Living your life purpose and the understanding the meaning of life is intertwined. They are one and the same on a spiritual level and the key to true spiritual wellness.
I believe the need to make a difference, a somehow unique and meaningful contribution to the world (or at least our corner of it) is a basic human drive. It is as innate a need to our minds and spirits as food is to our bodies.
And the truth is - living with purpose is good for your mental and physical health. It feels good when you do something to make the world a better place for yourself and others. It increases your sense of self worth and happiness. So powerful is its effects that even being responsible for watering a nursing home plant has been shown to extend life and quality of life for residents.
But the age old questions of Who am I? Why am I here? Do I matter? also cause angst as they pluck at the hearts of seekers of truth, meaning, and purpose. It is the question of those who want know there is more to life than taking and consuming, of living on autopilot. They want that more, they want to live a life of purpose. To know the meaning of life and why they are here. These are the questions of every heart, even if we have stopped asking or never knew to ask.
I write this as no stranger to the torment of yearning to know my life purpose. At times I nearly drove myself crazy with it. I wondered and fretted: When will I be on my path? Is there just one? Do I have to define my purpose to live it? How will I be sure I’ve got the right one? When? Surely the answer was out there, surely someone could tell me.
As is often the case, the answers came in due time, along with deeper understandings of what it means to live life on purpose. Not from out there, or from someone else, but from inside me where they had been hiding in plain sight. The answers had always been there, once known but somehow forgotten until awakened and remembered again.
Here is what I have come to believe about life purpose and the meaning of life. You may see it differently, and that's okay.
1 - We each have been gifted a life imbued with a meaningful grand purpose - to live our best life, to love, learn, and contribute to the welfare of others and the planet. To make the world a better place because we are in it. All of what we call life purpose boils down to this.
I’m not sure where we got the idea of having one grand, unique to us, lifetime reason for living. Or that one way of expressing our purpose is more important, noteworthy, or valuable than another. These false ideas are more about ego and personal validation than life purpose.
For example, I believe our cheerful shopping club greeter exemplifies a higher ideal of fulfilling purpose than the nationally televised “windbag” cloaking his agenda behind a cause. (I bet we all pictured someone different for that one!) Parents doing their best to raise responsible, enlightened citizens of the planet are doing as much for the world as someone traveling the world feeding the hungry.
2- Our prime purpose is manifested through personal underlying themes, or sub-purposes. When we ask, "What's my purpose", this is what we mean. These life themes are determined by our individual personality, experiences, culture and values. (Values are almost like our DNA and are key part of our internal guidance system.) They guide us in how we live our themes, why, and for whom, in ways that are unique to each of us.
3- Transient purposes come and go. In one moment you may be called upon to risk your life to save another. In another moment a child needs your help with homework. In another, you nurture your spirit with the words of a book or a song. They may be grand or so seemingly mundane that we overlook them as part of our grand purpose.
4- Themes and transient purposes ebb and flow, shift and change as we journey on life’s path. They may be momentary or last for years, even a lifetime. Their tapestry is woven by the mundane and the grand, the one minute service that changes the world and the everyday actions that keep our world going.
3-Confusion and inertia around our purpose arises because we get hung up on the what, how, why and who for. We are looking for what we think of as grand instead of seeing the grand in what we call ordinary. Let it go. If your intent is to fulfill your life purpose and you are taking meaningful actions, then you can't get it wrong.
The following questions will help you discover your purpose for each day (and ultimately for your life). Note: you don't have to answer the questions when you ask them. Live in the intent of the questions. Answer them at the end of the day if you wish. If you missed an opportunity, that's okay. Note it and move on.
4-There is a difference between living a purposeful life and living a life filled with purpose.
You can live a purposeful life without finding it joyful or meaningful. A life of purpose feels right, it feels good. It empowers and enlivens you, even drives and compels you. It does not force or bully you or ask you to compromise or betray yourself. It is not about should and obligation, however necessary at times.
When your heart isn’t in it, no matter how grand a service, it is not be good for you. If that is the case and you must do the thing, find ways to bring purposeful intent or meaning to the activity. And be sure to do other things that foster your soul’s sense of purpose.
The following exercises will help you surface and clarify your themes and how you best live your life purpose.
Exercise: Ask yourself these questions. Answer from your heart and soul. Write down your answers.
Example: I want to make life better for my family. How: declutter our home, affirm them daily, forgiving my husband for__. AND I want to make life better for cats at the shelter. I'm not sure how I want to do this yet. Ideas: donate toys, play with them once a week.
If you think you are not living your life purpose at your job, imagine what it would be like if no one did it. Ever. (Remember when garbage collectors went on strike? Yikes!)
1- Write a long list of ways your job brings value to yourself and others. Don't discount anything. Ask for input.
2- Brainstorm ways you can bring a sense of meaning to your workplace. Ie: I can cheerfully greet my customers. I can put a flower on the desk of a co-worker going through a hard time. I can remind myself why my job is meaningful.
As a child I loved reading and writing stories. I loved animals and being around my extended family. As a teen I loved nature and animals. Being a avid reader, I devoured the National Wildlife magazines in the school library. Let’s Eat Right to Keep Fit by Adelle Davis gave me a voracious appetite for studying nutrition. Reading the bible led to a fascination with laying on of hands healing and the gifts of the Spirit.
In my 20’s and 30’s the responsibilities of marriage (and divorce), a full time job, raising children, and church activities took precedence. Animal welfare was out of sight, out of mind.
Enter the advent of the internet and a different phase of life.The web introduced me to the world of holistic healing while researching health options. Out again came Adelle’s book. What was once an interest in nutritional healing grew into a enduring obsession with natural healing.
Still, I could not quiet my restlessness and quest of “my purpose”. A few years ago, my search for a new dog on petfinder.com reopened my eyes to animal welfare issues. With that, it was as if I awakened from a long sleep. It took a while, but I’ve come to sum up my purpose (as of today!) in this way: I help human and non-human beings in this interwoven web of life live healthier, happier lives because “We all do better when we all do better” (thank you Janet Roper for that quote).
It saddens me that in my angst over finding what I thought of as my prime unique purpose, I missed seeing the just as meaningful purposes in the mundane common activities of daily life. I deprived myself of much joy by seeing my duties only as obligations instead of my purpose.
Going forward I plan to see the grandness in little acts of purpose. And I aim to let go of more "shoulds" that are not aligned with the meaning of my life.
Share with us your understanding about life purpose and the meaning of life.
Do you believe they are one in the same?
Do you believe life purpose is innate or that it is evoked or cultivated?
This is a, what comes first, the chicken or the egg question. IE: did reading National Wildlife cause me to become an animal advocate or was that life theme already in my soul guiding me to pick up the magazine? (yes I read other magazines, too).
What does it mean to you to live a life filled with meaningful purpose?
What brings purpose to your life?