Creating a Meaningful Life
By Amy Betit, M.A
"We make a living by what we get, but we
make a life by what we give." Winston Churchill
Professor Tom Curley's Atlantic University course, Philosophy
of Holistic Education, and my course, Creating a Meaningful
Life, were taught back to back this summer at Atlantic
We participated as learners in each other's course. I was intrigued
by the connections between the creative process as it can be
used to bring more meaning into our lives, and holistic education.
There is considerable interest today in the creative process,
as researchers, psychologists, philosophers, business people,
self-help writers, and educators are all thinking about what
role creativity plays in our lives.
My interest is the use of creativity in everyday living. There
are some simple creative tools and processes that can be used
in creating lives.
Some critical questions need to be asked. What do we mean by
a "meaningful life"? What is meant by creativity?
Are the concepts connected?
Can we actively use the creative process to bring more meaning
into our lives? Psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi has studied
creative individuals in an effort to understand how each of
our lives might be enhanced by creativity.
In his book, Creativity, he proposes that "creativity
is a central source of meaning" and asks "How can
our days, too, be filled with wonder and excitement?"
Viktor Frankl, the author of Man's Search for Meaning,
developed a system of therapy called logotherapy (Logos is a
Greek word for "meaning"). He has this to say about
One should not search for an abstract meaning of life. Everyone
has his own specific vocation or mission in life; everyone must
carry out a concrete assignment that demands fulfillment.
Therein he cannot be replaced, nor can his life be repeated.
Thus, everyone's task is as unique as is his specific opportunity
to implement it.
The question is not "what is the meaning of life?"
but rather "what am I being asked by life?", I believe
we can only answer this question by being fully responsive to
our life as a unique gift and responsibility.
Creativity Is a Choice
In a 1954 paper titled "Toward a Theory of Creativity,"
American psychologist Carl Rogers postulated that creativity
is not operating in a vacuum, but rather is a relational response
to life, "growing out of the uniqueness of the individual
on the one hand, and the materials, events, people, or circumstances
of his life on the other."
This echoes Frankl's idea that to find meaning in life, we
must be in a process of responding to life. Frankl believed
that although we cannot necessarily choose the conditions we
encounter in life, we can choose how to respond to those conditions.
The Cayce readings also speak of choice, the possibility of
choosing that which is constructive in the Creative Forces,
over that which is destructive:
Man has a creative force from the divine, see? Man may mis-apply
that own creative force, then become a destruction to self.
In the Cayce readings, the terms constructive and creative
often appear side by side, and in many of the medical readings
there is emphasis on a constructive, creative attitude in healing
the physical body. Here is a definition of creativity from a
What is good? . . . To do good is to think constructively,
to think creatively. What is creative, what is constructive,
ye may ask? That which never hinders, which never makes for
the bringing of any harm to others. 1206-13
This is creativity in its most fundamental form, something
that is constructive, generative, and productive.
The Wonder of Creativity in Everyday Life
Martin Apelman, in an article in The Best of the A.R.E.
Journal, "Creativity in Everyday Living" defines
creativity as follows:
Creativity, in its broadest sense, is the soul's entering into
events (through attunement) in such ways that the consequences
are other events, each working to fulfill the promise of shared
human existence (service).
Creativity, thus, can be as little as not forgetting to water
a garden or brewing a pot of coffee for an unexpected visitor,
or as big as writing the Declaration of Independence or painting
the Mona Lisa.
This power of everyday creativity as a vehicle for personal
transformation and fulfillment is what particularly interests
A painter friend of mine calls his artistic process "Dancing
with the Creator." This is a useful image for thinking
about a flexible give-and-take between our decisions and choices
in relation to the circumstances presented to us.
How do we use this image to understand the ordinary creative
endeavors such as brewing a pot of coffee, writing a letter,
or growing a garden, and then apply them to those aspects of
our lives which are perhaps more elusive, such as healthier
relationships, purposeful work or a nurturing environment?
The Meaning of Making Spaghetti Sauce
To take an example of something tangible that most of us have
either created or watched being created, first consider the
possible meaning of cooking. It binds families, friends, and
communities together; it is an act of loving kindness and of
service. It nourishes us in physical, emotional, and spiritual
What can we learn from the ingredients and conditions necessary
for making a fine spaghetti sauce? Here is a list of key elements:
- A recognition that the sauce needs to be made
- A constructive attitude and faith that you can indeed cook
- Imagining the ideal sauce
- Desiring the sauce to be made
- Time and focused attention
- Proper tools and cooking pot, stove, spoons, etc.
- Proper skills or directions (recipe)
- Healthful tomatoes, garlic, peppers, herbs, olive oil
- Pleasant physical environment
- Good physical condition of the cook
- Psychological freedom
Optional reading: A 1972 Tufts University student paper that
summarizes seven philosophers', psychologists', and theologians'
interpretations of the problem of meaning in life, can be found
From the External to the Internal
Perhaps there is something less tangible that you wish to create,
that you imagine might bring a deeper sense of meaning into
your life, perhaps patience or harmonious relationships.
You still need the ingredients and conditions above, but translated
to fit what is being created.
To take the example of creating harmonious relationships, the
very first step would be a recognition that this is needed in
your life; next you would need to take a constructive attitude
towards your ability to create these relationships, and actually
imagine yourself interacting in them.
For the fourth ingredient it is very important to know yourself
well, and to be honest with yourself--do you honestly desire
what it is that you say you want to create? Or are you just
as content with life the way it is?
Two of the most overlooked ingredients for creating something
are time and focused attention. In creating harmonious relationships,
this time might be for meditation and prayer, journal writing,
or therapy to better understand yourself.
And the overall process might take some years, rather than
the hours needed to create the spaghetti sauce. The important
thing is that you are focused and devoting time to your endeavor.
Do you have the proper tools and skills? These might be self-awareness,
listening skills or speaking skills. Sometimes we try to create
something without the proper tools, and then we are hampered
I was cooking together with a friend recently, and she said
that she thinks the nitty-gritty food ingredients of the sauce--the
tomatoes, peppers, and herbs--might best be represented in the
case of relationships by attitude, perception, and love. What
might you call the food ingredients?
The next two conditions on the list have to do with the proper
physical environment and physical condition of the cook, or
the person desiring to improve relations with others. Do you
have a nurturing living space, are you well rested and well
By psychological freedom, I mean freedom from negative thought
patterns. In the case of creating relationships, it might mean
freedom from old baggage, and a willingness to be wrong, to
be trusting, open, and vulnerable.
Without the last two on the list, commitment and action, the
garlic would never be peeled, the knife would never slice the
tomatoes, and the sauce would never be ready for eating. Nothing
can be created until we move into action, and persevere in our
Creating a Meaningful Life, the Product of Holistic Education
A common theme in holistic education is a trust that with a
deep honoring and nurturing of all aspects of the learnermind,
body, and spirit-he or she will move naturally towards fulfillment
Many holistic educational systems address the education of
children or young people, but the principles apply to us throughout
life as we continue to grow and learn.
To maintain continued growth as adults, it requires of us that
we set up the conditions for our lives to be creative and constructive.
An artist goes to her studio each day, a fine teacher of children
thinks creatively about bringing out the very best in the children
under his care and tutelage. We need to be equally intentional
in our efforts to unfold ourselves.
To explore visually what might bring meaning into your life
Make a collage
Making a collage bypasses the left-brain, or rational, logical,
functions and takes you directly to the right brain, or intuitive,
functions of the brain.
Gather up magazines that have pictures you like, get out scissors,
glue stick and paper, and begin to cut and paste. For an example
of a collage, go to: