Do what you love. Share your gifts with the world. This is your purpose.
Although I believe it really is that simple, what does that actually mean? How DO you live like that?
I have often felt that I needed an owner’s manual for living life. I mean what am I REALLY doing here? It always seemed that there should be more to life than birth, death, and some filler in between. It felt like there should be some purpose to it. Why else would you study philosophy? Or literature? Or history? Or theology? If there was no big purpose behind it all, the humanities department wouldn’t exist, right?
Other people seem to have some internal navigation system they follow that leads them to their purpose, their dreams. But not me. I hid in books and music for the first 16 years of my life. I was a closet writer and artist – I mean literally, I sat in my closet and wrote. Then at 17, I followed a cute guy to the pub and stayed there for 10 years. Sometime later, after I was done with partying, I followed another cute guy to his house and kids and stayed there for another 10 years. There was no lack of chutzpah in me when it came to risk-taking behaviour with men and ‘partying’, but when it came to following MY dreams. The risk of really putting myself out there in the world. My chutzpah evaporates. Gone. Vamoose.
The problem is doubt. You can set yourself a purpose, but what happens when doubt comes in? For me it’s like a black hole that sucks up all my energy, passion, and resolve. It leaves me feeling deflated and lethargic, and thinking “who am I to be a force in this world?”
Part of the reason I wrote this blog – a big part – is to commit to examining my purpose, my dreams, my passions, to create thoughtful and authentic intentions. Alone I could lose faith in myself, in this process. With you reading, I may still lose faith but I am compelled to carry on regardless. You, kind reader, are my dutch courage. Because you are reading, and I want to continue writing, I keep going back to my intentions, like a dog with a bone.
“Do what you love. Know your own bone; gnaw at it, bury it, unearth it, and gnaw it still.” Henry David Thoreau
This is my third intention: purpose.
The word purpose has its etymological roots in the Old French and Latin words meaning to plan and propose. Modern usage of the word seems to have propelled it from a proposition or plan, to a feeling of resolve or determination, and the idea that there is significant meaning or reason behind the something that is being planned or done, a sense of intelligent, thoughtful design. It’s a lofty word, for me anyway, that evokes a requirement for ethical thought, as if the things we do must have a benevolent and beneficial purpose.
“Your work is to discover your world and then with all your heart give yourself to it.” Buddha
Purpose, to me, asks the question, what I am here for? What do I bring to the world as the result of my existence? What is the vision of the world I give my whole heart to? It makes sense to me to start with what I love and what I am good at – these must be my gifts, surely.
The inner critic in me will say “Does this actually matter, or should you just be content that you have a job and a roof over your head?” Certainly material needs are important. I’m not about to do a buddha and renounce all worldly goods to pursue my dharma. Possibly because I’m not even sure what that is yet.
I know this probably sounds unbelievably self-indulgent, like I’m on a journey of self-discovery and it’s all about me, me, me. Its easy to be judgemental of this stuff. You may say, “oh you meditate for an hour a day, how lucky you are to have the time.” The truth is, I make the time, I make it a priority, and I don’t spend that time in the morning at the gym, as I used to. Don’t get me wrong, I exercise, but that fervent quest for the perfect body has been replaced with a desire to start living from within. I may be a bit rounder than I was, but I’m more peaceful. Maybe a little like the buddha after all…
I digress. The point is I do believe it’s worth asking ourselves what matters to us, and where can we make a meaningful contribution to the world. I’m sure that if more people did a bit of self-enquiry the world would be in a much more harmonious state. We wouldn’t all be running around trying to get our needs met by money, cars, jobs, perfect bodies, parties, and love affairs. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that stuff, it’s just a bit meaningless if all you have is external to your being). And seeing as I’m on this journey of intentionality, I figure I may as well really investigate this stuff once and for all.
So I started by making a little list…
I love… people, writing, travel, wellbeing, reading, learning, creative expression, sharing ideas, retreats, nature, yoga.
I am good at… research, compassion, helping people, communication.
That is all good stuff. So what’s stopping me from going out there and doing it? Good question.
Every morning I meditate on letting go of old ideas and releasing what is blocking me from living my highest good and deepest truth. During these meditations I have discovered many old patterns of fear associated with my concepts of work and purpose. These old thinking patterns are punitive, never-ending, and usually boil down to a few ideas. I’m not good enough. Life is not meant to be easy. Who am I to enjoy these things, this life? That’s for special people. Life is a slog, hard work. And so on…
I cringe when these thoughts come up because they are NOT what I truly believe. Well, obviously somewhere along the line I have believed in them, but now I see how limiting and destructive they are. I often use this device to challenge my thinking:
“Would I speak to a loved one this way?”
If the answer is no, I quickly realise I shouldn’t be speaking to myself that way either.
An equally valid, and far more useful line of questioning is: Who am I not to be love? Who am I not to share my gifts with the world?
Meditating on the concept of purpose, I get a lot of feedback, and I’m not always sure what are my head thoughts and what are my heart thoughts. That is, what are the old mental programs and what is my truth. I also get overwhelmed by the sheer volume of things I want to do to make a difference in the world. I realise this self-reflection is not something you can do only once and get definitive answers. Over time, however, there are some simple recurring messages: nourish and honour your body, generosity, kindness, service to others in need, help where you can, and do not cause harm.
“As a single footstep will not make a path on the earth, so a single thought will not make a pathway in the mind. To make a deep physical path, we walk again and again. To make a deep mental path, we must think over and over the kind of thoughts we wish to dominate our lives.” Henry David Thoreau
I quote Thoreau a lot, I know. But dang, he’s good! He’s basically talking about creating new neural pathways – in the 1850’s!
When I find myself overwhelmed in the day with so much to pray for – bush fires, wars, Tony Abbott – I set a ground rule of three things. Each day I can choose three things to pray for but if something or someone else touches my heart as it crosses my path in that day, I pray in that moment. Prayer of this kind can be as simple as visualising that person or situation and sending them love. Or using the Ho’oponopono practice of saying: “I love you. I’m sorry. Please forgive me. Thank you.”
Today what touches my heart is the death of Luke Batty. I am sending out a massive prayer blast for Rosie Batty and all those impacted by domestic violence. Thank you for these words from Marianne Williamson.
Let’s all stop for a moment, close our eyes, and send love and peace to Rosie Batty and her son Luke and to all those affected in any way by his death. Tune in and send love from your heart to them. We send as well our peace and healing to Luke’s father who perpetrated this crime, and who has since passed away. May all people suffering from untreated mental illness and in deep emotional pain and at risk of harming themselves or another be brought to a place of peace, healing, and love.
Does praying like this make the world a better place? I think so. What’s the alternative? Feeding the fearful, negative thoughts that these events create? Hurt people hurt people, if we can bring more love into the world, isn’t it possible we can bring about healing and reduce violence and suffering in all forms? I think so.
Living your purpose or living with purpose? It’s a subtle distinction, isn’t it? For me, at this moment, it seems less about discovering my grand purpose and design, and more about living with purpose, that is, in a purposeful, mindful way – being present to what is within me and around me in every moment. It’s all too easy to get hell-bent on some wacky scheme for living my dream life and miss the signposts right in front of me. Instead I focus on being in a place of allowing and trust, of receptivity. This way I get to live well and let life unfold for me.
So it seems that this lofty idea of purpose can be simple in its essence after all. Love who you are. Be with those you love. (And like the old song says, “If you can’t be with the ones you love, love the ones you’re with.”) Feel love in what you do. Feel thankfulness.
Let’s see if I can turn that into today’s affirmation:
I do what I love and I love what I do. I love and accept myself and others. I am in a place of allowing and trust, of receptivity. I am living well and letting life unfold for me. I am thankful and loving for my life now and to come.
That’s a whole lotta love! Bless.