Finding Fulfillment in an Unconventional Life

Note: the following was written for a writing group session that occurred Saturday, 4/12. Our common topic was, “What’s Stopping Me?”

I have three friends whom I truly admire – all three have Ph.D.’s and have been Professors, one in Engineering, one in Physics and the third in Chemistry. Two have died and the remaining one is retired. One of the ones who passed away died several years ago after a stunning career in Engineering. Last night I went to a College Awards Banquet where he posthumously received the Lifetime Achievement Award – a truly significant and deserved award from the University of Cincinnati College of Engineering. He was the founder of SDRC where I worked 29 years. The other one who passed away would have celebrated his 80th birthday later this month. Pat and I attended his memorial service a couple of weeks ago. His students and colleagues spoke highly of his love for his work, his accomplishments, and his close relationships with his colleagues and others. The third person, though retired from his professorship, travels all over the world giving lectures on the topics he truly enjoys – all related to his research in physics.

All three have been extraordinarily focused on what they have achieved – and have been thus focused since they were teenagers. All three have been inspired by and passionate about their respective fields. All three have inspired others – other scientists and especially their students and colleagues in business. All three have been fun to be with. All three have had solid marriages. As Joseph Campbell would say, all three found and followed their bliss.  In the process, all three have offered a great service to humankind.

So what has stopped me from such focus, such clarity of purpose, and offering my best of service to the planet in my chosen field? Even my marriage was a broken experience.

Or has anything stopped me? Have I too, unconsciously perhaps, also had focus, clarity of purpose, and, in the process of passionately pursuing my interests, offered my best service to the planet? Would that not be nice to know, something to enjoy and feel good about! So what stops me?

First I see that I have been passionate about many diverse fields of interest: cosmology, theology, spirituality, science, sexuality, religion, intimacy, psychology, and the like – a pretty broad swath across the rainbow of possible fields of interest and more like a smorgasbord of life experiences rather than a basis for single-focused life.

Second, beyond this breadth of interests, often I would get sidetracked from these passions by getting involved in administrative and leadership matters in the organizations to which I belonged – of course my passion would play out here as well, but from my core I see that organizational leadership and administration were off-center and not me. And I notice that the three men I introduced above did not get involved in organizational leadership and administrative matters but rather stayed with the fields they so loved and left the organizational issues to others, or at least did not make them dominate their lives the way I did. So my recent finally letting go of all administrative roles has been in the right direction!

Thirdly, I see that the three men I so admire focused on a subset of what has interested me, and brilliant as they have been in their fields, my fields seemed broader, wrestling constantly with the purpose and meaning of life itself. There was no unifying principle that was big enough or broad enough for my life. How was I to combine spirituality, science, religion, and sexuality, for example!

A fourth issue has been the central role of sexuality and intimacy in my life. To the disservice of my ex-wife, I got into a marriage that did not work for me. Working out of this preoccupied many years of my life, and still Pat and I wrestle with the meaning of intimacy, sexuality, and states of unity.

In the past few weeks I have been drawn to a number of influences to help me get a perspective on my smorgasbord of life. First has been an 18-hour program from the Great Courses Series titled Sacred Texts of the World taught by Grant Hardy. This is a truly balanced and inspiring presentation of the sacred texts of the great religions of the world. He covers Hinduism, Buddhism, Confucianism, Judaism, Christianity, Islam, and a number of smaller religions such as Mormonism. He speaks about the various ways followers of these religions hold, interpret, and use their sacred texts. His presentations have taken my breath away. I even found myself seeing how I relate to the Pathwork writings. His work has been inspiring and very helpful to my wrestling in matters of the meaning of life. And yes a very broad swath across all the religions of the world. It is sobering to know what I shall never know as it relates to meaning and purpose of life that is central to each of these religions.

A second influence is a book just released by Rebecca Goldstein titled Plato at the Googleplex: Why Philosophy Won’t Go Away. I have just ordered the audio of this book on the basis of a review’s last comment, quoting the book’s quote from Plato: “We should never rest assured that our view, no matter how well argued and reasoned, amounts to the final word on any matter.” Obvious? Of course, but a point I have gotten away from in thinking I could master the meaning of life from my mere state of humanity!

A third influence has to do with sexuality, Eros, love, and spirituality. Pathwork delves into the importance of integrating these four aspects of life on earth. Sage, one of our couple’s counselors, is also Pathwork leader. Sage leads a group of advanced Pathwork leaders in a multi-year course on evil and sex. She has gotten me deeply into the Pathwork lectures on this topic, and I bring this into Pat’s and my relationship as we evolve our intimacy and unity. Pat and I are overwhelmed by the bottomless depth possible in this exciting exploration. We feel like we are in kindergarten being taught by college professors. This, too, has been humbling when it comes to meaning of life issues!

Finally, Sage, seeing how I work so diligently with the Pathwork lectures, dubbed me Happy Monk Gary – “he who thrills at pouring over the ancient texts to extract their meaning.” Yes, this title fits me!

So when I stand back from this all, I see that perhaps I am a philosopher at heart, but one who is an amateur and not really smart enough to take in all that would be required to make philosophy my career. I do not see myself teaching or writing books or articles on philosophy, but what is helpful is to see that following the path of any one of my three “heroes” and having a focused career in science, engineering, or business just would not have been me. And staying in a Norman Rockwell marriage that was not working for me would not have been meaningful either. And finally becoming a Lutheran pastor, which, frighteningly, I honestly seriously considered in my mid-forties, would have been a disaster. So thankfully I have broken away from focuses that would not work for me.

So my question in all of this becomes not what keeps me from pursuing my bliss but rather what stops me from truly enjoying and appreciating the bliss that I have, unconventional though it is? I say I thrill at the Mystery of Life on the one hand, and then on the other hand miss the oxymoronic notion that I, as a merely and utterly limited human being, must know and fully understand the Divine Mystery rather than simply come to experience it in whatever capacity I can. I’m now letting go of this need to Know and jumping into the abyss of life as it is. Here’s to a wild, scary, thrilling ride in whatever time I have left in this smorgasbord life of mine!

Shared in love, Gary, the Happy (and not celibate) Monk