THE BLOG
10/25/2008 05:12 am ET Updated Nov 17, 2011

Living with Meaning: Detect The Meaning Of Life's Moments

Have you ever wondered if there was more to "life" than what you were experiencing? Have you ever felt like "bad" things just happened to you; that is, challenging situations that were out of your control? Have you ever worked in a job that you really didn't like? Or even if you were satisfied with your job--say, because it paid well or seemed secure--you still didn't feel fulfilled by the work that you were doing? If you answered yes to any of these questions, or even asked yourself such questions before now, you should know that you are not alone. Not at all. And, importantly, you should know that, because we are all human, it is totally natural and healthy to ask ourselves such fundamental questions about the way we live and work.

Ultimately, man should not ask what the meaning of his life is, but rather must recognize that it is he who is asked. In a word, each man is questioned by life; and he can only answer to life by answering for his own life; to life he can only respond by being responsible.--Viktor Frankl, M.D., Ph.D.

This conversation deals with the human quest for meaning, a concern that has become a "megatrend" of the 21st century. For those of you who have been here before, you know that it is grounded firmly in the philosophy and approach of the world-renown psychiatrist, Viktor Frankl, author of the classic bestseller, Man's Search for Meaning, as well as the meaning-centered principles introduced in my book, Prisoners of Our Thoughts. I'm both proud and humbled to say that Prisoners of Our Thoughts was written at Frankl's personal urging and with his support. Indeed, it was in a meeting with Dr. Frankl at his home in Vienna, Austria, when he leaned across his desk, grabbed my arm, and said: "Alex, yours is the book that needs to be written!"

In recent weeks, I introduced you to two of seven core principles, "Exercise the Freedom to Choose Your Attitude" and "Realize Your Will to Meaning" that I explore in Prisoners of Our Thoughts. If you missed these posts, or if you would like or need a refresher, please take the time to review them. I am sure that you will benefit from the review as we move on to the third meaning-centered principle.

PRINCIPLE 3: Detect the Meaning of Life's Moments--only you can answer for your own life by detecting the meaning at any given moment and assuming responsibility for weaving your unique tapestry of existence.

In actuality, we don't "create" meaning; we find it. And we can't find it if we don't look for it. Meaning comes to us in all shapes and sizes. Sometimes it looms big in our lives; sometimes it slips in almost unobserved. Sometimes we miss a meaningful moment entirely until days, months, or even years go by and then suddenly something that once seemed insignificant becomes a pivotal, life-changing moment. Sometimes, too, it is the collective meaning of many moments that finally catches our mind's eye; as if we weave together a living quilt from patches of moments that, by themselves, would have passed us by unnoticed. And although we are not always aware of it, meaning, as Dr. Frankl would say, is in every present moment. It goes without saying--wherever we go. All we have to do, in our daily life and at work, is to wake up to meaning and take notice.

I am convinced that, in the final analysis, there is no situation that does not contain within it the seed of a meaning.

Life retains its meaning under any conditions. It remains meaningful literally up to its last moment, up to one's last breath.--Viktor Frankl

The thirteenth-century Sufi poet Rumi writes, "It's never too late to bend and kiss the earth." The meaningfulness of life, as we know it and don't know it, is manifest everywhere on this fragile planet. Wherever we are and whatever we do, it is this very existence of life that calls us to meaning. How, we should ask, are we inviting life into our lives? How, we should ask, are we bending and kissing this earthly experience? How, we should ask, are we acknowledging meaning in our personal lives, as well as through our work and at our jobs?

It all comes down to awareness. In this regard, it has been said that "it is more important to be aware than it is to be smart." To be aware is to know meaning. To be aware takes time. If our lives are propelled by nothing but things piling up to respond to or the passive preoccupation with such things as television, we lose out on meaning. We have to see, hear, smell, touch, and taste meaning if it's going to exist in our lives.

PUTTING MEANING INTO THIS CONVERSATION... Individual Action & Reflection Activities With this third, Detect the Meaning of Life's Moments, principle, I want to encourage you to get personally involved. To really take away the full meaning of this principle, you must experience the meaning of--and in--it yourself. In a word, you need to discover it.

Importantly, by reflecting upon our existence and seeking to detect the meaning of life's moments, we also create opportunities to draft our personal legacy, albeit as a work in progress. There are a number of simple and practical exercises that can be used for this purpose, several of which I describe in my book, Prisoners of Our Thoughts. I encourage you to read about them and do one or more on your own. Then come back to this forum and tell us about the meaning you discovered for yourself and, of course, bring your questions and suggestions so that we may all learn from your experiences.

For now, I would like to introduce you to a process that I call "existential digging." I have found this procedure to be especially helpful as both a catalyst and guide for putting the principle, Detect the Meaning of Life's Moments, into everyday practice. Simply put, for every situation or life experience, I would like you to do some "existential digging" by reflecting upon and making note of your responses to the following four questions:

1) How did you respond to the situation or life experience?
2) How did you feel about the situation or life experience?
3) What did you learn from the situation or life experience?
4) How did you grow from the situation or life experience?

Once again, I invite you to share your thoughts and experiences...ask a question, share an opinion. I welcome hearing from you and will enjoy reading (and responding to) your posts. I'll be checking in from time to time and look forward learning from you about how you are working to detect the meaning of life's moments. Remember, let's continue to use this forum to learn from and support each other so that we may all live with meaning! And stay tuned in the weeks ahead for more principles for discovering meaning in your life and work!

You can find out more about Dr. Alex Pattakos in his HuffPost Bio and at http://www.prisonersofourthoughts.com. Contact Alex at: alex@prisonersofourthoughts.com.