Seven Daily Paths to a Meaningful Life
As a storyteller, over the years I’ve tried to reflect on the art of storytelling and how we see ourselves in this life is found in the tales we share. There is no magical chant, symbol or talisman that provides a shortcut to the hard work of living. These five tools are about storytelling, storytellers, story listeners and the meeting point where they come together in daily life.
Recognizing the limits of our knowledge. And the limits of our understanding of what we know. To accept uncertainty has a natural state of being, and doubt as your friend and companion, is a step toward that whatever our beliefs and values are; they remain works in progress. We, too, are works in progress, and what we identify as our sacred beliefs and values are embedded in the fabric of the timelines we share with others whose beliefs and values don’t necessarily align with the ones you hold. Think of yourself as a time sharer whose depth and breadth of knowledge rises with your connection to the lives of others.
Not just to family and friends but to strangers. To people we don’t necessarily like. Show them kindness is to acknowledge their humanity and dignity. Kindness once recognized in by an angry person defuses it; that person’s anger lacks fuel to grow into a wildfire. Think of kindness as a circle that is expandable. If you have a drinking straw perspective of who comes into the kindness space of life you or if you have a panoramic view, portrait or landscape, this will be your true identity. This is how you will be known and remembered.
Some of us have so much; others have so little. Many people are generous to their family and circle of friends is sufficient. Try and expand that circle. Find a small way to reach out and give to someone less fortunate, someone who is struggling, a hand, a smile, a meal, a hug, an umbrella in the rain. Whether it is to double your normal tip, a piece of fruit, that extra shirt you no longer wear. Give what you don’t use to others, someone who doesn’t have a closet or a set of clothes to choose from. Make someone’s day special and ask them to play it forward. Giving is less about things, it is about time. That is your wealth. Distribute your time to those you believe are working to move our future forward.
We are a deeply flawed, imperfect species. None of us are complete angels or devils. We ride the rail between the two ideals of good and evil. People say and do thoughtless acts. Often we regret such behavior in ourselves. Regret kept to yourself has little use unless it is shared with the person you’ve offended. Regret is the space where you are seeking the forgiveness of others but refrain out of fear of being seen as weak. You can’t please everyone and shouldn’t try. Forgiveness is different; it is understanding the harm you suffered is an expression of that person’s pain that likely runs much deeper than you know. To forgive someone doesn’t mean they are now your friend; what it means is they are no longer your enemy and fall within the circle of kindness.
People want to be heard. At the same time many people don’t want to listen to what others have to say. We are all storytellers. You can’t be a storyteller without a story listener. No one storyteller has a monopoly on experience or wisdom. Our social fabric is woven from stories. Stories flow forward from one generation to the next; we revise and modify stories as we adapt to changed circumstances and technology. The stories of the past are guide to the paths that we see ahead in the future. Past stories show where the ditches of life are located along the road of life and what happens when you fall into one. The present is the place where we learn from the past, predict our future pathways, and experience life, its joys, sorrows, disappointments and bliss. Listen to the stories that matter to others, figure out the meaning of those stories, and how they’ve shaped the lives of the storyteller. Don’t judge the person who tells the story. Because their story is a version of a story you’ve told yourself in a different time and place.
Gratitude is a Stoic value devoted to honouring, acknowledging and remembering our parents, friends, mentors, teachers and strangers who have taught us about the paths of life, guided us, helped us, stood by us in good and bad times. It is easy to forget how fragile life is. Each morning on waking up, be grateful you are alive. Last night when you slept, billions of others also slept. Not everyone woke. One day you won’t wake. Celebrate the new day by being grateful that you are alive and the path of the day stretches out before you. It wasn’t a given that you were alive today. Anymore than it is a given that you will be alive tomorrow.
Life is short. There will never be enough time to do everything. No matter how hard you work and try, you won’t be able to accomplish everything. We all die with unfinished business. A priority is to recognize much of the meaning that you will discover in life comes from those around you; those who lived and died before you were born. We can repay the debt of gratitude to the dead by seeking to live a life according to the ideals they believed made for a worthy, healthy community.
As for the living, we can express our gratitude personally and directly. The goal is to reach out — a phone call, an email, a personal visit — to someone who made your life better, set you on the right path, listened as you went through a bad time, gave you confidence, courage and advice. Don’t forget these people. They were the carpenters and masons who helped build the meaning of your life. Without them your life may have gone in a bad direction or hit a dead end. The fact you survived the filter that derails others is owed to presence of those people who were there for you at the crucial moment. I have many such people.
Honour those who you don’t personally know but have made sacrifices so that your life is safer, saner, and stable. Vote for them. Buy their books, paintings, and music. Nurture the creatives who provide the novel visions that make us see and feel things in an original way and expand our consciousness. Subscribe to their podcasts.
Each Sunday (or any other day you choose), sit down with yourself and audit the prior week. Reflect on how the six values interconnected in a structure that is the meaning of the week, the meaning of your life. That is who you are. How you behaved with others, and how you reacted to the other people. What remains of the week you wish to carry over into the new week; what do you wish to discard or do better next time? The weekly evaluation keeps you honest to yourself and teaches you that the dynamics of life change and you’ve adapted your beliefs, attitude and behavior or are you clinging on to a habit that holds you back. Did I listen to someone who needed to be heard? Or was the subject of my attention captured by a cellphone timeline? Have I reached out to someone who has helped me last week and thank them for that help? They didn’t have to help me; it is meaningful to them and to me that I let them know they were appreciated.