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)