Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Finding Deeper Meaning

Finding Deeper Meaning

Sarah came to me in the prime of her life. She was highly educated. She was in a loving twenty-year marriage. She had two grown children, both very bright, well-adjusted and highly intelligent. Her son was attending Harvard and her daughter, Stanford. Financially, she and her husband were secure and both commanded large salaries in the bio-med field.

On the surface, it appeared that Sarah had everything that a sophisticated, professional woman in her late forties could possibly want. But, in our first meeting she said that her life felt empty. She explained that she had bought into the idea that if you got everything you had dreamed of, like a good relationship, healthy and happy children, financial success and meaningful work then you would surely be happy.

The problem was that Sarah had achieved and exceeded all of those goals, and yet she was seriously depressed to the point of contemplating suicide. Sarah was facing the fact that external success does not guarantee internal peace. She was struggling to understand the meaning of her existence and she was unable see any real meaning for her life on earth. Because of her background in scientific research, Sarah was in the habit of solving problems with linear equations and logical thinking—she had basically solved her life with her mind. In this crisis, her customary tools were useless. Her inner feelings of isolation and separation could not be explained by any outer circumstance. Not knowing what else to do, as a last resort, she turned to psychotherapy.

It was quite apparent to me that her crisis was not psychological but spiritual. That is, she was dealing with an emptiness that she could no longer avoid or defend against with outside distraction. She was forced to consciously face her worst existential fear—that her life had no intrinsic meaning or value.

Sarah was a self-professed agnostic and had decided early on that religion didn’t work for her. It seemed to her that religion argued against science and rational thought. Still somewhere deep inside she suspected that there was order and hidden meaning to the human experience. But, she had no idea what that might be or how to discover the answer.

For next few weeks, I worked with Sarah using meditation techniques and directing her to focus inward to help her connect to her deeper spiritual life. By the close of our therapy sessions, Sarah had come to realize herself as a spiritual being within the greater field of spiritual life. She had found the true meaning of her life apart from the many external roles that she had so effectively played. She had discovered with certainty who she really was.