A Clubhouse Sandwich and the Meaning of Life

My 60th birthday was several years ago. I think its fairly accurate to say that I am nearer to the end of my life than to the beginning of my life. Or, to say this another way, I am closer to the end of my story than to the beginning or the middle of my story. And perhaps that is why my thoughts turn more and more toward the concept of “Meaning”.

One of my existential goals is, when I come to the end of my story, to know that it “made sense“, that my story was densely populated with positive meaning.

What I am asking of life is simple (but far from easy). Taken as a whole, I want my venturing through the Catastrophe to have been meaningful in a positive way.

Central Purcells, 2014

I want my decisions, actions and experiences to “cohere” — to be held together (to be bound together) by a significance greater than my ego or my personal self-interest.

To Navigate from the beginning of the Story, to the end of the Story … In a way that “makes sense”, in a way that is densely populated with positive meaning. June 2022.

As I have said before in this blog, I have been doing multiday backpacking trips for over 4 decades. And I have journaled on, and about, these trips since 1978.

So … lots of experiences, lots of stories. I have backpacked in the past, I backpack in the present, and I hope to do a few more trips in the near future. And here’s where the clubhouse sandwich comes in.

A clubhouse sandwich has layers, and the layers make the sandwich. It’s the different layers that make a clubhouse sandwich taste so good. The layers complement each other — they work together to make the whole better than merely the sum of the parts. But to ensure just the right combination of layers in each bite, something has to hold the layers together. Note the “stick” in the picture below — it holds the layers together. It helps the sandwich “make sense”.

To me, a big part of my life “making sense” is that the “layers” (i.e. my past trips, my present trips, and my future trips) all “hold together”. They make sense in relation to each other. They complement each other. They make the whole greater than the sum of the parts. My past trips are intricately connect to my present trips, which are connected to my ideas and plans for future trips (see graphic below).

J. Haidt (2006) calls this “cross-level coherence”. There is a positive bond (a coherence) across the various levels. I am proud of my past trips, I am appreciative of my current trips, and I am excited about my future trips. <– When I look at the sentence I just wrote there, I can’t help but think that it is a hallmark of a meaningful life:

  • Proud of the past
  • Appreciative of the present
  • Excited about the future.

When I look at all my trips (over 300!) I can see that there have been progressions, there have been themes and threads, there have been important things that have never changed, and there have been important things that have changed greatly. And for all the variety (and for all the Catastrophe) there has been a coherence.

I go on backpacking trips because they have consistently provided positive meaning in my life for nearly 50 years.

And I deliberately examine my adventures (think about them deeply) so that I can wring out as much positive meaning as I can.

And here’s what I KNOW from all that examination and reflection:

I know that sometime in the future, when I am in the midst of my last and final trip, I will be wrapped (rapt) in the certainty that my life made sense.

“Sense making” on a 6-day Solo, Middle-of-Nowhere, South-Central Purcells, 2020.

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