Nothing is so fatiguing as the eternal hanging on of an uncompleted task. ~William James

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Making a Meaning-Full Life

According to Eric Maisel, Ph.D., author of Van Gogh's Blues:  The Creative Person's Path Through Depression, meaning is at the heart of the depression experienced by most creative people.  For those who think too much, and know too much, like many of us in the postmodern era, meaning is problematic.  We are not content to live our lives within the confines of traditional patterns.  

As Dr. Maisel maintains, 
. . . virtually 100 percent of creative people will suffer from episodes of depression.   Why virtually 100 percent?  Because every creative person came out of the womb ready to interrogate life and determine for [him/]herself what life would mean, could mean, and should mean.  [His/]Her gift or curse was that [he/]she was born ready to stubbornly doubt received wisdom and disbelieve that anyone but [he/]she was entitled to provide answers to [his/]her own meaning questions. 
Despite having sworn off self-help books a couple of weeks back, I found myself drawn the past couple of days to revisiting this book I had begun reading earlier.  Something about its warm deep blue dust jacket and Van Gogh-like cover illustration lured me, and I fell off the wagon.  But it was a good fall, and maybe even a necessary one.  

Dr. Maisel de-pathologizes the kind of funk I have been mired in since last fall; and I see that this period in which I am concluding much of the work and many of the roles that have occupied me requires a kind of spiritual realignment.  I need to  think again about what my life can mean, and what I want it to mean.

Maisel holds that 
[i]n order for you to live an authentic, meaningful life, which is the principal remedy for the depression creative people experience, you must feel that 1) the plan of your life is meaningful, 2) the work you do is meaningful, and 3) the way you spend your time is meaningful. . . .[And] the ideal combination. . . is that your life plan feels meaningful to you and you actually live it; that the work you've chosen to do feels meaningful to you and you actually do it; and that your days, spent primarily doing your work and living your life plan, feel filled with meaning.  To reach this goal, you must consciously hold the following four intentions:
  1. To articulate a life plan that feels meaningful and to strive to live by that plan.
  2. To articulate what constitutes worthy work and to accomplish that worthy work.
  3. To articulate how the seconds, hours, weeks, and years that make up your life will be made to feel meaningful and to strive to actually make them feel meaningful.
  4. To put the first three intentions into practice in a coordinated way.  [emphasis mine]
This is a deceptively simple outline of how we can avoid the cart-before-the-horse problem I have alluded to before.  Without some sense of what we are about, and why, endless crossing off--or failing to cross off--mindlessly listed items amounts to spinning our wheels.  And even more seriously, we are left careening through our hours and days, spiritually rudderless.  Which brings up all the fears inherent in our brief and ultimately doomed existence.  And thus, depression, as our vulnerable amygdalae twitch and complain.  

So I am being led back to the drawing board.  To figure out where I'm going, before I continue my undirected journey.

No comments:

Post a Comment