What constitutes a fulfilled life? What does fulfillment look like? Feel like? Am I fulfilled?
These questions of fulfillment do concentrate with age. The younger we are the more likely we are to imagine we are still on the way to fulfillment--that any attempt to answer the question of fulfillment is premature. And so we soldier on. With the accumulation of years, the question becomes more pressing.
Sister Joan has a very hopeful take on aging and fulfillment: "By the time aging strikes its chord in our hearts, we have been prepared to meet it, even-handedly, resolutely, cheerfully. Then we are at last able to look life in the eye and stare it down." A little further on, she writes, "Age is the antidote to personal destruction, the call to spiritual growth, because age finally brings us to the point where there is nowhere else to go but inside for comfort, inside for wealth, inside for things that really count."
Readings those words inspires. But, and I think Sister Joan would agree, aging in itself does not overflow into fulfillment. I think those who experience genuine fulfillment later in life are those who have known it all along--not constantly, but consistently. It travels with them. It is not JUST something they look back upon or forward to.
I have always been intrigued by the writings of Mihaly Csikszentmihaly, the University of Chicago psychologist best known for his book, Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience. In that book he writes, “It is when we act freely, for the sake of the action itself rather than for ulterior motives, that we learn to become more than what we were. When we choose a goal and invest ourselves in it to the limits of concentration, whatever we do will be enjoyable. And once we have tasted this joy, we will redouble our efforts to taste it again. This is the way the self grows.” That is a wonderful summation of the way fulfillment exists as a possibility throughout one's life.
Is it possible there is a link between fulfillment and contentment? Too often we equate contentment with a kind of acquiescence to what is--a kind of passive settling in, a loss of drive or ambition. But I think it is better understood as the ability to dwell deeply and appreciatively in the fullness of any given moment, awake no less to what is and is yet to be. The Apostle Paul (not known for his acquiescence or passivity) wrote this from his prison cell in Rome, "I have learned to be content with whatever I have. I know what it is to have little, and I know what it is to have plenty. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being well-fed and of going hungry, of having plenty and of being in need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me." (Philippians 4: 11-13).
I'm still learning. How about you?