Cultivating a Life of Meaning – Carol Jacobs (Words for the Journey, June 2017)

Cultivating a Life of Meaning

February 2017  |  by Carol Jacobs


What do we mean by cultivating a life of meaning? Here are some definitions of cultivating:

Dictionary definitions:

  1. Prepare and use (land)
  2. Tend to ; acquiring or developing.
  3. A level of care that is reminiscent of gardening.
  4. Foster the growth of
  5. To develop

If we use the metaphor of a garden as we think about cultivating a life of meaning, we know these things:

  1. Each garden is unique – and…….so are our lives.
  2. Each gardener is unique – and………so are we each individually.
  3. There is no one template to receive a desired outcome – either for our gardens nor for our lives.

GOOD NEWS/BAD NEWS!!!!  No one can give us the answers – we must ask the questions and allow the answers to arise.  That is, we must surrender our ego stance and allow the soul or………as Marion Woodman would state it, we must allow our bodysouls to give us the guidance.

This suggests then, that as we tend to our own garden, our own “meaning” for each of our individual lives, we are and will be, challenged to “Pay Attention”. How do we do that? Rumi suggest this in his poem, “The Guest House.”  


“This being human is a guest house.

Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,

…..Welcome and entertain them all……

Be grateful for whoever comes,

Because each has been sent

As a guide from beyond.”


I think of this as surrendering to the reality of what “is”. Life consists of birth, death, rebirth – a cycling.  Doors close and doors open – loved ones die; fate happens and there are a myriad of happenings; as Rumi says – “Every morning a new arrival.”  And the question is “How do we live into life and cultivate meaning?

On a personal note, one of the triggers or awakenings for me was being in grad school, studying the developmental stages as laid out by Erik Erikson, a developmental psychologist who lived between 1902- 1994. He was known for his work on the psychosocial development of human beings.  He sees 7 stages of development in humans. The ones that caught my attention were Trust vs. Mistrust and Integrity vs. Despair.  The first is the beginning of life – birth to 18 months, and the last is the end of life.  These are the 2 that grabbed my attention. The stronger one was the “Integrity vs. Despair” stage. This floated, probably, between consciousness and the unconscious – it would arise from time to time but rather in a floating way probably.  Grad school was a “call and response” – not arriving at a convenient time – we had 4 children, and ,I would need to drive from Fairfax County into D.C. to Catholic University.  I was close to terror !!!! Directions and getting lost were two enormous fears for me.  Grad school opened me, even though unknowingly at the time, to the realization that I would be tending to my inner world and my place in the universe for the remainder of my life – cultivating a life of meaning.

Here is Mary Oliver:


“When it’s over, I want to say that all my life

I was a bride married to amazement.

I was the bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.

When it’s over, I don’t want to wonder

If I have made of my life something particular,

And real.

So……… do we cultivate a meaningful life?  How do we cultivate a life of meaning?


10 year ago, Nancy Millner, the founder of our beloved Chrysalis Institute, died suddenly of a cerebral  hemorrhage. She was a dear friend of mine – and of many of us.  I am sure she would have been involved in this Spiritual Path program. We are here because she cared so deeply about cultivating lives of meaning.

I’m thinking about Nancy because following her memorial service and my returning to my home, I sat down on the stone hearth in front of the fireplace.  Sitting there quietly, I heard these words: “PAY ATTENTION!”  They weren’t harsh words; they didn’t feel threatening.  I took them and take them as a reminder that life is finite and that how I choose to live my life matters deeply, with the deep mystery that is life and with no definitive answers or templates.

I want to say that cultivating a life of meaning requires intention and preparation; tending and developing; listening and watching; and responding to the call  – the callings – the soul’s communication – the bodysoul communication that is available to us.

Cultivating a life of meaning to me means finding my own practices of listening and responding – my practices include my work as a psychotherapist, dreamwork, poetry, teaching, and my music.  

When I was in Kosovo – a time of great joy and fear, I experienced God’s hand on my head at a particularly frightening and vulnerable time. Here were the words – “You are sufficient unto yourself. You are enough.”  I carry this as my mantra when I’m anxious. And………….I can take it as a collective understanding.  We are sufficient unto ourselves – we are enough.

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