When I look in my heart I see that one of the strongest desires I feel – maybe the strongest – is to be useful. I want to feel that I am playing a part in existence. I have found over the years that this desire can be fulfilled in lots of ways. Sometimes it is by serving someone, or working on a project with others. When I see that we are making progress on something that will help someone else, I feel useful. But, sometimes I see that desire being fulfilled when I am making art, or writing a song, or even simply walking around my neighborhood.
The one constant between all those activities is a feeling of engagement in something real. It isn't always something that has to do with others. But it is always something that is engaged with an idea that feels real. I speculate that the reason I want to feel useful, is maybe an even deeper desire to feel real. Maybe an existential desire to have the reality of my being substantiated.
On the other side of the coin, some of the worst times are times when I have not felt useful. That feeling has been so oppressive sometimes that I have thought long and hard about how to alleviate it.
One interesting thing is that, just like loneliness can't be quenched with endless socializing, the desire for usefulness can't be quenched with jobs and work. I have learned that, at least for myself, I feel the best, not when I am seeking work to do, but when I am digging deep in thought, striving to hear what my life is telling me to do at the deepest levels.
Surely there is endless work out there that we can do to be useful in the world. But it seems we have an innate desire to do the work that is right for us to be doing. We want to have a sense that our existence isn't arbitrary, and instead that our skills and inclinations are pointing somewhere.
I began to have the sense that I could avoid that feeling of uselessness, not by filling my life with activities, but rather, by thinking and feeling as deeply as I could about the usefulness of life. And then those thoughts and feelings were so real-feeling that I began to see that just doing that was useful.
These days if ever I am feeling useless or disengaged, I try to engage my thoughts in the deep things of life. I pray and engage with depth, to push out that empty feeling.
Then, very often (and always if I stick with it) those thoughts and explorations of depth open into what I think of as spiritual reality. I find myself having new ideas that I have never had before. I find myself exploring and listening to new inspirations. These always lead to further engagement in real life – both in thought, and in the world. And the work is never done!