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Max Roytenberg

Max Roytenberg: Searching For The Light

Max Roytenberg, April, 2015. Vancouver, Canada



Someone has said, (I don’t know who,) that the two most important times in a person’s life are, one, the day he/she was born, and, two, the day he/she discovers why. I am blown away by the statement because it presents life to me in an entirely fresh way. It screams that all lives, each life, have/has to have some sort of purpose. It shouts out that life itself has to have a purpose, or it makes no sense at all. You may not agree with that, but rejecting the notion presents us with some pretty grim and unattractive alternatives. You may not have thought too much about it. I must admit that I have. If you have been fortunate enough to find your why, doesn’t your life have a much fuller, richer meaning?


When I was old enough to think about such things, I was sure that when I grew up I was going to be a writer. I had read my way through shelves and shelves of the libraries that were available. My head was full of all the exploits of heroes who had changed the world they inhabited. I was torn between being one of them, and being the one telling the tales, imagining the exploits, of such lives. I read the stories of the early science fiction writers and my visions of the future expanded to encompass the cosmos. I always took for granted that whatever it was I was going to be doing, it was always going to be about doing “good things”. We were always going to find ways to make the world a better place.


Real life intruded, with time, along with the necessity that I learn a trade- that I find the resources to maintain myself and those who depended on me. I put aside my dreams of writing “the great American novel” and tended to business. This is not a new story; it is the boring story of nearly everyone we know, perhaps your story, each of my readers, with the subject matter altering with each subject. During those times there was little time or attention given to the “why”.


Looking back, now, I do see a common element in the path I followed, consistent with the dreams of my youth. Sure, I was focused on achieving a successful career. Sure, I sought to assemble the material rewards, a principle way the world assesses the value of the contribution you are making to society. But, over time I found myself turning away from work that did not provide me with the satisfaction that I was doing worthwhile things, no matter how lucrative they were. Without thinking it through too much, (as I have said, I see the pattern much better in retrospect,) I was seeking satisfactions that had nothing to do with material gain. Those unarticulated feelings may have had a lot to do with the unconscious searching for the “why”.


As we go through life, conquering the challenges we have chosen to address, more and more, we find ourselves confronted, perhaps unconsciously, with that question, “why”. We find that our accomplishments no longer provide the same measure of satisfaction that they once did. We begin to look for more, something intangible. Career success offers satisfaction, but in the end it does not ultimately and fully feed the need that, I believe, we all have, to do some good. Even the most evil among us have the need to find a rationalization that will provide a justification, a “good” that they are accomplishing, if only in their own minds.


In my life I have come across a few individuals who are so totally, selflessly, devoted to the role of giving of themselves to others, that they have absolutely no consciousness of self or of their own needs. The first time I came across such a person was in Africa, when I was doing consulting work there in the ‘eighties. I remember a beautiful young woman I met in the country of Burkina Faso, in the capital, Ouagadougou. She was devoting her life to the care and attention of orphans. I was there on a mission for governments, fruitless schemes in most cases.  In that most desperate of environments, she was doing her work on the ground, attempting to make life bearable for the unfortunates for whom she was caring. She was prepared to do anything to gather resources for her work. Anything. For me, she seemed to emanate a light from her very being. I was awestruck in her presence. One could not fail to comply with her requests for assistance. It was the first time I came across that, but not the last.


Looking back at those occurrences, it comes to me that it is that light we are searching for in our lives. We can feel it in ourselves when we seek to do what we do in the best possible way. We know that we, ourselves, may be the only person who will ever know about it, the only one who will really know what we are giving.


We all try to do that good, we cannot help ourselves. We are made that way. It is that intangible reward we seek that far surpasses the satisfactions we receive even in our career strivings and search for success. To be really happy we have to feel we are doing that giving. In our daily efforts to do good things in our lives, don’t we get some sense of the light shining around us, through us? I believe that cannot be hidden, and, eventually, others will sense that radiation that may be coming from us.


Don’t we feel badly when we don’t do those “right” things? The memory of those times when we failed to live up to those standards we set for ourselves, those standards that we know in our hearts are “right”, are always there, even if deeply hidden. Don’t those memories corrode our insides like acid? Judeo-Christian principles of living have been so absorbed into our very souls in the cultural air we breathe that they transcend our conscious religious outlooks.


Meeting those standards that satisfy our need to do good, responding to the ”why” question in our life equation, may generate some measure of incandescence that illuminates our lives and makes us feel happy. Nothing expresses that as well as true love between people, so the mutual giving offers the ultimate joy, the pleasure of both giving and receiving at the same time. Surely there emanates a light from such people that we can sense. Aren’t we drawn to them? Aren’t we drawn to people who emanate that intangible, and don’t we want to share in what they have to offer?


There you have it! This is what we unconsciously seek to feel enveloping us, when we strive to do good, and actually do good. We are, all of us, searching for the light.


Have you found your “why”?                                                                                                               &

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