The Interplay of Intention and Meaningfulness

April 30, 2014

The Interplay of Intention and Meaningfulness

by Sue Chehrenegar


As a rule, someone who hopes to inject more meaning into an otherwise ordinary life does not aim to become self-involved. Yet one author, Barbara Ehrenreich, had to put-aside that avoidance of seeming self-involvement, because she decided to use the contents of an old journal as the basis for a book. When speaking with David Ulin, a book critic for the Los Angeles Times, she explained that journal was proof that by the age of 17, she had formed a sense that there was some sort of intention behind what was taking-place within the world.


In most of her earlier works, Ehrenreich has dealt with issues that concern the here and now, the material world. However, when she wrote about the contents of her old journal, she had to seek answers to an anomaly. As Ehrenreich re-read the entries in her journal, she recalled feeling filled with something that she could not explain. She remembered having the sense that she was confronting something that was unseen, yet alive. At that point, she wanted to view that certain something more closely, but she did not know how to accomplish that feat.


That feeling did not persist, and eventually that young journal-writer tried to resume her former life, as though nothing had happened. Still, she could not shake the perception that she had experienced earlier. She found herself questioning the meaningfulness of day-to-day chores. She had become more aware of their lack of meaning, if such jobs are not done by someone with the best intentions.


Indeed, even the smallest job can be used to perfect a virtue. That observation has not been stated in one of Ehrenreich’s books; rather it was noted by the leader of a religion, a man who once visited the United States. One day, when he was sweeping the entrance to a shrine, someone asked him what he was doing. This was his answer: I am practicing patience.


The man who made that statement had grown-up surrounded by adults who held a strong and undying belief in a Creator. That same environment did not exist in Barbara Ehrenreich’s home, when she was a teenager. Both of her parents were atheists. Hence, when she got to the stage in life where she felt compelled to ask questions, she had trouble finding anyone who could help her to find some answers.


Fortunately, she chose to become a reporter, someone who has been trained to ask questions. In that way, she managed to uncover the sort of guidance that she had been seeking. In fact, her choice of career may now help others who are trying to lead a more meaningful life.


The thoughts presented in Ehrenreich’s journal could not have been analyzed and summarized in the format of a book, if that young journal-writer had not elected to become a reporter. As a reporter, she saw each of the journal’s pages as being something that must be shared with others. Her commitment to reporting on the journal’s contents freed her from any guilt that she might feel, because she had become so self-involved. She viewed her personal musings as a source of questions, rather than as the disclosure of a mystical experience.


That approach allowed her to overcome a major hurdle, one that slowed her initial progress on her planned book/memoir. At first, she struggled to put-into-words an experience that looked very much like one that would be of interest to mystics, the experience that she had been forced to deal with , while just a teenager. Eventually, though, she managed to formulate questions from the notes that she herself had written years earlier.


By using those questions, she could put-together a book, one that other young people might use as a guide, while trying to inject more meaning into their lives. She encouraged them to have a very practical approach to discovery of something that seemed to have come from a mystical realm. She encouraged them to seek-out the identity of the thing/spirit that had come into their lives, and then to report back to others on those findings.

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