One thing among many

Contemplating our place in the universe and how we find meaning in our lives.

In his latest newsletter, Luke Leighfield shared a piece of writing by Parker J. Palmer on the On Being blog titled The Big Question: Does My Life Have Meaning? It’s a beautiful meditation on our deep seated desire to feel as if we have made a difference with our lives, and the realisation that it is something that we have no control over. I’ve found this particular passage both moving and reassuring:

“I often don’t and can’t know — let alone control — the meaning of my life. All that’s in my power are my own intentions and my willingness to give myself to them.

“I’m not the sun at the center of anyone’s solar system! If I put myself there with the insistence that my life have a special meaning of some sort, I’ll die in despair, or delusion. Peace comes when I understand that I am ‘only one thing among many,'”

It chimes with my understanding of the Stoic concept of sympatheia, which asks us to remember the bigger picture, our “connectedness with the cosmos” or mutual interdependence.

Here’s a quote from one of the daily emails I received during the Stoic challenge I took part in last year. On this day we were asked to spend 15 minutes at the end of the day looking up at the stars:

“Look up into infinity, and let go of the day passed. Relish the 15 minutes of stillness. Welcome and appreciate feeling so small in a universe so vast. Fathom the unfathomable, unthinkable odds of receiving life. Remember the unquantifiable shortness of life. And do it all with a sense of perspective. Ask yourself, in that light, ‘What’s really most important?’

“Suddenly, our ego, our problems, our self-centered ambitions, imagined fears, and groundless anxieties appear like the distant stars you have just ogled up above: mere speckles on a dark canvas of boundless immensity. You are not alone. We all wrestle with our own version of the same insecurities, just as tonight, we all look up at the same sky. This is sympatheia.”

I repeat this activity regularly and it never fails to put my life and its challenges into context. Why don’t you try it tonight?

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