Discovering Meaning in Life

by Dr. Brenda Shoshanna -

When Dogen, a great Zen Master of old, returned to Japan after many years of studying Zen in China, the people asked what he brought with him to help others who were suffering, he said,
“I’ve come with nothing but empty hands.”
What are these empty hands? Where can we find them? What value are they of us today? 

Usually our hands are full, filled with tasks, problems, relationships and possessions that seem impossible to put down. We live our lives so full of ourselves, full of decisions, plans and dreams. 

Then the winds of change come; perhaps we face serious illness, our dreams are suddenly scattered and our plans dissolved. Most feel as though they were being dismantled. 

Few know how to truly deal with change or why it is happening to them.

When Change Comes

When change comes, our usual reaction is to grab and hold on to what has been. We do not realize that the harder we hold, the more we crush what whatever it is we have in the palm of our hands. 

There are many ways we then seek to gain control. through denial, depression, anger, activity, new plans. This is our will demanding that life meet its particular demands. This is the personal will believing, “I am in charge.”

Holding Onto Everything

We come into life empty-handed and then try to grab and hold onto everything. Immediately, we make claim for ownership. 

We want everything and we want it immediately. We want to receive, to hold and possess forever.

Yet, in truth, what really belongs to us? Even our bodies have a life of their own.

Attachment is usual, but not natural. 

It arises out of a deep confusion about who we truly are, where we are, and what is going on.

It arises out of a misunderstanding about the nature of relationships and fear of being abandoned.

We feel the tighter we hold on, the less frightened we will be. The opposite is true. The gripping itself creates the fear.

This sense of crushing and being crushed is at the very core of the pain we experience. It is our resistance to the flow of life. 

Many become afraid of losing that which they have been accumulating. Everything seems precious, no matter what. It is seldom that they stop and ask, “Do I need this anymore?”

Can I allow myself to be satisfied, to say, “Thank you. This suffices.” Our inability to do this arises because no matter what we have learned in life, few know who they truly are.

How We Know Who We Are

Most of us feel we are our job, achievement, our name, relationship.

Somehow we have not identified with the basis of all life, which is constantly moving, changing and healing, which is filled with new insights, possibilities and love. 

When change comes we grows rigid and bitter, try to pretend it isn’t happening, try to keep everything the same. 

This is a holding action at best. Change is the very basis of our life, not to be fought, but to be welcomed and tasted, to be seen for the gift it truly is.

As we do this, some questions we might ponder are:
  • What can I lose and still be me?
  • What kind of image of myself am I holding onto?
  • What happens to me, if the image goes away?
  • Really, who am I?

When our hands and hearts are empty of possessions, demands and illusions, the answer to these questions become clear. 

This clarity itself helps us reach out to others, live joyously and empty our hands. Empty hands are pliable, flexible, useful. 

They can touch and comfort, they can give and receive, they can do what is needed when the moment appears.

Empty hands are just simply there, like the poppy blowing in the wind.

When our hands are empty, they can respond appropriately and completely to whatever and whoever comes along. We are not weighed down, nor do we weigh down others.

As we let go, join with the flow of life many kinds of pains lessen and healing energies have an opportunity to flow.

About Author: Dr Shoshanna is a best selling author published in 18 languages world wide. She is a leading psychologist with a private practice in NYC. Learn more about her many free services: She has offered over 500 talks and workshops on personal and spiritual growth and developing authentic peace of mind. She provides daily updated lessons and reports on self achievement and well being at

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