Do you have this niggling feeling in the back of your mind, where you wonder what your true purpose really is? Or if you are really living it? If so, I totally get it – it used to gnaw away at me big-time…but now I think about the whole concept somewhat differently, and it no longer stresses me out…
When I was younger though, and studying naturopathy and pranic healing, I had this over-zealous notion that I was put here to “heal people”. I took myself very seriously and this epic ambition was a quite a weight on my shoulders (not to mention somewhat of of an ego-trip, and partly a projection – subconsciously I craved healing for myself most of all).
Later, when I was travelling around the world in my mid-20s I worked stints as a live-in care-worker so I could earn money quickly and go off travelling again. Even though I chose this lifestyle, part of me felt frustrated that I was “just” a carer when I could have been working as a trained naturopath, and really helping people. I kept feeling like I wasn’t living my true purpose and that my real life hadn’t begun yet.
But one day at work I happened to just be in the moment, peacefully brushing the hair of my terminally-ill young client, and she looked up at me with such gratitude, and I realised how fortunate I was to be right there at that precise point in time…and that this simple act was indeed a form of healing – for both of us, as any pure act of giving always is. I started to drop all my rigid notions and “shoulds” around purpose, and began to wonder if we really even have one.
Do We Even Really Have a Purpose?
The thing is though, we are conditioned to want to have a purpose.
First of all, our limited human mind finds it really difficult to fathom the huge mystery and fundamental ambiguity of life. So we try to nail down a sense of meaning as a way of coping with the fact that we don’t really know how we got here and we don’t really know where we are going in the end, we are in fact just a teensy part of something much larger than ourselves. (So how can we possibly know what we are supposed to “do” in our brief glimmer of a human life?)
Secondly, our Western culture values qualities such as drive, ambition, hard-work, productivity and success. From the time we are kids, we are constantly asked “so what do you want to be when you grow up?” We are valued for our contributions and not for who we intrinsically are.
Our sense of self-worth is therefore undeniably linked to our accomplishments and what we “do” in the world. In fact, what is it we call people who lack ambition or drive? We call them losers…as if life is a race that can be won or lost.
And so we approach our lives just like a race, we strive constantly and delay our gratification until we reach the finish-line: the next milestone, the deadline, the payday, the reward just around the corner, the holiday, the moment we have finally arrived, when all is complete and we can finally relax and say we did “it” and earn our ribbon.
And I believe this deep desire to “find” our purpose is related to this, and trying to find it can cause a lot of angst. A sense of purpose is ominous, weighty, filled with heavy things such as success and failure, it is linear, part of a P-L-A-N. Many of us also feel pressure that our job should at least be related to our purpose – that we should be able to make a living from it.
I say we just totally scrap this idea of races, finish-lines and purposes, and think about life as something else entirely.
A Sanskrit Word To Remember When You are Hung Up On Purpose
One of my favourite words in Sanskrit is leela. It means God’s play. And it refers to the notion that all of this beautiful, crazy world we see around us is just the play of God. It’s all just a wildly whimsical creative expression…just for fun. Just because. It’s not going anywhere in particular or trying to achieve anything. Flowers, stars, lemurs, fuzzy bumble bees, rainbows and geckos…do you think they were put here for a purpose?
Another way to see life, (which I borrow from the wonderful, late Alan Watts) is to see it as a piece of music or a dance rather than a race or a journey. It is essentially playful and reaching a particular destination is not the point of it at all. You are simply supposed to sing, or dance while the music is being played. (To watch a beautiful, short video of Watt’s explanation of this, click here)
So if we see life as a dance rather than a purposeful journey, perhaps a better question to ask ourselves is not ‘What is my purpose’, but ‘How do I want to dance?’ In other words, ‘What am I most passionate about?’ “What lights me up from within and excites me more than anything”?
Dancing Your Passions
Unlike the seriousness of purpose, passions are fun, light, changeable and exciting… Purpose comes from a sense of obligation and self-importance. Passion comes from a sense of natural joy and self-expression. You can also have more than one passion, and they may not have anything to with your work.
And for those of you I can just hear saying “But I don’t know what I am passionate about” or “I don’t have any passions” then I believe either you have been starving your soul for too long and have been so caught up in the “race” that you have become disconnected from your true self or deep down you do know what you are passionate about, but you are too scared to really express it. Perhaps you are holding yourself to some limiting script like “I’m too old for that” or “I’ll never be truly good at this”. (I highly recommend The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron if you want help getting in touch with your passions or getting over the fear of expressing them – even if you don’t think of yourself as an “artist”.)
Remember the point with passions is that there is no point at all, other than joy – you are not to trying to accomplish anything or achieve mastery or accolades. They’re just your uniquely favourite way of dancing to life’s music.
So now I’d love to hear from you – in the comments below, do you agree or disagree? Do you worry about finding your true purpose? And most of all, I would LOVE to hear about your passions – how do you dance to life’s music?
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