How many of us reach our later years or are approaching end of life with unfulfilled dreams? I suspect there are many of us. Why? We grew up in times when there wasn’t any extra money or the opportunities to explore those hidden yearnings.
Now, we are in an age where there are courses and groups exploring and sharing their knowledge on innumerable subjects, arts, crafts, books, sports, etc. Most of these opportunities are not expensive, especially at the local community level, and now we have more free time.
It is easier for people with strong desires, independent natures and strong wills to find ways to explore their dreams. Many of us were restricted by parents struggling to make ends meet and provide for the family’s necessities. Dancing, gymnastics, art classes, hockey and more were out of the question for most families not so long ago.
Some parents sacrificed to enable children to take a sport or learn some activity that they would dearly love to have done themselves.
Now that many of us are older we regret that we were not more courageous or adventurous in seeking out ways to fulfill our dreams. We often sacrificed ourselves to satisfy others and their expectations of us.
So before we get any older, any stiffer or less able, let us look at what we can do to explore our real selves, and put aside the life others expected of us. Those dreams are often the keys to talents, ideas or activities that are our special gifts to this world, gifts that are part of our uniqueness and that give meaning to our lives.
What is important to us as we grow older? The satisfaction of doing well activities which give us pleasure, such as ballroom dancing, painting, woodwork or woodcarving, acting on stage, reading for long periods, learning about herbs, healing weaving, cooking, photography, travelling, etc. Sometimes those dreams are still available to us.
Fortunately, there are many courses and groups which have sprouted up through community colleges, sports and recreational centres, churches and individuals wishing to share their talents. It is worth while asking around at the local chamber of commerce, school board, college, recreational centre, churches and Therapeutic Activity Program for Seniors (TAPS), as well as the Internet.
The satisfaction of learning and sharing the pleasure of enjoyable pursuits is so important to our mental and physical health and the social interaction has many benefits. Pleasure and satisfaction take us away from thinking about our pains and worries and make each day glow with greater meaning. We begin to know more about who we are and what we can contribute and share with others.
To find meaning in our existence is vital to our deeper happiness and health. Viktor Frankl, an Austrian psychologist, talks much about this aspect of his study in the Auschwitz death camps. The prisoners only remained alive in those terrible circumstances by finding meaning in their existence. This could mean waiting to see their growing children, getting even with the guards or coping with their prison situation. Frankl talks about how he watched prisoners who had given up because they could find no meaning in their existence.
We see such tremendous courage and determination in some of the war-torn countries where parents struggle to keep going for the sake of their children, to reach a more desirable place, to give them a better life.
When we take away a person’s identity, their family connections, their self-value or if they lose these in war or other disaster, they need to find new meaning in their life. Without this, we cannot function at optimal levels, our health declines and we deteriorate mentally and physically.
We all need to leave this Earth feeling that we have had a useful life, that we have made a difference to family and others around us. So let us give ourselves the gift of meaning, by exploring who we really are. We may well be surprised at how our life impacts those around us, and influences them, often in ways we cannot imagine.
Christine Munkerud is a longtime volunteer in Creston.