In his book, "When All You Ever Wanted Isn't Enough", Rabbi Harold Kushner tells of a man who called and asked for an appointment to discuss a religious matter. A clergyperson knows that could mean almost anything, from "Why does God permits evil?" to the question of "Where does the stepfather of the bride sit at the wedding?". But this man had a question of deep spiritual importance. This is what he said to the Rabbi.
"Two weeks ago, for the first time in my life, I went to the funeral of a man my own age. I did not know him
well, but we worked together, talked to each other from time to time, and had kids about the same age. He
died suddenly over the weekend. A bunch of us went to the funeral, each of us thinking, "It could just as easily have been me." That was two weeks ago. They have already replaced him at the office. I hear his wife is moving out of the state to live with her parents.Two weeks ago he was working fifty feet from me, and now it is as if he never existed. It is like a rock falling into a pool of water. For a few seconds it makes ripples in the
water, and then the water is the same as it was before, but the rock is not there anymore. Rabbi, I have
hardly slept at all since then. I cannot stop thinking that it could happen to me, that one day it will happen
to me, and a few days later I will be forgotten as if I had never lived. Shouldn't a man's life be more than that?"
I do not know the name of the person the Rabbi counseled, but I have seen him/her almost weekly for the past sixty years. There is something deeply spiritual about searching for the meaning of life. It is agonizingly painful when we suddenly realize that we have spent so much of our lives in the pursuit of things which, when we die, will be worthless.
One of the greatest myths about spirituality is the idea that if we just stay busy life will have meaning. If you "just stay busy" you will not find meaning, but you will not notice the emptiness as much. Our fear of solitude and our mad scramble to stay busy provides at best a temporary meaning that is never more than an anesthetic to deaden the pain of emptiness. There comes a time for us all when some younger person next to us dies suddenly, and we see them disappear like a blip on a computer, hardly to be remembered at all, and we wonder if that is all there is to life. There comes a time for most of us when illness or age forces us into a lifestyle in which being busy is not possible for months, years, or perhaps for the rest of life; and in the quietness and silence thus imposed upon us we only hear the sound of grass growing over our graves. It is then that we discover the empty spots that we papered over for so long by "just staying busy".
If spirituality is finding and living out the real meaning of life, how shall we achieve it? Like happiness, it is not something we achieve directly. We do not become happy by pursuing happiness. Happiness is a butterfly. The more you chase it, the more it flies away. Happiness slips up on you from the backside. It comes when you stop chasing. It settles around you like a cloud of peace when you have come face to face with the emptiness of your own trivial pursuits, and decide to do something unselfish with your life.
Many years ago Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe wrote the drama, "Faust", the story of a man who sells his soul to the devil in his search for an experience in life that would be so meaningful that he would say, "Let this moment linger". And that is one way to know when you have found the meaning of your life, when you stop at some point in time, and to your surprise say, "Let this moment linger". Faust wants to experience everything. He wants to read all the books, speak all the languages, and taste all the pleasures of life. And, he does it all. The devil gives him everything, wealth, power, sex, knowledge, and more. But still Faust is not happy. He feels a deep dissatisfaction, emptiness and hunger for something more. At the end of the play Faust has become an old man. He has despaired with all the empty pursuits of happiness that have been given him, and in his old age he sets out to build dikes to reclaim land from the sea on which people can live and work. Having forgotten about his own happiness, he concerns himself with the happiness and welfare of others - people he does not even know. Then all of a sudden, all that he has sought in vain slips up on him from the backside - that feeling of all feelings that comes when we find out what we are here for, and Faust whispers, "Let this moment linger".
This profound experience does not come in the same way for everyone. Therefore, it cannot be packaged and delivered wholesale. Spiritual guides can point the way, but they cannot deliver the experience. You have to find it for yourself
The "let this moment linger" experience almost always comes as a surprise. You find it on a journey marked with acts of kindness and unselfishness. Start now.