"Your purpose in life is to find your purpose
and give your whole heart and soul to it"
I'm sorry Buddha, Oprah, Deepak, and all you other self-help gurus … you, too, Joseph Campbell, you blissful one … I love you all but I think you led me astray.
Google "find your purpose" and you'll find 715 MILLION responses. Scratch a therapist or consultant and you'll find the word purpose … or bliss. And, yet, sit down with any one of your friends over a cup of coffee or glass of wine and ask them if they know what their purpose is and then listen to the hemming and hawing that comes forth.
Very few of us can clearly state our purpose and I'm not sure that's such a bad thing. While the experts claim that knowing our purpose energizes and focuses us, they don't mention that it can also be limiting. The child who knows that her purpose is to be a doctor may feel the joy of saving lives but miss precious moments of her own child's life or the opportunity to discover she has a talent for growing succulents.
There is a common trail that leads to this "purpose" and "bliss" line of thought. A writer, thinker or researcher is intrigued by what makes some people "successful" while others with similar levels of talent, education and opportunities never break out of the pack. What they find in most cases is that these leaders and accomplishers of great tasks are driven, have a sense of mission … and, yes, purpose. What goes unquestioned, of course, is our definition of success which values the start-up of Facebook more than the raising of a child.
Nevertheless, after the research and interviews comes the book, the speaking tour, the articles and the TED talk, all explaining how, if we just find our own purpose, follow our own bliss, we, too, will be more successful, more wealthy and more celebrated for our achievements.
Grinding wheels. Screeching halt. Wait a minute.
What if the purpose of life has nothing to do with success, money or grand accomplishments? What if the purpose of life is to live life? What if the purpose of life is kindness … kindness to those around us and to ourselves? What if the purpose of life isn't to follow some orgasmic bliss but to simply keep moving toward what attracts us, following those momentary fascinations that sometimes lead to grand passions or gritty determination to do a job that needs to be done, and sometimes flitter away like bright butterflies that lifted our hearts during their brief lives?
What if we don't have to buckle down, get serious, stay focused, keep up or make a difference? What if our only job is to allow our lives to unfold like a flower in the sunshine … or to follow the bread crumb path the Universe seems to sprinkle before us?
After experiencing life for almost seven decades now, I can look back and understand that I was never competent enough to state my "life purpose" and probably still am not. I keep discovering new pieces of myself that I never knew existed … new interests, new strengths, new weaknesses, new fascinations, new burning passions. The world is always shifting around me and it seems like I am just some ball of ectoplasm that jiggles in a new way with each shift of my world. Why would I even try to nail a ball of ectoplasm to a plank of purpose?
Several years ago in reaction to taking one more workshop that was trying to help me find my life purpose, I wrote the poem below. Obviously, I didn't heed my own advice because I kept looking and falling into the trap of "find your purpose and suddenly everything will be crystal clear and you will ride the shooting star to fame and fortune."
Today, on this fifth day of the first month of this new year, I quit. No more purpose for me. No more looking for that elusive bliss to follow. No more expecting myself to have a clear focus, a life mission, or a heroic path. I now give myself permission to follow whatever calls me, to be kind to myself and all around me, to relax and be completely grateful for each day, to accept myself as flower, weed or cactus.
In thinking about this post, I found an article from Kris Carr who thought she found her purpose when cancer struck and she thought she could help others. After that illusion passed, she wrote an article in Huffington Post:
Your purpose has nothing to do with what you do. There, I said it. Your purpose is about discovering and nurturing who you truly are, to know and love yourself at the deepest level and to guide yourself back home when you lose your way. That's it. Everything else is your burning passion, your inspired mission, your job, your love-fueled hobby, etc. Those things are powerful and essential, but they're not your purpose. Your purpose is much bigger than that.
"To guide yourself back home when you lose your way." I love that.
So here's my new year's wish for you (and myself) … May your year be filled with purposeless joy, fascinations to follow, and gentleness with yourself and the people around you. May you recognize the perfection in Ram Dass's words when he said, "We're just walking each other home."
The child walks
as she reaches toward
a bright toy.
Wherever she looks,
a world of joy beckons.
No thought of “should”
or “ought” enters her head.
She just points herself
in the direction of
the bright beloved
and puts one foot
in front of the other,
Moving, totally focused.
She doesn’t stop
to ask for it.
She doesn’t worry about
whether or not
it’s the right it.
She doesn’t stop to
consider the possible responses.
She feels no fear;
she hears only
the siren call
of her one true joy.
Oh, that I felt
to feel passion
For every cloud
and dust mote,
every shiny bauble
and every glittering face,
Rather than searching
high and low
for that one
that one bright island,
when life is a sea
of perfect possibilities.