A few weeks ago I met a bewildered woman. She was a successful civil servant in her forties who was waking up to her spirituality and had begun to attend some psychic development classes.
‘I just don’t know what I’m supposed to be doing with my life,’ she said. ‘I don’t seem to have a purpose.’
We started to have a conversation and it turned out that she had a family and was a senior manager in social services. She was a good person and she was doing good. But she now thought that being psychic and having clairvoyant experiences was the only meaningful way of living. She had stopped valuing her role as a carer, manager and parent. She was temporarily enchanted by the illusion that psychic experiences were more meaningful than being of service.
This reminded me of an old friend who once confessed that he was envious of my being a spiritual teacher and workshop leader. He himself was a financier with a sumptuous life style and I asked what it was about my life that he envied, expecting him to say that it was because my work was congruent with my soul or that it helped me to be centred. Instead, he started to describe how he saw my life as being a bit like a pop or movie star, with status and glamour. That, he felt, would bring him real satisfaction.
I winced with embarrassment. My model of a good spiritual teacher is not someone who is successful or well known, but someone who is quiet and hidden. I love the stories of the great Muslim mystics, the Sufi Masters, who work as cobblers and bakers. To find them, you have to look for the most invisible person in the crowd.
People are always trying to work out what they should be doing with their lives. But the more I look at this idea of having a ‘life’s purpose’ the more I think and feel that it is an illusion. Let me risk a wide-sweeping generalisation.
Everyone’s life purpose is the same.
Our purpose is to develop our compassion and consciousness until finally, in every single cell, we are completely and totally loving, awake and of benefit to all living beings.
One hundred per cent compassionate and conscious in every fibre of our being.
No buts or ifs. No waiting until we have found the right career. Being awake and compassionate is The Career!
Everybody knows this. It is at the core of all spiritual traditions.
So why is it that we so often get lost and confused and think we do not know our life’s purpose – when, in fact, we do know it?
So here are six thoughts that help me and may be of use to you too.
One – When something gives us pleasure, our basic survival instinct for self-gratification drives us to wanting more of it. So if we enjoy imagining a different type of life, we will start to desire the actual thing. Imagination and desire are normal parts of being human. Unfortunately, as the Buddha so helpfully reminded us, desire is the source of all suffering and a destructive emotion. So enjoy daydreaming about other possibilities, but don’t get hooked in by actually desiring them.
Two – Spiritual growth is not easy because we have to meet our wounded psychological selves in order to heal and integrate them – and this can be painful. Not surprisingly we have an instinct to avoid this pain, but this avoidance can then lead us away from true spiritual development. We look for easy solutions and ‘finding our life’s purpose’ is an easy sounding solution, like the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. The way forward here is courage and realism about the spiritual journey. Caroline Myss’s book Sacred Contracts is very useful here because it facilitates new levels of clarity through an inner dialogue.
Three – Our brains are genetically hardwired to understand life through stories that have a plot and a conclusion. The basic story is hunt, gather, eat and survive. Ambiguous stories cause us anxiety. (How do you feel when you only know three quarters of a story?) We are therefore impatient to understand the plot and the ending of our own life stories. Again, we may look for simple solutions and reject the ambiguities of paradox, unknowing and mystery. The trick is to learn how to be and accept all of life’s conundrums.
Four – We all carry personal and collective karma, which can create almost unbearable feelings of negativity. Like infants we want the comfort and gratification that might come with success and material fulfilment. But no amount of success or riches from the right ‘career’ will deliver satisfaction. Only through building a strong centre and learning the skills of self-healing will these internal hungry ghosts be integrated.
Five – Then there is a sense of being stifled and having creative talents that need to be fulfilled. Dealing with these feelings is a life art. There are no easy answers. Sometimes we need to explode and release ourselves into something new. Other times, we need patience and careful experimentation. And often we just need to accept that we are perfectly fine the way that we are.
Six – And then there is the great illusion that once we have achieved our life’s purpose and are in the right ‘career’ we will feel fulfilled and content. But we are not islands. Is it possible to feel fulfilled when fellow creatures are still suffering? Are personal purpose and personal fulfilment inherently self-centred? It is probably more realistic to stay with the core message of Christ and with the Vow of the Bodhissatva Buddhas. This Vow states: ‘We shall not rest until every being is liberated from suffering.’
So here then is the possible life purpose for all of us – to become fully awake and compassionate; and to strive until all beings are free of suffering. Each in our own unique way, each in our own everyday lives.
All my love, William