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Monday, March 4, 2024
The Observer

Life well lived

I was visiting a Moreau class last week to talk about my research when the instructor posed a difficult question: What makes life well-lived? I was stumped. So many things make life good and beautiful. Friendship, family, fulfillment. How do they all fit together? 

On the spot, I gave two answers. First, I said that a life well-lived would be one after which a person would look back upon their life and say, “I did the best I could.” Dissatisfied with a posthumous answer and wanting to provide the first-years with a concrete idea, I said that the ultimate mark of a life well-lived is love. 

In this essay, I would like to elaborate on the principle of love and provide some ideas and suggestions for how to live a life of love.

A loving life is a good life. Love forges meaningful relationships. We love our family, our friends and our communities. This bonds us with other people and gives us a sense of purpose. Love leads to transformation and transcendence of the self. By loving others, we escape the bounds of the ego and live a different way of life. Finally, love radiates peace, joy, faith and hope. When we abide in love, though it may not always be easy, it will always be worth it.

When I say love, I do not mean the mere experience of passionate, infatuating emotions. Nor do I mean only romantic love. Love is not an emotion, but an action, a way of being, an infinite and universal power that undergirds existence, sustaining and connecting all of us in one web of humanity.

Love is an act of the will. To love, according to St. Thomas Aquinas, is to will the good of the other for their own sake. When we love, we want the person or people we are loving to flourish and increase in well-being. 

This kind of love, however, requires a radical redirection. It shifts the focus of our thoughts and actions away from our self-serving desires and toward the goodness of our fellow human beings. Instead of saying, “Iwant to do what makes me happy,” we say, “I want to do what makes you happy.” Instead of egocentric, true love is other-centric. It calls us to sacrifice ourselves for the sake of others.

I am aware that this description of love goes against the grain of modern, utilitarian, self-serving conceptions of love. But how are those modern ideas of love and happiness working out? We have the means to satisfy our desires, but are we happy? Research says that, in general, our societies are unhappy. Indeed, happiness does not stem from satisfaction — it comes from connection. 

Modern love seeks to satisfy egocentric desires, but this eternal, radical love seeks to connect human beings in other-centric relationships. True love joins us together, and it does so for all people. 

So, how do we go about living a life of love? How can we live up to the commandment to “love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind … [and to] love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:37-38).

I appreciate the insight from clinical psychologist Helen Schucman, who said that “your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it” (“A Course in Miracles,” p. 338).

Allow me to suggest two values that can help us find and remove those barriers to love: mercy and wonder. First, our love should be merciful. The sun shines on both the good and the bad. Our love should likewise be unconditional. We should love with mercy, even when it feels hard.  Our love should also be curious. We should seek to understand, and we should not assume. We should listen to others and love without hesitation, without judgment, always willing the good of that person.

Seek to “do everything in love” (1 Corinthians 16:14). Let love be your teacher. Desire the good of the other. Might I suggest two concrete steps to practice this love?

Meditate

Try a 10-minute mindfulness meditation. Allow yourself to find a comfortable position. Anchor your awareness to the breath. Pay attention to the rising and falling of your chest or abdomen. Feel the coolness of the air as you inhale and the warmth as you exhale. Now, as you focus on the breath, thoughts, images, emotions and other sensations will invariably arise. Pay attention to what comes up with non-judgmental curiosity. That is, be merciful to yourself and wonder about the contents of your consciousness. The point of this meditation is not primarily to feel more at peace (though that may happen), but rather to become more in tune with the patterns of your mind and heart. Try meditating every day and see what happens.

Give

Try to give some part of yourself (time, money, talent, etc.) to another person to make them better off. This could be listening (without judging) to a friend, donating to a charity or volunteering. The point is that you do something not for yourself, but for another. Paradoxically, as you give yourself away, you may become more fulfilled. As you pour out your love on others, love will continue to fill you up. Try bringing a smile to someone’s face and see how that feels.

Many of us here at Notre Dame want to do something or give something up for Lent. Try love. Try the eternal love that connects and sustains. Try the radical love that offers up the gift of sacrifice. This is the love of God. When we love others as God loves us, we love absolutely and unconditionally. When we love this way, we transcend the limited self and participate in the infinite divine. When we love like this, then we are happy.

Joey Jegier is a senior at Notre Dame studying philosophy, ESS and German. He enjoys coffee, conversation and taking time to be still (when possible). Areas of interests include mysticism, education and discernment. Joey loves the city of South Bend and regularly visits the farmers market, his only source of milk and eggs. He would love to chat about anything and can be reached at jjegier2@nd.edu.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.