared identical stories of having had near-death experiences as a result of accidents or their illnesses. He had never heard of such experiences nor had any of these people, none of who knew of the others, told any one else. Ken decided to pursue research into the near-death experience and from those two months eventually came the Institute for the Study of Near-Death Experiences.

Wisdom to guide you in your search
Wisdom on Your Path

1. Invest some personal time reflecting on your definition of meaning and purpose so that you can be clear about what you are truly seeking. If it's love or a career or wealth that you really want, then don't confuse any of those goals with meaning and purpose. It's not that love is without meaning, by the way, but another person cannot be the source of your own meaning and purpose. The ultimate source has to come from within you, lest you come to believe that unless someone loves you, your life has no meaning or purpose.

2. Meaning and purpose is fundamentally a spiritual quest, not a job search. The idea that a person can "have it all" is hybrid myth that has done a lot more harm than good. As one wise person said to me once: "Why would you want it all? Where would you put it?"

3. Purpose and meaning is a quality of grace you are capable of introducing into any number of situations. These attributes of the spirit are earned as a result of you investing your own energies into something and then witnessing the result of your own creativity upon the well-being of others. Purpose and meaning are not found; they are earned.

4. Service to life is an essential ingredient to creating a meaningful and purposeful life.

5. Reflect on what has given and presently gives your life meaning—start there. Know yourself first.

Caroline Myss has been in the field of energy medicine and human consciousness for 20 years. Since 1982, she has worked as a medical intuitive, providing individuals with an evaluation of the health of their energetic anatomy system. She specializes in assisting people in understanding the emotional, psychological and physical reasons their bodies have developed an illness. Myss is a New York Times best-selling author whose books include Anatomy of the Spirit, Why People Don't Heal and How They Can, Sacred Contracts and Entering the Castle. Myss' latest book, Defy Gravity: Healing Beyond the Bounds of Reason, was published by Hay House in October 2009. Visit her website at Myss.com.

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