THE BLOG
03/18/2010 05:12 am ET Updated Nov 17, 2011

In Search Of The Meaningful Life

Technological progress is like an axe in the hands of a pathological criminal.

--Albert Einstein

A Sufi teacher once rode his donkey through the marketplace, whipping it into a frenzy, overturning booths and knocking aside patrons, all the while angrily demanding of everyone he passed, "Who stole my donkey? Who stole my donkey?"

Believing that actions speak clearer than words, this was his way of showing the people of his village that instead of looking elsewhere, they ought to remember that they already possess what they are looking for--and that it is in fact the very thing that carries them through life.

Today we might say We search for the meaningful life, even though we carry within us the actual source of meaningfulness.

Similarly, there was once a man who possessed a priceless jewel that he left to his wife and daughter when he died. Afraid that unscrupulous creditors might discover the jewel, the mother sewed the jewel into the lining of the daughter's coat. Unfortunately, the mother passed away unexpectedly, without being able to tell her daughter about the jewel. Destitute, with no home or money, the daughter wandered the land for many years, with only her coat to protect her from the harsh elements. Then one day, the threadbare coat split at the seams and out spilled the jewel, so valuable that she would never want for anything again.

Today we might say We already possess all the resources we will ever need to secure a fulfilling life, even though we may not yet recognize it.

Here are three things you can add to what you are already doing to create a meaningful life in the midst of day-to-day distractions--

1. Believe In Your Inner Power. Far from a vague platitude, this is the cornerstone of effective action in the world. And far from being a simple reminder that we can overcome life's obstacles, it means that our real strength lies in our ability to influence others in a beneficial way.

Real inner power, as many wisdom traditions have long maintained, is the way of nurturing and encouraging human nature that increases its sensitivity and loving-kindness. Our true strength, it turns out, expresses itself in how we treat others. By nourishing others' innate empathy and benevolence, our influence becomes more and more like water, nurturing all it touches. The relationships formed like this are like iron links in a chain forging an indivisible community.

Whether in your interactions with passing strangers or those closest to you, believe in your inner power to mirror the priceless jewel others carry with them through this life.

2. Spend Time In Nature. The technological advances of modern society have brought about changes in the way we experience life. We spend more and more time in front of television, computer, and phone screens, while spending less and less time in the real world around us. Social networks can easily replace the sense of real connectedness to the world, just as media can easily replace our own sensory impressions of the world.

We mustn't just focus on adapting to the changing culture around us. We need to balance it with an open-hearted communing with the unchanging world of nature around us. Take real breaks from technology, spend time walking and sitting quietly among trees and along water, and you will keep renewing the center from which all your other actions spring.

3. Overflow Your Roles. It goes without saying that an ethical life requires that we authentically fulfill the roles we have accepted. But it is just as important that we don't become those roles--that we don't allow others to treat us as if we were nothing more than those roles. A meaningful life demands that we not become a mere stereotype of a wife or husband, father or mother, daughter or son, employee or employer, and so on.

This means breaking others' expectations or preconceptions of us in ways large and small while still fulfilling our responsibilities. Because every relationship is different, there is no set formula about how to do this, but I believe humor and a playful sense of the absurd help, especially among friends and family. The important thing is to cultivate a sense of self that encompasses all your roles but is so much more than the sum of all of them. Whenever appropriate, pop people's balloons of seeing you as if you were a wholly-known commodity and allow them to glimpse the person behind the role.

Treat yourself as an unfolding mystery, ultimately not even identifying with the roles of gender or race or religion, so that the person behind even the last masks of personality can emerge and carry you through this most meaningful life.

What I most want is to spring out of this personality, then to sit apart from that leaping.

I've lived too long where I can be reached.

--Rumi

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The Toltec I Ching, by Martha Ramirez-Oropeza and William Douglas Horden has just been released by Larson Publications. It recasts the I Ching in the symbology of the Native Americans of ancient Mexico and includes original illustrations interpreting each of the hexagrams. Its subtitle, 64 Keys to Inspired Action in the New World hints at its focus on the ethics of the emerging world culture.