I am an American male, 25 years old. I graduated with a Master's degree in Electrical Engineering two years ago, and I have been working in industry (in Los Angeles,      I want to ask these questions: what is the purpose for living? What makes life worthwhile? There are times when I am happy, but it is always temporary and then somehow or another I feel sad. My mother described it best when she said "life is like a wheel," because there are time when I am up, and times when I am down. I am old enough to know that money does not hold happiness, although it will get rid of A LOT of problems. I have found that I can be really happy in possessing something, but it wears out and becomes old after some time. Friendship, companionship, and sex give me happiness also, but people have their defects (including me) and then cracks form in the relationship. It also gets old after a while. It is not perfect.
     It seems like, I am always running around in this life: problems arise, relationships need to be cultivated and worked at, more money is needed, the family is giving me problems, the vacation is over and I need to work tomorrow, the project report is due, I am sick and/or a family member is sick, new technological gadgets need to learned, I need to advance in my career, I need a vacation, when is the weekend?, what am I going to eat?, etc. The list goes on. How can I ever be "at peace"? I ask this because I remember seeing a priest in an empty church, just sitting there. He looked to me to be very much serene and at peace. Is he really, or is he praying about those same worries and anxieties I have? I hope I don't sound too psychotic or nuts. I give my thanks to you in advance.



Dear Romulo,

    Thanks for your letter. I guess there isn't even one person in the world who doesn't know that feeling that you describe: the feeling that everything is passing and nothing gives satisfaction for long. We knew this dissatisfaction as children - perhaps even as babies - and we still know it today. There is an immense literature about this, and all the moods are constantly being explored. The light of the mind is a flickering light, the human heart is restless, everything is impermanent. The other creatures we share this planet with are content to go along just as their remote ancestors did, never changing; or changing only minimally. Yet they pass away, of course. Everything is passing. The difference is that we know it and think about it, while the other creatures don't appear to. What are we to make of it? How do you like being a human being? When I was a child I used to try to imagine what it would be like to be a dog or a bird or a fish, and wonder why I was me and not one of these. Human beings have the ability to imagine themselves into every creature in the world. Aristotle went further. "The human soul," he said, "IS, after a fashion, everything." Someone said that the being of an animal is something perfect and complete like a circle, but a human being is like a circle with a gap in the circumference. Through that gap, all of reality can go in and out. It is the chink that leaves us open to infinity. The spiritual quest, the search for God, happens at that critical place. So, in experiencing the passing nature of everything and the dissatisfaction that follows every satisfaction, you yourself are already involved in that search.     
     "Boredom is the beginning of wisdom!" a wise man said to me once. He meant that unless I go through the psychological wall of boredom I will be forever running after this and that and unable to give myself to anything. Marathon runners often go through a psychological wall after about 20 miles, I'm told, when they are strongly tempted to give up. If they keep going, however, they get new wind to complete the race. The spiritual search is similar in that respect. Don't give up when you hit the wall!
     I'm sure you've noticed that while we are eating our dinner or doing anything we thoroughly enjoy, we seldom if ever ask questions like "What's the meaning of all this?" It's only when the pleasure has passed that we ask such questions. The temptation then is to keep packing ourselves with pleasurable experiences so that we will never face the meaning of our life. But that's an exhausting programme, as you have discovered.
     The alternative is meditation, where we regularly sit and allow reality - and even the source of reality, God - to reveal itself to us. Call it facing the wall of boredom, or call it facing reality, or call it facing God. It can be all of these things. That priest whom you saw in church may indeed have been deeply immersed in the mystery of God. But unless he was a saint or a mystic, he also had moments when he was distracted by clouds of thoughts. Human consciousness is nearly always flickering, like a candle. Why not try and find him and ask him what he was doing there?! There are a great many websites that offer detailed instructions and encouragement to meditators. Good luck, Romulo! We'll meet along the way!


Donagh O'Shea

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