If the world has ever attempted to lasso your soul and pull you into a pit of nihilistic hopelessness, consider this a memo from the universe zapping you with an electrical current of meaning.
There is an inextinguishable significance to your life. Yes, specifically YOUR life. This significance does not exist purely because you wish it into existence. It is not a matter of make-believe. It is real and there are timeless reasons for it.
My hope is that reading this will plant the seeds to help you feel your significance in your bones. That it might burn so vividly that others can see it shining in your eyes. And, who knows, they might even catch a glimpse of their own significance reflected in your gaze.
1. You are loved.
“The way we are seen and understood by others is different from the way we see and understand ourselves. We will never fully know the significance of our presence in the lives of our friends. That’s a grace, a grace that calls us not only to humility, but to a deep trust in those who love us.”
— Henri Nouwen
Every human is loved.
We might not believe that we are but that does not eliminate the existence of this love. The people in our lives might not be skilled in displaying their affection but it still lives in a subterranean current flowing through your interactions with them, underneath the years of conditioning that has hardened their expression. It is there.
And if you still claim that you are not loved, remember that there are human beings who can, in a single encounter, find a depth of kinship and empathy for shared pain. They can walk away from an interaction with love in their hearts for a random passerby on a someday lost to the pages of a calendar. You’ve had these encounters in your life even if your memory betrays you.
And dear reader, if you are sitting somewhere feeling unloved, my heart goes out to you. I might not know a single detail about your life but I don’t need to know to feel for you. If you’re in that place, I’m sending you my love.
The thing is, you almost certainly do not have an accurate accounting of all the love in your life but the numbers don’t need to add up for the love to be there. You are loved. And this love changes people…
2. You are helpful.
“Our prime purpose in this life is to help others. And if you can’t help them, at least don’t hurt them.”
— Dali Lama
A mother giving birth to a magnificent miracle shaped like a fragile fledgling can be the portal that opens a tsunami of love. This can change a person’s entire world. And of course, the mother does her best to help the child. But the exchange of help moves in both directions. The child, inadvertently at first, helps the mother, by teaching her how to love in ways she’s never needed to before.
You are this child and your existence has and continues to automatically contribute to the learning and growth of the people around you. Not because you’re dishing out sage wisdom but because you’re contributing to the events unfolding in their experience. This helps them grow.
As you’ve grown from a tiny human into something resembling an adult, the tide of those in need has not receded. In turn, the scope of your helpfulness has expanded. You might not think of it as helpfulness but you’re showing up in their lives and advancing the plot. The interplay that occurs supports them along their path.
3. You are a main character.
“Learn to light a candle in the darkest moments of someone’s life. Be the light that helps others see; it is what gives life its deepest significance.”
— Roy T. Bennett
It can feel like there are people the universe had in its crosshairs for us since the moment we were born. Shot out of a womb cannon into a lifestream that gained enough momentum until *bang* — we hit the target. A collision course that feels like it was agreed upon with a handshake in some astral realm beyond this world. You don’t need to believe that story to know the kind of significant encounters I’m talking about.
Sometimes people show up in our lives and the things that we say or do make a huge difference for them. None of the impact needs to emerge from a place of willfully intending to make a difference in a person’s life. Our choices can reflect who and how they are being in the world in a clearer mirror than has ever been presented to them before. Sometimes we do that through leaving behind treatment we no longer feel we deserve. We pack up our bags and claw through the dirt until we find fertile ground for a new harvest.
Other times we do it through staying put as we weather hurricane-force winds. We can be the person holding the candlelight at the end of the cave, the first face they see on the other side of their dark night of the soul. Both have their place and both are significant gifts.
4. You are completely unique.
“Every man is more than just himself; he also represents the unique, the very special and always significant and remarkable point at which the world’s phenomena intersect, only once in this way, and never again. That is why every man’s story is important, eternal, sacred; that is why every man, as long as he lives and fulfills the will of nature, is wondrous, and worthy of consideration. In each individual the spirit has become flesh, in each man the creation suffers, within each one a redeemer is nailed to the cross.”
— Herman Hesse
No other being in all of eternity will share the tapestry of experiences that weave together into the thing called you. You are a one-time-only show that will be cancelled the minute the credits roll. Who and what you are will never exist precisely in the way that you’ve existed. You are unique. You are unique even in the ways that you’ve conformed to the norm.
This uniqueness is not about being special. It’s not the mind’s attempt to highlight the things you feel you’ve mastered. This uniqueness can erupt from within you in the most humble of ways, in seemingly trivial thoughts and forgettable encounters. The point is, this uniqueness is not a put-on. It’s not something you’re trying to do. It’s something you just are and you can’t help it. There is no other way. Even if you tried to strip away all that was unique about you, your method and manner of doing it and the place you arrived would still be incredibly unique.
This marks you as a sort of divine gift of creation, an exquisite work of art that has never existed before and never will again. A reverse polaroid slowly fading into white blank space, deserving of a jaw dropped by awe.
And if it couldn’t get more astounding, you are at the crackling edge of a firework blast of uniqueness that has been exploding for eons.
5. You are connected to a deep web of life.
“Once we were blobs in the sea, and then fishes, and then lizards and rats and then monkeys, and hundreds of things in between. This hand was once a fin, this hand once had claws! In my human mouth I have the pointy teeth of a wolf and the chisel teeth of a rabbit and the grinding teeth of a cow! Our blood is as salty as the sea we used to live in! When we’re frightened, the hair on our skin stands up, just like it did when we had fur. We are history! Everything we’ve ever been on the way to becoming us, we still are. […]
I’m made up of the memories of my parents and my grandparents, all my ancestors. They’re in the way I look, in the colour of my hair. And I’m made up of everyone I’ve ever met who’s changed the way I think.”
— Terry Pratchett
You are living at the bleeding edge of the pen, authoring a story that has been unfolding for timescales beyond human comprehension. You are connected to an evolutionary lineage that starts with your parents and barrels backward towards your grandparents to the nth power.
Most of their stories you will never come to know. Meaning fossilized underneath the weight of mountains of half-told and overlooked history. But somehow that story lives on in you, coursing through your veins, beating with your heart. The book was never closed, the story never finished. You are carrying the torch passed down from a generational relay race that is spellbinding in its magnitude.
If you pay attention you might even feel the warmth of the flame graze your hand in moments when a small breeze fills the room. A subtle cue of everything that has happened to lead to this day and a reminder that someday you will loosen your grip on the baton and pass it forward so a new page can be written.
6. You are an inseparable piece of the whole unfolding.
“A human being is a part of the whole called by us universe, a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feeling as something separated from the rest, a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.”
— Albert Einstein
You are linked to a deep evolutionary ancestry but this only begins to scratch the surface of your connectivity to the world. You could even say that you ARE the world experiencing ITSELF through the eyes of your unique human organism. All separation is an illusion. It is our minds that have thingified the world and cut it up into this-and-that. You see, we’re so accustomed to seeing “things” that we miss the underlying fundamental union in which all of these things are embedded.
This does not mean that all of the world is simply a primordial love ocean lacking any real distinction. There are obvious characteristics springing forth from this dancing-dynamic-buzzing-totality but these features are all fundamentally connected. Yes, you are unique as I’ve said before. Just like the curvature of a wave in the ocean, reaching its own height, frothing in its own way, and crashing in its own time. But that wave is still in the ocean, made up of the ocean, and fundamentally inseparable from the ocean.
Even wilder, your wave can become the seed of tsunamis.
7. Your choices have a cascade effect.
“It’s sad that in a world of billions, people can still feel isolated and alone. Sometimes all it takes to brighten up someone’s day is a smile or kind word, or the generous actions of a complete stranger. Small things, the tiny details, these are the things that matter in life — the little glint in the eye, curve of a lip, nod of a head, wave of a hand — such minuscule movements have huge ripple effects.”
— Shaun Hick
As you swirl through life’s twists and turns, you will inevitably get cast into a “heroic cameo” in which you show up in someone’s life for only a brief moment but for a massive purpose. The shortness of your time on set is no indication of your impact.
In this role, you might serve as the fulcrum that helps pivot them in a completely different direction from where they were headed and you will never know the magnitude of the shift you instigated. You might simply smile at a suicidal stranger who was heading to a bridge to take their own life. The twinkle in your eye could pierce through their sense that the world has no goodness left in it and inspire them to turn back and go home. Meanwhile, this is a completely forgettable moment for you.
Extending it further, imagine that this person goes on to have a child that discovers how to cure a life-threatening illness saving countless lives. It’s impossible to trace the true impact of these small choices and the subsequent ripples that turn into waves before eventually maturing into tsunamis. But even if you don’t get credit for changing someone’s life, that doesn’t mean you didn’t and it doesn’t mean your choices don’t matter. They do. They matter so much.
8. Your death will deeply impact the people you leave behind.
“Grief can destroy you –or focus you. You can decide a relationship was all for nothing if it had to end in death, and you alone. OR you can realize that every moment of it had more meaning than you dared to recognize at the time, so much meaning it scared you, so you just lived, just took for granted the love and laughter of each day, and didn’t allow yourself to consider the sacredness of it. But when it’s over and you’re alone, you begin to see that it wasn’t just a movie and a dinner together, not just watching sunsets together, not just scrubbing a floor or washing dishes together or worrying over a high electric bill. It was everything, it was the why of life, every event and precious moment of it. The answer to the mystery of existence is the love you shared sometimes so imperfectly, and when the loss wakes you to the deeper beauty of it, to the sanctity of it, you can’t get off your knees for a long time, you’re driven to your knees not by the weight of the loss but by gratitude for what preceded the loss. And the ache is always there, but one day not the emptiness, because to nurture the emptiness, to take solace in it, is to disrespect the gift of life.”
— Dean Koontz
One day your wave will crash, the tide will come in, and you will recede back into the ocean. But you will not disappear. I say that without suggesting there will be an afterlife. Sure, death might simply be a door to the next world but right now I’m concerned with this world. And you will still be here, in this world. You will have transformed into the shape of your absence. You will become the momentum of grief activated in the lives of those you left behind. For those that really love you, this will be one of the most significant days of their life.
It can be peaceful when there is time to prepare and space to come to terms with what’s on the horizon. And it can be brutal. The carpet could get yanked and suddenly a fixture of someone’s life dies and a monumentally meaningful relationship ends. This can be world-ending. It can devastate even the most accepting of the circle of life. But in time, the crushing nature of loss can actually round us out into wholeness. Grief will erupt from our soul with volcanic pain until it coats the lens of our perception in such a way that we can now love the world in the way that we once loved what was lost.
Your death will initiate this process one day for the people you care about. Can you see? You matter.
9. You’re here for a reason.
“For the meaning of life differs from man to man, from day to day and from hour to hour. What matters, therefore, is not the meaning of life in general but rather the specific meaning of a person’s life at a given moment.”
— Viktor Frankl
There is a reason for your being here today. Nihilistic types like to poo-poo meaning as if it were some manufactured delusion. They are just artists who were tired of being commissioned to paint. They saw through the inherited meaning systems forcibly passed down to them and broke free. But now they leave the canvas blank and claim there is no meaning.
Of course, there isn’t. You don’t see any meaning because you’re leaving your paint on the palate. Forgive your parents, society, and whoever else you have a vendetta against for making you paint certain strokes. You’re free of that now. But if you refuse to heal the pain the coercion caused you, you’re unwittingly trading one prison for another.
Break free from the bleak and bland. Become your own personal Picasso and reclaim your impulse to paint your life with stunning beauty and riveting meaning. Pick up that brush and paint wildly. And in those brush strokes, in that creative dance, in the mixing of colors, you will find your reason. And it might change with every stroke but you’ll have a reason. And that’s better than staring at a blank canvas with clenched fists.
The meaning of life is always in flux and your reason for being dances along with it. It’s okay to be a wallflower, but you know there is something stirring in your soul telling you to dance. It’s time to busta’ move.
10. You are here. Now.
“Tomorrow and plans for tomorrow can have no significance at all unless you are in full contact with the reality of the present, since it is in the present and only in the present that you live. There is no other reality than present reality, so that, even if one were to live for endless ages, to live for the future would be to miss the point everlastingly.”
— Alan Watts
You matter not because of what you’ve done or what you will do someday. Your matterfulness has nothing to do with accomplishments or victories. Those things are nice but certainly not prerequisites. It’s quite simple actually. You matter because you are here. Now. This moment. This inhale. This thin-slice of infinity. You are here. Now. Just because of this, you matter.
Stripped of all preconditions and checked-boxes. You don’t need any badges or special status. Nothing fancy or flashy is required. Simply because you are here, you matter. This blossoming instant. This exhale. This everlasting second. Here and now. Yours and mine. All of us in this erupting chorus of life.
All of life is significant. Your life is significant. You matter. Truly, you do.