A Few Favorite Quotations About Living

It is a busy time of year for most of us, and for many it can be a curious mixture of good times and more stressful ones. I offer you a few of my favorite quotations to guide you and sustain you through the holiday season:

“Be yourself; everyone else is taken.”
—Oscar Wilde

“How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.”
—Annie Dillard

“Let us live so that when we come to die, even the undertaker will be sorry.”
—Mark Twain

Plan as if you’ll live forever:
Live as if you’ll die tomorrow.

An interviewer asked a famous song writer:
“Of all the songs that you have written, what is your favorite?”
The songwriter replied, “The next one.”

“What is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”
—Mary Oliver

“Life is too short for drama and petty things.
So kiss slowly, laugh insanely, love truly, and forgive quickly.”

For those who may have a little more time to explore a perennial question…

“What is the meaning of life?”

This is a question that people have been asking for at least several thousand years, and probably much longer, because human beings seek meaning. Most people have assumed that the question is well-formed, and tried to answer it. And the number and variety of answers—most of which do not agree with each other—is truly astounding. However, the question has a number of linguistic elements that are misleading, and it omits other elements that would make the question answerable.

The most serious omission is that the word “meaning” has no object. Meaning for whom?” My wife has meaning for me, but she does not have any meaning for a rock because the rock isn’t even aware of her. The rock can have meaning for her, but not the other way around. Likewise my life has meaning for her, but not for the rock. Meaning requires a sentient being for whom something, or someone, can have meaning.

Now let’s examine the word “life.” Does it mean all life? If it means all life, then the question is not answerable, because meaning always has to have a “for whom” in order to exist, and “all life” doesn’t leave any living thing for which “all life” could have meaning.

If the word “life” means certain categories of life, then we can determine meaning if we answer the “for whom?” Wheat plants mean food to me, and disease bacteria certainly have a very different meaning for me if they make me sick.

If the word “life” means your individual life, then you can answer it even more easily, because even the most isolated hermit relates to someone else now and then, providing a context for life to have meaning for someone else.

The most misleading word is the little word “the” which presupposes that your life has only one meaning. My life has many meanings to many different people, at many different times. The meaning of my life for my wife, or one of our children, is very different than the meaning of my life for the mailman, or for a seminar participant, or a grocery store clerk. Just as many people and things and events have been meaningful to you, you have been meaningful to an enormous number of people over a long period of time.

So a much better question—one that is answerable—is, “How has my life had meaning for others?” The “meaning of your life” is a summation of all the meanings that you have had for all the people you have interacted with throughout your life.

This may seem insignificant in comparison with the supreme transcendental meanings that many religions promise, but it is very real and tangible, and it can sustain you through difficulties. At the end of the Advanced Mastery Training in August I asked participants to close their eyes while I offered them a sort of meditation to make these intellectual ideas into a concrete experience that could make a difference in their lives.

You can download a free MP3 of this guided experience entitled “The Meanings of Your Life” here (right-click to download this 7.35MB file).

“It’s fairly easy to spot wrong answers; it’s often more difficult to spot wrong questions.”

This 6 minute audio clip comes from the Advanced Mastery Training. You can get the whole training here—cheaper than the cost of the training, and without the cost of travel and accommodations, or lost income. For full information on the Advanced Mastery Training, click here.

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