Weaving a Rich and Meaningful Life
By Alan James Strachan, Ph.D
My earliest memory of being extremely bored in school is from first grade. The teacher was having every kid, one after another, count by fives to 100. This took a long time -- a very long time --and I remember waiting, and waiting, and waiting for everyone to finish. I was desperate for something interesting to happen. It was like taking a ten hour bath in lukewarm water: not much fun to begin with, and definitely not improved by prolonging the experience.
This kind of endurance contest was all too common as I progressed through school. Out of necessity I developed a survival strategy: find something to do or think about that was interesting, or funny, and explore it -- even it wasn't part of the lesson plan. Sometimes this got me into trouble, but overall it was worth it.
Unfortunately -- despite my gallant efforts -- by 9th grade my boredom and dissatisfaction with school had grown to almost unbearable proportions. I was utterly miserable.
One day, when I was 14 years old, I realized more clearly why I was so unhappy. Walking by myself on the school grounds, I suddenly knew -- from a place deep in my heart -- that each of us has a unique and special path to follow in life. I envisioned this path as a golden thread which winds itself through each of our lives. I knew then -- with utter clarity and complete certainty -- that in order to live a life that is meaningful, each of us must discover our own personal golden thread, and follow it wherever it leads. I saw that the most sacred purpose of parents, teachers, and society is to support this quest.
My experience affirmed what I instinctively had felt in grade school. The problem I had, then, with the excessive regimentation of school was that the teachers and administrators did not appear to know about or value the golden thread. Instead, they emphasized order, control, and conformity -- and, in so doing, for me a vital spark was lost.
I have spent my life following my own golden thread, and, at times, this has not been very easy to do. Life can be intense, complicated, and even paradoxical, and I have found it very helpful to seek support. I have relied upon my friends, and at times I have sought professional counseling to help me to identify my options and to support me in making wise choices. Counseling is one alternative, among many, for people who have lost track of their golden thread, or who have been following it, but need support to do so even more deeply. Out of a desire to help others as I had been helped, I eventually became a psychotherapist.
As a counselor, my task is to pay careful attention to the unique and subtle details of people's lives -- listening to unfulfilled longings, to dreams whispering in the night, to relationship impasses and to physical distress. Together we deal with the doubts and fears which can distract and dissuade people from following their own true path. We search out strands of the golden thread, and carefully weave them together. As we do so, the thread becomes thicker and stronger, and the path becomes more clear.
Over time, with love and recognition and support, each of us is capable of weaving our golden thread into the beautiful tapestry that characterizes a rich and meaningful life.
(originally published in Connection Magazine, December 2000, 32)