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Betsy Hedberg

Getting in Touch with
Life’s Deeper Meaning

by Betsy Hedberg

The search for life's deeper meaning is a timeless quest. Artists of all types have lent their creative energies to this pursuit, and existentialist philosophers and psychologists have made the human need for meaning a focal point of their work. We yearn to understand our purpose and to know that we have a place in the world and the universe. Yet many of us feel an internal struggle between experiences of life's deeper meaning and our daily routines, which we often perceive to be mundane necessities that do not speak to our larger purpose. We find it difficult to access deeper meaning in the midst of preparing reports for work, fixing dinner for the kids, and the countless other daily responsibilities we undertake. We are deeply inspired by a sunset we see on vacation or a movie we watch on Saturday night, but our sense of awe fizzles when we return home to "reality."

How can we become more in touch with our deeper sense of meaning in our everyday lives? How can we incorporate this sense of meaning into our lives so that there's less of a separation between our deeply meaningful experiences and our "mundane reality”?

Below are some ways to begin bridging this gap. These strategies involve bringing yourself into a state of mindfulness in which you are aware of your immediate experience instead of always being lost in thoughts, plans, and worries. Some of them may sound commonsensical, but how many have you incorporated into your own life? They all take practice, so be gentle with yourself as you try them.

1.  Begin to slow down. Our society has become so fast-paced that slowing down seems like a radical step. If we have the courage to reduce our pace, however, we leave room for some magical spontaneity that can help put us in touch with our deepest values. Here are some exercises that can help you slow down:

  • Practice mindful eating. Try eating a meal or a snack very slowly, paying close attention to tastes, smells, sounds, and bodily sensations associated with eating. Turn off the TV and minimize conversation during the meal. Expand this exercise into a routine of sitting down at the table for an entire meal without media distractions.

  • Transition mindfully. Each time you transition from one part of your day or from one activity to the next, see if you can pause to bring yourself into the present moment. Bring attention to your breath; notice the sights, sounds, and smells of your surroundings; and acknowledge the transition you are in the process of making. This is a particularly helpful practice for transitioning between work and home at the end of the day.

  • Listen to your body. Every few hours, take a break from what you're doing to tune into the sensations in your body. Pay attention to how these sensations may have changed over the past few hours. Notice any areas of tension or discomfort. Also notice sensations of relaxation. Can you discern any connections between your emotions or moods and the way your body feels?

  • Just say "no" to multitasking. This might sound like an impossible task in our day and age, but don't be intimidated by its "radicalness!" Begin with an activity or block of time that you feel you have some control over, rather than the most chaotic part of your day. Within those parameters, do one thing at a time. Practice devoting your full attention to one activity rather than dividing your attention between several different things (e.g. finish your phone call before checking your e-mail).

  • Consider taking up a meditation practice. You can learn how to meditate in a class, on the Internet, or from books. You do not need to become a Buddhist or meditate for an hour each day to see the benefits of meditation.

2.  Reduce the distractions in your life. There will always be distractions in our lives, and we must be prepared to be flexible about unexpected occurrences. Nevertheless, most of us invite so many distractions that we lose touch with our ability to just be with ourselves at any given moment. When we do this, we are frequently expressing a desire (often unconscious) to separate ourselves from painful or stress-inducing emotions, but getting in touch with these emotions can actually help us realize the deeper meaning in our lives.

  • Experiment with reducing your exposure to the media. Try waking up, getting ready for work, and commuting to your job without listening to the radio, watching TV, reading the newspaper, or using any other form of media. Can you just be with yourself for this time and allow the day to begin on a quiet note?

  • Make a list of possible distractions throughout your day, and experiment with eliminating some of them.

  • Think carefully about the activities you do regularly and the opportunities you say "yes" to. Are there some things that keep you busy but that may not be essential? How many of these things do you really find fulfilling? Do you do some of these non-essential things out of a sense of obligation or based on outdated motivations that no longer apply to your life?

3.  Listen and dance to your favorite music. What music really moves and inspires you? Give yourself the gift of really listening to some cherished recordings (instead of having them on in the background while you work). You can do this in the car on the way to work, but once in a while allow yourself ten minutes at home to do nothing but enjoy your music. In addition to listening, see if you can overcome any self-consciousness and allow yourself to dance. Don't worry about doing it "right" or knowing particular dance steps; just do it!

4.  Kindle, or rekindle, your creative spark. We all have an innate creativity which is too frequently abandoned in our daily adult lives. Any of the above strategies (slowing down, reducing distractions, listening to your favorite music) can help put you in touch with your creative energies.

It's important to understand that creativity does not necessarily mean creating art and that you don't have to be artistically talented to be creative. What do you really love to do? You can find creative inspiration in many other types of activities, from trying new recipes to planning family outings to singing to sketching to experimenting with new hairstyles.

To get in touch with our creativity as adults, it's often helpful to think about what we loved to do as children. Give this some thought, and commit to experimenting with creative activities. What matters is that you permit yourself the time and energy to do something solely because you love it rather than to please others, to make money, etc. (If you do love creating art, can you do it just for the joy of it, without judging yourself or comparing yourself to others?)

5.  Connect with nature on a regular basis. Our modern society has become very disconnected from the natural world, much to the detriment of our creative souls. Nature is not just for vacations, and it does not only exist in the wilderness or exotic places. How does nature show up in your local environment? Even in the middle of the city, you have parks, parkways, individual trees, and urban animal life. No matter where you live, and whether or not you consider yourself a nature lover, try one of these nature-bonding activities:

  • Go outside regardless of the weather. Set aside at least ten minutes to go outside and just stand or sit, without doing any particular activities or thinking about anything in particular. Notice how you feel and what thoughts enter your mind. Are you worried about being too cold or too hot? Do you feel guilty for spending this time alone and away from your other obligations? Allow yourself to "just be" with these feelings rather than reacting to them by rushing inside. Simply notice how your senses and your mind react to what you're experiencing in the present moment.

  • Observe and be observed. Sit outside in a place where you will not be interrupted for least fifteen minutes. Make sure there is some natural element, such as a tree or grass, nearby. Allow yourself to observe the nature around you without judging or reacting. After doing this for about five minutes, see if you can put yourself into a frame of mind in which the natural elements are observing you. How does it feel to be observed by a tree or another natural object? Explore this process and any feelings that arise while you're doing this. After about five minutes, allow yourself to both observe and be observed at the same time.

6.  Connect with gratitude, and thank your teachers. No matter how stressed out you may feel or how badly things may seem to be going, there are aspects of your life you're grateful for. Similarly, we have all had experiences that have taught us valuable lessons, even if the experiences were painful at the time. Maybe you're tired of your job or often become irritated with your household and parental responsibilities; nevertheless, there are probably many things about these parts of your life for which you are thankful.

What are you grateful for? What meaningful lessons has life taught you? Are there difficult experiences in your past for which you can nevertheless be thankful because of what you have learned from them? Getting in touch with our deep gratitude can help put our daily activities in perspective and can help us remember what it is we truly value.

There is no easy answer to the question of how to best access life’s deeper meaning. Each of us needs to get in touch with ourselves and explore where our own meaning lies. The above ideas are only some of the myriad strategies you can use on the path toward connecting with your soul. I hope some of them resonate with you. I would love to hear your stories and experiences and to learn what has worked for you in your quest for life's deeper meaning.

© Copyright 2006 Betsy Hedberg.  All Rights Reserved. 

Betsy Hedberg

Betsy Hedberg, M.A., is a Denver-based psychotherapist, career counselor, and mindfulness and meditation instructor. She helps people incorporate mindfulness practices into their daily lives to realize greater quality time, reduce stress, navigate personal and career transitions, and connect with their deepest values. She also has a passion for travel and is preparing to announce some mindful, soulful excursions. Her blog/web site provides useful tips to help counter the stressful lifestyle so many of us lead, with a special focus on helping people recover from divorce and end-of-relationship issues. If you live in the Denver area, Betsy offers in-person life transition and career counseling sessions to help you reach your fullest life potential.





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