"Who am I? What is the meaning of my life?" When I ask this kind of question, only one person can respond. Only one person has the elements needed to undertake such a search. That person is the very same one who asked the question. The necessary elements for beginning the search lie within myself—my mind, emotions and body. In other words, all the elements one requires to embark upon a spiritual quest exist within the person at the very moment he or she asks the question about meaning.
Mind, emotions and body can be directed and become useful tools in the search for meaning. I can thus learn how to move from the surface of life—where society, circumstances, family or peer group may dictate my thoughts and actions—to thinking, acting and looking at myself from an inner point of view.
The spiritual search for meaning in life is not like a research project in which one is expected to digest reams of information and draw conclusions based upon facts presented and interpreted by others. The yearning for meaning involves research within my own life. Research into how my mind works, what stimulates it to think in certain ways, what automatic mental response mechanisms exist, what ways my mind can assist in my search for meaning. The same research needs to be done with my emotions and with my body. The questioner's life is the laboratory in which the answer is sought. This quest within my life gradually takes me to the center of my being, to the discovery of an inner spiritual world, an unknown world to me.
Guidance in the search for meaning is indispensable. If one is not to fall into subjectivity, the seeker needs the help of someone who has more experience in the path of meaning. Thus finding a good spiritual director is essential.
How does the search begin? It begins when a person sincerely asks, "What is the meaning of my life?" and resolves to spend his or her life in pursuit of the answer. The second step is to undertake a program of spiritual exercises that assist in the search. These may consist of spending moments of quiet and recollection during which one withdraws from normal daily activities and habitual ways of thinking and feeling for a few minutes. One uses this time to reflect upon particular aspects of one's life and upon the direction in which one wishes to proceed. Meditation becomes a very important exercise.
However, exercises alone do not lead a person toward an inner spiritual awareness. Without a love of the search itself and a love of the possibilities within that await discovery, the quest could become a personal one. To be purely spiritual, one needs love. Love nurtures inner life, fosters attention and care in the practice of spiritual exercises and helps one persevere in the search when the way ahead seems dark. Love is a companion in a work done alone in the intimacy of each person's heart, mind and soul.
Reprinted from Living Consciously.