What Makes for a Successful, Purposeful Life?

A while back I ran into someone at a reunion I hadn’t seen him in 20 years. He had been popular in high school, but now had turned to drinking and was clearly unhappy. He came up to me and asked, with drink in hand, “What was it all about anyway?” …meaning life since high school. He was still a good-looking guy, with a successful appearing life, yet he felt empty. What I’ve often noticed is when someone feels empty they try to fill that emptiness with wanting to obtain more….more money, more sex, more recognition, a bigger house, more…. They feel they haven’t got enough, because if they had enough they’d be happy, when in fact the problem is the opposite, they haven’t given enough.

The media often feeds into this concept of material gain being where it’s at. Not to poo poo having goals and meeting them, that is a wonderful thing. But even in the case of trying to show a guy to be a "ruthless bad guy or nasty woman" who has gained via the blood or pain of others, the media more often than not presents his/her world in a way that is slick,sexy and glamorous, as opposed to the seediness or ugliness surrounding it. As a matter of fact, even when they attempt to show seediness, they do it in a visually appealing, sexy way. The fact is, it’s so much easier making a film using this pathetic formula. It’s considerably more challenging showing the layers and the truth, but I challenge filmmakers to do so. Be authentic and take out the glam, show it for what it is.

A powerful thing to make people aware of, through the media, is that to be truly happy you want to become a compassionate, giving person. Stop making the wrong people exciting. I’m not talking just about bringing this awareness into the feel good movies, where that message it what the whole film is about and where there is very little outside story. I’m talking about weaving the complex layers, motivations and the message of what ultimately brings happiness into any story. Showing these layers is easier in a book than on film, but easy isn’t usually in line with best. Meeting this challenge can change the world.

The crux of course is that the filmmaker needs to at least be on their way of possessing some of that wisdom and understanding themselves in order to understand what this even means, and Hollywood is not the atmosphere in which to easily find it. It takes reflection and a life of learning. I see indie filmmakers as the ones creating these powerful stories…though I’d be thrilled wherever the stories come from. The challenging thing is the story needs to get distribution and seen. As indie filmmakers we need to join forces with to make that happen

What does it mean to be a person who contributes? It could be the opposite of what one might think…because I’m not talking about a quick fix of making a donation here and there, while living a primarily self-focused life. It requires a shift in consciousness and the realization that we are connected to each other and every living thing. The dead-locked, tunnel focus on self is what brings misery and dissatisfaction. I say this from experience. It's when we look about and see the billions of lives around us and realize that we are all in this together, that we start connecting and opening our hearts in a different way.

I’ve met people who take the escapism approach to that spiritual connection. The way they want to see it is “We are all one so whatever I do good or bad comes out in the wash…besides there is no good or bad really". They claim that everything is just an illusion, so it doesn’t matter what I do.” That theory, whether you believe the theory or not, was started regarding only the physical aspect (shell) being an illusion, not life itself. What we do to people whether it's their physical shell or what lies beneath matters tremendously. I know people, who claim to be spiritual but research, find books and look for ways to interpret everything in such a way that they can avoid responsibility for any of their actions…in an attempt to avoid pain for themselves at all costs, but of course creating more pain and isolation for themselves in the process. The only illusion is the one they are creating, because they also believe that they’ve never harmed anyone, when in fact they are some of the most harmful people you'll met. It's an act of over-the-top self-protection. For them life is just is an illusion when making subversive choices, creating pain for people who cross their path, and doing harm that sometimes doesn’t show up until years later…but the whole reason they are making the illusion claim is to avoid normal pain we experience throughout life while we learn as we go.

What I've learned as I go, sometimes the hard way, is that life requires courage. The fact that we are all connected does not take away our individual responsibility for our individual actions, it actually increases it. We are individuals who are part of a whole, so there is a ripple effect, meaning our actions affect more people than we are aware of.

Everything is energy: It would be impossible to claim Hitler didn’t commit heinous and evil acts. The Master at the Qigong retreat I attended put it this way when someone asked “All energy is good or neutral, there is no such thing as bad or evil, right?" The Master’s response was that ancient wisdom has it that everything is either form or formless energy, and that this energy starts out neutral yes, that is correct! But what we choose to DO with it, is not neutral…it can be used for good, or as in Hitler’s case, evil, to do harm. This is common wisdom that is part of most faiths and spiritual beliefs since the beginning of time starting with early Shamanism, through Christian, Jewish, Eastern, etc. spirituality. Only recently some of the new age writings (not all…I love much of the writings) are trying to avoid personal responsibility in this way. Without taking personal responsibility …and yes, sometimes feeling lousy about a choice poorly made, you can’t learn and grow. Life here is not an illusion that has no purpose. Our lives have a deep purpose and meaning. The choices we make matter a great deal, creating a domino effect, and our lives can become more exciting when we become conscious of that. Because what is wonderful about taking responsibility for your actions towards others is, it puts the power back in your court. Start doing random acts of kindness, with no expectations for a return. You may or may likely not get a direct return for what you did, but your joy, your quality of life will suddenly explicitly be on the rise.

So in answer to the question posed by my acquaintance from the past… “What was it all about anyway?” It was and is about living life with courage and purpose, about learning to love yourself and others deeply. It’s about learning life’s lessons instead of running from them. It’s about forgiveness, growing and transforming…it’s about opening your, wise, generous, compassionate heart. It’s about connection and knowing we are part of something bigger than we can imagine.

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