Searching, Searching

With appreciation for this photo:“Kathy, I’m lost, I’m empty and aching and I don’t know why.”  Paul Simon wrote the anthem of young idealists exploring their world, looking for meaning, for fulfillment, for …something.  Many others have written of the awkward search by the young; their search for their place in the world, their search for direction, their search for their futures.

Having once been young, I can attest there were many times…what now seem like vast expanses of time…I expected to find something to make my life complete.  The intensity of the need to find that something diminished over the years, but it never disappeared.

My marriage of more than 33 years provides an anchor and the comfort of knowing I belong someplace, but it alone can’t fully fill that youthful aching for completion.  For awhile, my work helped fill the remaining empty space, or so I thought.  On reflection, I think it simply distracted me from dwelling on the emptiness.

Perhaps distraction is what we’re after.  We’d rather not face the prospect, the terrible sense of unease, that there may not be a broader purpose.  So we distract ourselves with work or children or church or causes.  We get embroiled in politics and battles between cultures.  We fight wars or express righteous indignation against them.  We shuffle and cluck and busy ourselves with lifetimes of struggle against learning what we do not wish to know.

Whether the stages he described are real phases or just conceptual constructs, I suspect Viktor Frankl got much of the core of it right. Man’s Search for Meaning applies not just to prisoners in concentration camps, but to prisoners-of-fear who worry about what we know, or what we don’t.

We’re all prisoners shackled to the here and now.  Most of us ultimately get over the shock of where we find ourselves, but occasionally we run up against bitterness and disappointment and emptiness.  And so we continue the search.

If we’re lucky enough to have found an anchor, whether it be marriage or religion or a combination of many things, we can minimize the void.  But we can never completely erase it.  Yet we keep looking.  We keep hoping.  And maybe that’s what keeps us moving along, shuffling and clucking and struggling against knowing what we don’t wish to know.

About John Swinburn

"Love not what you are but what you may become."― Miguel de Cervantes
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4 Responses to Searching, Searching

  1. Robin, there is such wisdom in those words! We once knew the world and our place in it. We can find it again; “plant lettuce and sing” indeed!

  2. robin andrea says:

    We were out planting lettuce in the garden the other day and I was reminded of this song. I always sing, “Lettuce be lovers we’ll marry our fortunes together…” It makes me laugh. You know me, John, I always think we humans don’t live the way we evolved to live… in small tribes, communities. Our disconnect, that endless searching is for a meaning that has been replaced by politics, god, commercialization. We each are compelled to find it on our own, but there is nothing to find. We once knew the plants, what to eat, how to build. That connected intimacy with the planet has been transformed into an unrecognizable dance with meaningless symbols. I say, plant lettuce and sing!

  3. ‘Tis true, the void awaits us all!

  4. tara says:

    great post, John. For me, it’s about embracing the void, holding it in one hand while holding everything else in the other. The void can be interesting, if we befriend it. Just think of all the souls who have come and gone before us….we all encounter the void.

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