Searching for Meaning

552009_339609489436023_1481374226_aThe Search for Meaning Book Festival has a fairly big name wouldn’t you say? This is the second year I have been invited to participate in this interesting conference sponsored by the School of Theology and Ministry at Seattle University. The conference is completely free to attend, and I loved what the dean of the school Mark Markuly said when he welcomed us for the opening keynote, “Our human search for meaning should not be something you have to pay for.” He did also mention, however, that the conference is generously underwritten in large part by the charity of a few specific donors.

This one day conference is an ecumenical dialog about religion and meaning and I was once again inspired to be part of the community for thoughtful discourse about the search for meaning.

I was fortunate to lead one session and though it wasn’t a packed room , those in attendance shared that they felt connected and engaged by the conversation. I have learned during my time as a speaker the past few years, I should not measure the success of a talk by the amount of attendees but by the connections created. I was also delighted to stumble into a session by accident led by Rebecca Walker, whom I didn’t even realize until after the talk, was the daughter of Alice Walker. She discussed her book Baby Love: Choosing Motherhood After a Lifetime of Ambivalence. I also learned about her book Black, White and Jew and ran to buy it after the session. I am already enjoying it.

photo-165One of my favorite, interesting little offerings at this year’s conference was a “5 senses” interactive art stations area. They had tables set up with activities to stimulate our senses and help us connect to our senses viscerally.

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I especially loved Station 4 or Sense of Smell. I closed my eyes and lifted each paper bag to my nose waiting to see what memory or thought would be evoked with the scent wafting into my brain.

I tried not to look at the table where other people had been encouraged to write what the smell evoked for them until after I had smelled the bag and had my own scent memory. With the scent of dried leaves I remembered my childhood, raking leaves on our farm with literally acres of maple trees.  I thought of the long nights my father spent boiling sap into syrup in his makeshift maple sugar house – I could almost smell the syrup as well from the scent of those dried leaves. A second bag held something that reminded me of chai tea evoking a sense of comfort and nurturing since my husband and I have a custom to have a cup of tea most mornings together before he leaves for work. I loved the cinnamon which smelled like my grandmother’s kitchen in New York City and immediately made me think of her old world Jewish cooking. It was incredible to me that these simple bags with a scent in them could evoke such instantaneous and strong memories. But they did.

At the other stations, we used our other senses to answer questions like,   “What is sweet in your life right now?” when we tasted a sweet treat on the taste table or “What are you searching for?” when we had our hands in a bowl of sand searching for the hidden marbles on the table for the sense of touch. It was a wonderful interactive exhibit of how our senses influence our thoughts which can ultimately influence how we feel and think about things.

Perhaps the search for meaning is simply the ability to be in a moment and live that moment completely and fully. Whether that means enjoying the ray of sunshine on your face, connecting with a stranger by listening and engaging with them, or noticing the food you are consuming and tasting it fully. I love the opportunity to spend time with others searching for meaning, it is always such an incredible and thoughtful group. Perhaps next year you’ll want to join in the search. Save the date for next year’s Search for Meaning 2014.

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