Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Thinking About Life's Meaning Again (Part 2)

The purpose of this series is to discuss how we go about finding life's meaning. I wrote that during a severe depression, I always feel I've lost it. I also said that when I have discussed my quest with others--with whom I have worked--no one else even suggested it was important to them.

Yesterday, I mentioned that I'd bought a new book, U-Turn: What If You Woke Up One Morning and Realized You Were Living the Wrong Life?, by Vancouver writer Bruce Grierson, which seemed like it might address issues relating to finding life's meaning.

Actually, U-Turn is about people who decide to dramatically change their lives. Grierson interviewed more than 300 people, including a doctor who quit his job to become a poet; a former journalist who became a pastor; a restaurateur who became an environmentalist; an army lawyer who prosecuted homosexuals, "came out," and began defending gays in the military; a slaughterhouse employee who became a vegan and animal rights activist; a U.S. Marine general who became an antiwar activist; a man who became a woman, and dozens of others.

While I am interested in the stories of people who dramatically change their lives, the true appeal of this book for me is: "What motivates people to change their lives?"

Grierson writes that "U-turners are inclined to view the world as a story rather than as a truth." He quotes psychologist Jerome Bruner who says that we are chiefly rational or we are mythological. We are either people who lean hard on reason and motivation or we are invested in a narrative mode of thought.

Grierson continues, "The mythological imagination breeds a deep curiosity. U-turners are, by and large, questors. More than most people, they are interested in searching for meaning--a trait Jungian psychoanalyst Marian Woodman believes, you either have or you don't. The incurious are not likely to examine their life, and therefore the U-turn process will never be initiated. Woodman calls the unexamining liver of life a 'happy carrot.'

"They don't ask why. They live their life day by day, they don't question the meaning of things, don't think about coincidences. Those questions never come up. They're not interested in the unconscious. They never pay attention to their dreams, so their dreams cut out."

Woodman said, "Exactly why some people are happy carrots and other strive for meaning is a question Jung had no answer for. I don't know of anyone who does. I envy happy carrots, sometimes."

Grierson writes that happy carrots will never be U-turners. He also writes that people who reverse their lives usually do it for one of two reasons. "The first are those who follow a sort of redemption script--we 'come clean' from a life we view as ethically wrong, answering a sense of duty to do the right thing.

"And then there are those that are more Platonic, more ethically neutral; we abandon a life that was 'wrong' only in the sense that it was wrong for us, now. The distinction points out two definitions of morality: a fidelity to goodness, and a fidelity to whom you feel you intrinsically are."

At this point, while I enjoyed reading the life-changing stories that Grierson shares with us, the question I wanted answered was: What did the U-turners have in common that caused them to change.

Grierson writes, "The U-turners in this book are, you could say, people who fell out of balance, but in lots of different ways. The restorative snap back depended on what, in particular, they were thinking too much about, and what they were neglecting as a result.

"But what they have in common is that the gap between personal values (like being kind or raising a family or volunteering) and social values (like making money) just became too great, reaching the point where they didn't recognize themselves. The social self and the private self became strangers to each other. And when that happens, something has to give."

Perhaps, because U-Turn is 341-page-book with dozens and dozens of examples of different people who chose different paths, at the end I still wasn't sure how this related to me. So, I turned to my favorite little book (117 pages), Let Your Life Speak: Listening to the Voice of Vocation by Parker J. Palmer, and reread a passage that always makes sense to me.
"Discovering vocation does not mean scrambling toward some prize just beyond my reach but accepting the treasure of true self I already possess. Vocation does not come from a voice 'out there' calling me to be something I am not. It comes from a voice 'in here' calling me to be the person I was born to be, to fulfill the original selfhood given to me at birth by God."

(to be continued)


Mariposa said...

Your post yesterday got m pre-occupied that the whole time I was home I had been thinking about it...and like you I was not interested in from what to which they have gone to...but rather, what was turning point of their lives for them to make a U-Turn.

And all these things I have to think in parallel of my principle in life, which I always say, I have gave up struggling in trying to become what I think I should be based on how society thinks...but rather to be the person I ought to be, which was beautifully said in that passage you quoted...

Even in my project management and process management lectures, I always tell my 'student' about finding meaning in whatever we do...

I have colds...and I hope to write about this tomorrow.

Another wonderful series for you and I await for the continuation.

Paula Joy said...


Have you ever done any questions about Vision for your life?? It was after I did those that my life started to make sense and that I have a goal, aim and a purpose. I finally know what I am living for.

Sometimes, though, we concentrate so much on looking for a big, spectacular meaning of life, and we end up missing out on things that happen daily.

Take your blog for example. You are using the gifts and talents God gave you at birth to help so many people around the world. Using the talents God has given each of us individually is where we'll find the most fulfillment. Do what you have a passion for.

Gianna said...

U-turners are, by and large, questors. More than most people, they are interested in searching for meaning--a trait Jungian psychoanalyst Marian Woodman believes, you either have or you don't.

yup!! and I try to leave it at that...I'm a questor...and I trust that it's okay...and I'd say I'm pulling out of the U-Turn about now...as soon as I'm out of bed and fully physically functional I'll know what my new life will be!!

I loved this post...and though there is no way I can read a long book right now, you really gave me some priceless nuggets in your review and understanding of it, even if you didn't know exactly how if pertained to you just now...you helped me today...thank you.

Wellness Writer said...

Dear Mariposa,
Yes, I do believe that many people pursue the vocation that their parents think are right for them, or that society thinks is important, or that they receive positive enforcement for in school.

But, in my mind, the real questions are: What matters most to you? If you were going to die within a year, how would you spend it? What have you always liked doing the most? If you could retire tomorrow and if money wasn't a problem, how would you spend your time?

It's all interesting to think about, isn't it?


Wellness Writer said...

Dear Paula Joy,
First, I hope your new job is working out! I checked your blog last night and saw you hadn't written about it yet, but I do want you to know I'm thinking about you, and hoping things are going well.

I don't know what Vision is, but I have done a lot of reading and thinking about this topic.

Thanks for your comment. I do believe my ability to write with honesty and candor is my gift. I think that Wellness, broadly defined, may be my subject. But that's where I need clarity.

Because of my URL address, and my topics for the last few years, my audience is mostly bipolar. But, if I look at the topics that interest them, I may have moved beyond them.

These days, I'm getting a lot of hits about anger, irritability, hypomania, and dealing with specific aspects of illness. I've written about all of these topics before and I've moved on.

I am definitely a questor, and I'm entering a new phase of my life.

So...when I said I was confused, it may just be that I need to refocus what I'm writing about.

And, the other issue that has been bothering me for the last few months is that I'm unable to write during a depressive episode.

So...I need to find other ways to express myself and contribute.


Wellness Writer said...

Dear Gianna,
Glad it helped. I, too, am a questor, and that was a new word for the kind of work I enjoy!


Rod Guthrie said...

I like the concept of a "questor" and for me it fits with images of Don Quixote and people willing to go outside the box.

I'm enjoying the getting-to-know-you part. Yo aren't a one-trick pony, not even.


Wellness Writer said...

Dear Rod,
Welcome to my blog. I like your "images of Don Quixote and people willing to go outside the box."

And thanks for the "getting-to-know you part."


iHanna said...

I think I'm a u-turner for sure. and I had to go to answer.com and look up "vocation" - what a great word inside a great quote. will be back to read next episode!

Wellness Writer said...

Dear Hanna,
Thanks for letting me know. Glad it fits!


robert said...

What a great post! I read this blog everyday because I want my life to be about WELLNESS! I'm tired of being addicted to having a mental illness, and tired of being addicted to not living the life that I am meant to.
I'm trying hard to make a U-turn. It takes work for me. People in my life want me to take it easy, and maybe their right in some sense, but the drive to make that U-turn burns hard. I've made about 3 in my life already. I'll do it again! Thanks, Robert

Wellness Writer said...

Dear Robert,
You're welcome although I'm not sure if I got out of this what you did. What I learned was that I may not be clear what the next step is, but I'm on the right path.

I am now living a life that is consistent with my values. I just need to stop feeling bad that I haven't achieved what I thought I might have. Or perhaps, I need to rethink what my definition of "success" is.

But, for me, I think that too many U-turns just makes me feel dizzy.


Wendalyn Love said...

You are going deeper and deeper....I feel I make U-turns with each up and down episode. I constantly fall into the trap of thinking "if I could just change this or this in my life, then I would feel better". What you are saying however, resonates with some things that I have learned during coaching, that we must live according to our values and when we are not, we are at odds with ourselves.
I liked the quote "what they were thinking too much about and what they were neglecting as a result..." struck a cord with me.
However, isn't that the challenge of bipolar or any mental illness, controlling our out of control thinking? No need to answer that question, I am just putting it out there....

Wellness Writer said...

Dear Wendalyn,
Yes, I, too, fall into that trap. And I agree it was helpful to read the quote you mentioned.

It somehow makes me feel that even when I feel I have gone in totally the wrong direction, I probably haven't. I've just focused too much on one part of my life or utilized one set of skills to the exclusion of others.

But...I'm not sure it's a bipolar issue. I think lots of people do it, and don't realize it or won't admit it.

When we've been labeled bipolar, it seems that everything is part of an "illness." But I suspect there are tons of other folks who have similar thoughts.

Perhaps, they are better able to hide them, and don't feel as emotional about them. But I'm not even sure that's true.

I don't have the answer, but I believe that what you've said addresses a very important issue, which I think I'll post about tomorrow. I'd like to hear what others think about this. Thanks for bringing it up!