Do you know what it means to live?

Have you experienced an existential crisis before? You know, where you question whether your life has meaning, are you doing what you’re meant to do, and ask yourself what the heck are we all doing here in the first place. Right around the beginning of April 2020, I experienced this. I wondered what everything meant and why the world was so messed up and how could we be expected to ignore that and still try to make a living…

If I’m being honest, I felt like it just all seemed so… pointless. It turns out, I wasn’t alone in my thoughts and if you’ve ever experienced this, neither are you. In fact, the COVID-19 pandemic has pushed many people to make life-altering changes to their lives in response to existential crises. I’d been questioning my own life purpose and thinking about the changes I should make or shouldn’t make as well.

I started to try and make those changes: start a business, pick up some hobby (any hobby), just be super productive and ensuring my life had some sort of meaning (or at least looked like it). I, like most people, thought that in order for my life to be “good,” I needed to do things that would indicate I was living it to its fullest. Until I watched a movie.

My husband and I watched the movie “Soul” from Disney-Pixar. And WOW! It changed my perspective on what it means to live. If you haven’t seen it, it’s basically about a guy who’s a musician who has spent his life chasing after gigs, thinking that once he landed one, he’d be happy and living out his life’s purpose. He soon falls into a manhole and while on the brink of death, finds out through a journey to the “holding pattern” that there’s much more to life and living than finding your “purpose.”

Speaking of finding your purpose and passion…

Iceland, 2018

One of the major themes of the movie was to find your “spark.” This was often interpreted as finding your passion or your purpose in life – what you’re meant to do. The main character in the movie was convinced that music was his passion and purpose because it was all he could think about and he couldn’t imagine living his life without pursuing it.

It’s funny because we’re all trying to be who we’re meant to be. But half the time we don’t know who we are currently. And if we don’t know who we are now, how can we possibly know who we’re meant to be in some future state? We’re so busy trying to find purpose and figure out how to make our lives “worth” living that we often miss that the things that make life “worth” it are right there in front of us.

And then there’s the opposite end of the spectrum: people who have seemingly found their passion or purpose but become so obsessed with it that they end up oblivious to the happenings around them.

In the words of Ferris Bueller: “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.” Having your head in the sand trying to find purpose could have you completely overlooking purpose itself.

“I heard this story about a fish. He swims up to an older fish and says: “I’m trying to find this thing they call the ocean.” “The ocean?” the older fish says, “that’s what you’re in right now.” “This”, says the young fish, “this is water. What I want is the ocean!”

Dorothea williams, soul

The destination debacle

Have you ever told yourself that once you do “X” you’ll be “Y”? And then when X happens, you don’t end up being Y? You may have said something along the lines of “once I lose weight, I’ll love my body.” Or, “once I quit my job and start my own business, I’ll be free.” Or, “Once I buy a house, I’ll be happy.” And then you do those things and a few days or weeks pass you’re like “crap, I thought I was supposed to feel more…excited?” But instead, you feel…”regular.” It really begins to beg the question of whether X was really what you wanted in the first place.

So then you move on to try and get the next thing – reach the next destination. And so on. Because maybe then you’ll feel *insert good emotion here.* I’ve been there more times than I can count. In high school, I thought I’d be content once I graduated and went to college. In college, I thought I’d be set for life once I graduated graduate school and found a job. Once I graduated grad school and found a job, I thought I’d feel better once I found a different job. Once I started that different job, I joined a gym and started working out. Once I started working out I thought I’d be happy once my abs were showing (they never showed like I wanted them to). Once the pandemic hit, I thought I’d feel excited and fulfilled by starting my own business. The list goes on.

We spend SO much time, money, and energy on getting to the next destination without fully realizing that more often than not, the destination we’re currently in (and trying to escape) is the destination we wished/hoped/prayed for at our previous destination. Mind blowing, huh? We think that the life we’re currently living doesn’t meet the standard of “life.” We think that we need to do something spectacular or arrive at a crazy destination to finally feel alive. To do a 180-degree transformation to finally be living. To have a good life.

But what if we’ve been living all long, however obliviously?

But what does it mean to live?

Iceland, 2018

I feel like as we get older, there’s this pressure to constantly out-do yourself (and others). There seems to be this general consensus that in order for a life to be exciting and worthwhile, it needs to look grandiose, spectacular, extraordinary. That if we don’t accomplish some huge feat, our life is somehow a waste. That if we don’t work for ourselves, start a million-dollar company, quit our 9-5, and have “freedom” our life isn’t all that great (damn you, social media).

And while those things certainly contribute to and can consist of a life that’s fulfilling, fruitful, and exciting, they don’t need to be the things that make life “good.” And further, they aren’t the things that make life, well, LIFE. From my experience and what I learned from watching Soul is that living really is just interacting with your environment. Of course, we all have dreams and goals, but dreams and goals aren’t “life” in and of themselves.

Life is more so about your participation in and contribution to the world around you than doing spectacular things (and getting recognized for them). It’s more about being immersed in your ecosystem than jumping out of a plane or traveling the world in luxury. It’s more about smelling the roses than just viewing them in your periphery every day as you walk to your fancy car. It’s about noticing and paying attention.

Living is cleaning your house because you notice that it’s messy. It’s doing that pile of work on your desk because who would do it as well as you? Living is your body in motion. It’s you cooking a good meal and sitting down to taste it in all its glory. It’s walking outside at midnight and looking up at the full moon in awe and then waking up and watching the sunrise. It’s noticing the leaves change and listening to the quiet snowfall in the winter and feeling the sun on your skin in the summer. It’s watching children in their pureness. Living is nurturing the people in your life and being there when they need you.

All of these things may seem “ordinary” or “boring.” But really take a moment to participate in those things. That good feeling you get when you’re experiencing the world in real-time – that’s probably the feeling you’re chasing with accomplishments and destinations. And it’s SO simple to get that feeling. It doesn’t cost a whole lot of time, money, and energy to notice and interact with your world. Not everything needs to be grand and dramatic for it to be worth something, life included.

So tell me: how do you interact with your environment? When you do, how does it feel?

Melina Renee

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