That Elusive Sense of Life Purpose

Frequently, in retreats and in one-on-one coaching, people tell me that they have the intuition of a great gift to share, a mission to fulfill in their lifetime, but they don’t know what it is. Could I please help?

Someone faced with such a predicament is often hoping for a resolution. Either that I will look deeply into their eyes with a penetrating stare, and after a long ominous silence proclaim in a low deep prophetic voice, “by the power invested in me by the great God Pushpakin, I hereby pronounce that your divinely ordained life purpose is to raise ducks,” at which point the supplicant would fall to their knees in the relief of finally having a direction. Alternatively, many people hope that through some cognitive analytic process we can together crunch the data, eliminate the redundancies and come to a perfect irrefutable logical conclusion. “After extensive research, we have concluded that you are 83% aligned with software system analysis using COBOL on UNIX systems. Massage therapy with essential oils and channeled dolphin sounds only got a score of 79%.” I have had sadly very little success with either of these approaches.

This preoccupation with life purpose, or a sense of mission, is entirely modern. We only have to cast our minds back to before the second world war when things were much, much simpler, albeit more restrictive. If you were born a little boy you would, often as not, follow in your father’s footsteps. If daddy was a plumber, a plumber you would also be. If daddy was a doctor, or a lawyer, or a gardener, you knew your place. If daddy was the king, you would inherit the throne. And, back in those days, if you were born a little girl you would, likely as not, get married young, have babies and learn to cook and maintain a household. We bust free of all these restraints in the late 1960s, not only with the second wave of women’s liberation, but also with increased access to education for everyone, increased awareness of racism, and the “out-of-the-box” thinking precipitated the cultural Revolution born out of the summer of love in 1967.

But this busting free of constrictive boundaries has also exacted a price. To have almost infinite options available — and to also know, deep down, that real satisfaction in life comes from making a contribution — but to NOT KNOW WHAT TO DO can become a devastating and immobilizing sense of anxiety… Like the train of the destiny of your life is now leaving from platform 6, and you are not on it. I hear more desperation and despair around this issue than anything else. I hear a painful cry for help, I remember how this feels.

I do know lots and lots of people who do deeply know their place in the world. Such people often have big, bold vision, and seemingly endless supplies of energy. Money usually flows quite effortlessly, but is not a central preoccupation. Such people are frequently well-respected, celebrated and honored, although craving for such external validation is not a motivator. Life just works.

When I think of people like that… people like Barbara Marx Hubbard, who at 88 years old is still traveling the world tirelessly and passionately talking about conscious evolution, or Lynn Twist who at 72 is on fire with saving the Amazon rainforest (and I could gladly name hundreds more people like that) it is clear that their rock-solid confidence about their place in the great scheme of things did not come from anyone pronouncing a decree, nor did it come from any logical or analytic process.

Seekers of “life purpose” often assume that first, we will get clarity about what is my mission, and only then will it be time to take the first small steps of action. But I don’t think it works like that. I don’t think it ever has, and I don’t think it ever could.

You do have a place in the big dance of things, you do have a vital role to play, but it has very little to do with what your mind can think, or what your mind can hear from other people. You discover your life purpose by living your human life, starting right now, today, with curiosity, with passion, with gratitude and with deep compassion and mercy for the suffering of others. Live each moment like this, without postponing, and you will, before too long, look over your shoulder at your footsteps in the sand behind you, and say “Aha, now I see. This was my purpose.”

In my opinion (and whoever else’s opinion will populate my own blog?) knowing your life purpose has very little to do with cognitive understanding, and everything to do with disposition. It is not something that you hope to discover later, after a process of introspection, it is something that you boldly decide to live now, not even in five minutes, but now itself through a deep breath and a shift of disposition. You may not know the ultimate fruit of this shift, you will only find that out later. Showing up is 99% of what is needed.

Postponing anything only trains you more deeply in a life of postponement. Small action now becomes a solid foundation for even more bold action tomorrow.

Here are a few bold steps (or “practices” as I love to call them) that will immediately shift your disposition in the decisive direction of the greatness you were born to live.

1. Take time for nothing every day. I like that time to be mega-early, before the dawn. Wear a blindfold, like this one from Tempur. Sit for 30 minutes, just observing the automatic thought process, and ready and available for the Gravity of Grace to pull you into itself. Regular sitting helps you to detach from the addictive clutching of thought and reactive emotion, from the endless internal chant of I want… I want… I need… Sitting helps you to get sane.

2. Write your vision. Write a vision of life as you would like it to be in one year, in two years, in five years, in 10 years, in 50 years, and in 100 years. Take about half an hour on each of these. At the start, these vision statements will be more me-oriented, more around “my” personal needs and desires. But as the time-span lengthens, the vision will expand beyond you to the needs and well-being of others: even perhaps people not yet born.

3. Invite role models into your life. My friendships with John Gray, Barbara Marx Hubbard and Lynne Twist remind me of what is possible, and the good use of a human life.

4. Increase your energy. Whether through running, dance, Chi Kung, making love, or anything else that works for you, take small steps to run more energy through your body. You may feel more emotional, sometimes more out of control, but you will also feel more passionate and inspired.

5. Take small steps connected to long-term vision, starting today. You can plan to write a book, launch a website, or change the world, but all of those bigger plans can also be a means of postponing. Write a blog, make a live Facebook video, talk to a friend. Make it real today.

I hope these suggestions are helpful to you. They are offered in friendship and collaboration. I would be interested to hear your thoughts in the space below, and I will read and respond to whatever you right there.

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