In Search of Meaning

Are you a prisoner of your thoughts?

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The ancient Greek philosopher, Heraclitus, who was a contemporary of Confucius, Lao Tsu, and the Buddha, is reported to have said that “you can never walk though the same river twice.” More accurately, the English translation from the Greek goes thus: “The river where you set your foot just now is gone — those waters giving way to this, now this.” Put simply, Heraclitus is telling us that we live in an ever-changing world, one that is filled with the ebbs and flows of life, of life energy. He’s also advising us that, as the river (of life) changes, it’s in the past, so let it go and move on! The “new” river offers water that is filled with unlimited possibilities and untapped potential, so be prepared to go with the flow! This is great advice for the New Year, don’t you think?

Against this life-affirming backdrop, Heraclitus also said, “The sun is new each day.” Now think about this simple-sounding statement for a moment, again especially as we all begin the New Year. Each new day represents a window of new opportunities, new adventures, and new life experiences! It’s up to us, each and every one of us, however, to decide whether we want to step out into the light of the new day sun or hide in the sun’s shadows and act as if “life just happens to us.” Yes, it’s our choice! And, remember, the world around us is going to change whatever we may decide (or not decide), whether we like it or not. Indeed, there is another saying that goes like this: “If you want things to stay the same, then something is going to have to change!” Thank you, Heraclitus, for your ageless wisdom.

Another “philosopher” for our times (although he is not Greek!), is Phil Jackson, widely considered to be one of the greatest coaches in the history of the National Basketball Association (NBA). In his book Sacred Hoops, Jackson cautions us to remember that the best way to realize our dreams is to wake up! In other words, our best days, our best years, and our best life can and will be more than just dreams if we “wake up” and take action (that is, not simply “decide” to do something, but actually do it!). Now isn’t this also great advice? Heraclitus couldn’t have said it any better.

So let’s continue this line of reasoning a bit further. To paraphrase our mentor, the world-renown psychiatrist and existential philosopher, Viktor Frankl, each person should not ask what the meaning of her or his life is, but, instead, should recognize that it is s/he who is being asked. Put differently, each person is continuously being questioned by life; and s/he can only answer to life by answering for her or his own life.

All that is good and beautiful in the past is safely preserved in that past. On the other hand, so long as life remains, all guilt and evil are still “redeemable”…this is not the case of a finished film… or an already existent film which is merely being unrolled. Rather, the film of this world is just being “shot.” Which means nothing more or less than that the future — happily — still remains to be shaped; that is, it is at the disposal of man’s responsibility. — Viktor E. Frankl

So what do you want to do with your life, including your work life? Are you willing to step out into the sun’s light and make each new day the “best ever” by taking advantage of what it has to offer you, as well as what you have to offer it? No matter how hard you try, you can rest assured, according to Heraclitus, that you really won’t walk through the same river twice. So take that step. It’s a new day. It’s your best day ever! And guess what? When you get used to thinking, believing, and acting in this way, you’ll find that there are even better days to come! In fact, by not holding yourself a “prisoner of your thoughts,” you can now look forward to your best year ever, both in your personal and in your work life!

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Dr. Alex Pattakos and Elaine Dundon, are co-authors of two international best-selling books on Meaning, Prisoners of Our Thoughts: Viktor Frankl’s Principles for Discovering Meaning in Life and Work and The OPA! Way: Finding Joy & Meaning in Everyday Life & Work, as well as are co-founders of the Global Meaning Institute and co-creators of MEANINGology, the study and practice of meaning in life, work, and society.