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In Search of Signs of Life

Natural beauty occurs everywhere around us. It abounds with signs of life.
Natural beauty occurs everywhere around us. It abounds with signs of life.
Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images

Have you ever noticed aches and pains, like back or neck pain, or other physical symptoms such as a cough or a stuffy nose, or even an irritated state of mind on a Sunday before returning to work on a Monday? Do you ever think of this as your body talking to you? This is your body expressing your own unacknowledged resistance. If you have had these experiences, then you should know that you are far from alone!

One of the most important relationships we have throughout our lives is the one we have with the 'vehicle' we rely on to experience life. And how we feel in and about our bodies determines to a large degree how we deal with everything that comes into our life adventure - the good, the bad, and what's in between. The body and the psyche both are sources of information to each person if we pay attention and listen.

Very few people make it through their lives without going through difficulties, challenges, hardships, or even trauma. For many people these types of incidents change the way they deal with and approach their lives. Some people have these experiences, and they overcome them, resulting in a life that is less than its promise and potential. Other people have these experiences, they get help, and then move in a direction that helps them heal, but not forget. These people can still have rich and rewarding lives.

What makes the difference? There are many variables that contribute to the answer. But today, let's look at one of the biggest. What we're really talking about is how do people cope with FEAR. What fear does far too well is undermine our sense of safety, without which we can't live our lives. While re-building a sense of safety is possible, it is a slow process. And what do people hang on to while re-building their safety and even, sometimes, their identity?

More than 30 years ago, I worked at a health care association in Chicago. During my years there, I had a good friend, and we used to have spiritual discussions over lunch. We were looking for a deeper meaning to our own lives. But we also knew our discussions would not be well-received by other people working there, so we also kept the office door closed and whispered!

Long before anyone wrote books with the title, I said to my friend that when I looked at how other people lived their lives, I felt I was really looking for "signs of life" in them. What I meant by that was that I wanted to find people who looked at their lives through a spiritual lens. I was in my mid-20's and already knew that there was something more real than the day-to-day work of companies, institutions, and other organizations. This is not meant to minimize, in any way, the work done or contributions made by any of those businesses or people who did the work in them. I just knew there was something more real.

There is a song from Leonard Cohen, the great bard of poetry and music, called Anthem. In this song, there is a line that says it all - in metaphor... "There is a crack, a crack, in everything, that's how the light gets in..." What I believe he is saying, is that underneath the surface of day-to-day life there is something more real. What that something is has many names, and many reactions to all of those names.

I want to share some brief descriptions of just a few people who showed signs of life. Many details will be omitted so that no one will be identifiable.

There's Frances, she ran a vegetarian cafe inside a health food shop. She taught me how to be a vegetarian. I would watch her cook as I imitated a sponge, and listen to her talk about her life. She was always afraid that she wouldn't get a chance to do something "big" in her life. Frances was a follower of a Hindu guru and believed in the spiritual tenets of many religions and spiritual belief systems. We became good friends, and went to talks given by the Hindu guru. One day, Frances was talking again about wanting to do more to help people. I asked her why she didn't think she was already doing something big? She cooked wonderful food for people day after day, and listened to and encouraged them with her own wisdom, humor, and no small amount of love. She poured love into every dish and every person who came to her cafe.

Then there's Harold, who's married to Frances, and ran the health food shop that housed her cafe. Harold used to be a pharmacist. He left a good paying job to gamble on opening the store. He studied and learned about homeopathy, then offered vitamins and other natural products in the store. When I asked him why, he said he didn't want to keep giving people drugs. He wanted them to be more empowered to use natural products to improve their health and lives.

Meet Liz. She was from Boston, accent and all. She taught everyone about God. Whether you came to her for an astrology reading, a tarot reading, or a palm reading, she taught God. She had a faith that was more powerful than any priest, pastor, or rabbi I'd ever heard. She respected all faiths, and believed that all who came to her were there for a reason - and they were meant to be there. In many ways she saved my life. I suspect she saved many lives. Hers ended young because she couldn't give up smoking cigarettes. But she would have said she was ready to go home.

So today happens to be Sunday. Feeling any aches or pains? Thinking already about "having" to go to work tomorrow? There are many reasons to work - some good, some not so good. You know why you go. The power comes in HOW you face it. Sometimes it helps to remember Shakespeare's quote about how the world is but a stage, and all of us actors upon it... Similar metaphor to Leonard Cohen's - to remember that there is something more real that can help each person face the next challenge with more hope, perspective, and even humor... You also might start looking for other people with signs of life. No surprise here - they are everywhere!

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