“The Purpose-Driven Life”, “The Power of Purpose”, “Life on Purpose”, “Find Your Purpose”, “In Pursuit of Purpose”, “Living on Purpose”. As I survey the pages of Amazon.com, it’s clear that many readers crave – and many authors wish to provide – a sense of purpose in life. Even Eckhart Tolle, one of my favorite authors, titled one of his books, A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose. One of my favorite bloggers, Steve Pavlina, has an exercise (which I would highly recommend) titled How to Discover Your Life Purpose in About 20 Minutes. Many personal development experts down through the ages would agree that having a clear purpose in life is the key to true success.
And yet other teachers, especially those more familiar with Eastern traditions, have much more cautious feelings about our drive to find “purpose”. In fact, in Taoism and Zen, nature is described as “purposeless”, and it is meant as a complement – a state we should imitate. Alan Watts, one of the great teachers of a few decades ago, believed that life was like music. There is no finish-line type of goal in music. Musicians don’t get higher ratings for reaching the end of the piece faster. When you dance, your purpose isn’t to arrive at a specific location on the floor. When you play, you aren’t trying to “get something out” of it – and if you are, it isn’t really play.
In the midst of the present moment we find the pure beauty of being. Even a pebble or a blade of grass is a wonderful thing. The pleasure of filling our lungs with air – the simple feeling of our body being alive- simply to BE is purpose enough for anyone. But the ego is rarely content with that. We feel that we must have some heroic purpose. We want to change the world (and receive the credit for changing it). And in desperately looking around for some divine purpose, we overlook all the beauty of the present moment, and the joy of simply BEING. We ignore the mysterious and wonderful gift of existence and look instead for something more gratifying to the ego.
Often, our quest for “purpose” may simply be a deep-seated fear and discontent with who we really are. Our search for “meaning” may represent a dissatisfaction with the reality of existence in the NOW, the only place where the essence of Being is to be found. Under these circumstances, to rest in the contentment of purposelessness is a wonderful thing. Neale Donald Walsch wrote a book titled “What God Wants”. After several chapters of building up to the question, we finally arrive at the title chapter… which is blank. Walsch’s point is that God doesn’t want or need anything from us. We are loved freely and unconditionally, and it is enough for God that we simply ARE. To be consumed with fear that we are wasting our life and not fulfilling our divine mandate is to misunderstand God’s gift to us.
So much for the dangers of an ego-based “purpose”. But perhaps there is more to living life with purpose than simply being discontent with ourselves. We are each unique. No other being experiences life exactly as you do. If we fully and completely accept this gift of existence, then we DO discover a purpose and meaning in our life. God is found right in the middle of the here and now. That is where we meet divine grace and purpose. And if we put up no resistance and allow grace to flow through us, then purpose flows into our lives. Not a selfish need to be special, but a delicious joy in being ourselves.
The point of exercises like Steve Pavlina’s that help us discover our “purpose” is this – that we discover who we really ARE. Not what someone else wants us to be. Not as we wish we were instead. Not some fantasy that depreciates reality, but a whole-hearted acceptance of our unique being. Our purpose is to BE. To be ourselves as we were created. Not to be someone else. If we strip away all the layers of our expectations, we will be ready for our true divine purpose to flow through us.
We may find ourselves manifesting amazing creative projects. Or we may find ourselves sitting alone in a quiet room. Or we may do both. It’s interesting that the two major figures of the Bible – Moses in the Old Testament and Jesus in the New Testament – spent decades in quiet obscurity before their periods of activity and “accomplishment”. But Jesus was fulfilling his purpose every bit as much living quietly in a small village as he later was preaching to multitudes. None of Moses’ years of the simple shepherd’s life in Midian were wasted ones.
And so my conclusion is that life SHOULD be filled with purpose. Your purpose is to really BE yourself, completely and totally, right here and right now. All the books, exercises and programs are simply to clear away the junk that hides you from yourself, and separates you from the divine purpose that is hiding in plain view, right in front of your eyes.
Or you can find a more ego-based idea of purpose articulated by Agent Smith in the clip below: