“'Knowing yourself is the beginning of all wisdom.”- Aristotle
In the last 2 weeks I have had a dozen deep conversations with good friends, about finding ones purpose in life. I'm so happy these conversations are happening and these questions are being asked. After all, this is what life is all about! This is about being as real as you can possibly be and living life with courage.
2 weeks ago in the Maldives a buddy who has smashed it in the business world and made a lot of money, said he was still looking for some purpose in his life.
"It get's boring just going on holidays all the time" he said.
And I knew exactly what he meant. The human spirit needs to be nourished with the flowing rivers of purpose. When a river is blocked, the water stagnates.
Last week another friend and I chatted about work, career and family responsibilities... the things we just "have to do". And then we spoke about passions, art, and excitement... the things we want to do. It felt like a choice was necessary- you either go this way or that. I could feel in him the pent up expression that just needs to be released.
Last night I had dinner with another mate. This is a guy with a wisdom and way that does not come from reading books. I think he is amazing (as I can see the real him). He feels he is playing small. He feels as though his whole life he has been programmed to live a certain way and to see the world through a certain lens, but now, something in him is rebelling.
We plunged into a conversation that spanned building tree-houses, to living in the wild, to learning from indigenous traditions about how they guide their young ones into adulthood and life's calling.
We talked about how in our culture, there is something lacking in this regard. That is putting in mildly. In our mainstream culture, there is a flagrant disregard for question: "How do I find my purpose in life?" This article is about that.
Hamsters on a wheel go round and round..
Study hard. Why?
So you can choose your career? Why?
So you can save up money. Why?
So you can buy a house and be secure. Why?
So you can go on holiday 2 weeks a year and "relax". Why?
So you can last the race, and reach the promised land of Retirement.
More and more, I see friends tuning into the fallacy. There is a fatal flaw in this myth.
For if we follow this script and we make all the money, and we go on all the fancy holidays and retire with a boat, a golf club membership and dodgy knees... we are still no closer to understanding our purpose in life.
Society has programmed us to live like hamsters on a wheel. To keep on "doing things you don’t like doing in order to go on living — that is, to go on doing things you don’t like doing", as Alan Watts eloquently puts it. "It's all retch and no vomit".
We never get down to the real meaning of it all.
Me, my mask and I
In my own life journey, of course I had to learn these lessons the hard way. Quotes, and inspirational videos were not going to cut through my stubborn mind and programmed fears. I had to fully live out the myth I had been programmed to live out.
So I learned how to make heaps of cash, and I bought all the fancy stuff, and wore nice suits, and climbed the career ladder and made sure I kept up by reading the paper from cover to cover. Wow, I knew about every single bad thing in the world, I could talk (ignorantly) about the stock market, and my pension fund was building up at a very exciting rate! I was killin' it!
But I was dying inside.
I remember one day rushing between meetings, doing the "corporate power shuffle", and I caught a reflection of myself in the window of HSBC bank. Something in that moment of time cut through the facade, and I saw quite clearly a reflection of a person who was not me. It stopped me dead in my tracks.
City-boy staring, agape at the window, in a moment of schizophrenic bafflement.
In that moment I saw my mask. I became aware of the hardened shell that I had allowed to become me. And I became acutely aware of the raw nubbin of my spirit/soul/self inside that shell, who had been locked inside, withering away, unfed and unwatered.
And from that glorious moment I went on and lived my purpose... Ha. Just checkin' you are with me. This isn't a Disney movie. :)
What actually happened was that from that fleeting moment of awareness, I became inspired to train myself to have more frequent moments of awareness. I systematically trained myself to be more aware. And from that foundation, my purpose naturally emerged like a mountain peak behind the fog.
What do I mean by "awareness"?
It's very straightforward, but I see how it gets confusing, because "talkin bout spiritual sh*t" just ain't easy:
-"You just got to become more aware... you know, raise your consciousness... raise your vibrations, just let your energy and essence shine through your third eye."
- "Sorry, I don't have a fuckin clue what you are talking about."
The Unaware life
So let me break it down. The reason why awareness is without doubt, no question, undisputed heavy-weight champion of self-development, growth and finding your purpose... is because:
Without it, you are unaware.
Unaware of who you really are, unaware of what you really love. Unaware of why you keep on living.
You are like a boxer thrust into the ring, who is not aware that he is a boxer.
BAM, SPLAT, THWACK! Pain, suffering, confusion.
You can see how this is an sub-optimal way to live, I hope.
When you are unaware, you do not know what exists underneath the shell that has been formed through societal conditioning, and a culture that specialises in shell-building.
When you are unaware, you think that you are this person who does this and that, and has a Linkedin profile that says "I do important stuff", 754 friends on Facebook, yet is scared of talking to strangers at parties.
This is not you, yet it is very hard not to become ATTACHED to the illusion of this person.
For a start, we have inherited in part the fears of our parents and our tribe. And from the moment we wake to the moment we sleep, we are barraged with messages to buy something or do something that will make us happier and less afraid.
Awareness leads to Purpose
By developing awareness, you gradually start to re-acquaint yourself with yourself. You begin to see and feel that there is a force within you that is quite separate from the image you have of you.
When my friends talk about their kids, they notice how in a child you can see something of the parents, but there is also something in each child that is completely unique and original. The child's spirit.
That kid's spirit is still in you. IT IS YOU!
When you become aware of this, you can start the real fun! The natural byproduct of YOU BEING YOU is that you begin to live your purpose. It is an unstoppable force. You can not do anything but live your purpose.
Perhaps your purpose is just to have fun? So keep jumping in puddles!
Perhaps your purpose is to help the world or its people in some way. Well, what sh*ts you? What inspires you? Your purpose is already in there. You know it already. It is just buried under unawareness. Not even fear can stop you when you are living from the real you.
So how do I become aware?
1. ASK AWESOME QUESTIONS, GET AWESOME ANSWERS
Zen Monks ask themselves Koans, impossible riddles that the conscious mind can not answer. Seriously pondering the question, "What is the sound of one hand clapping" is a question that can lead to an instant breakthrough to the real you, because this is a question that can not be answered by rational thought.
However, for people who are not Monks, I believe the following questions will have a greater impact. (My suggestion is that you write these down in a journal.)
- What does "success" mean to me?
- What does it mean to love?
- What makes me come ALIVE?
- What do my friends and family see in me that I can not?
- If I must die tomorrow, what is it I will do today?
- If I could add anything or remove anything, or change anything, what would I do to make the world a better place?
Write the answers down as if no one is ever going to read them. In doing so, you are watering your spirit/soul/self and you are on the path towards greater self-awareness.
2. SURROUND YOURSELF WITH AUTHENTICITY AND INSPIRATION
We are creatures of conditioning, and for better or worse, much of our thoughts, beliefs, values and opinions about us and the world, have been implanted in us by the world we live in. There is nothing wrong or strange about this.
When you start to become very deliberate about what you do with your time, and who you spend your time with, you can allow conscious choice to dictate your surroundings and influences. And this allows you to learn more about who you are.
- Do more of what you love doing
- Seek out people and friends with whom you can be real and authentic
- Stop watching sh*t TV and do something creative instead
3. GO ON A QUEST, OR MANY MICRO-QUESTS
Quests have been part of many cultures across the world. The "Hero's Quest" is a well known one. Joseph Campbell, the famous mythologist studied fables passed down from generation to generation around the world. He found across land and time, the theme of the Hero's quest remained constant. He believes that elders created these stories to be passed to younger ones that would help them on their transition to adulthood.
Many biblical stories are of Hero's questing. Star Wars is a story of the Hero's quest, as is the Lion King, Top Gun, The Matrix.
In all these stories, the hero must go through a process of discovery, trials and tribulation. He must conquer self-doubt and overcome his biggest fears before he can move on and be the hero.
A Quest can take on many forms, from the arduous and intensive inner work on a "Spirit Quest" of the Native American tradition, to a Flowstate Adventure, to the micro-adventure weekend away where you do things that challenge you.
The most important part of any quest is the intention: Why are you embarking on this quest?
"To bang hot European Girls!" is an answer ones ego might offer.
"To learn about myself and muster the courage to talk to strangers" is one that comes from a deeper place.
Bonus exercise: The Rocking Chair look-back
Life is temporary, it won’t last forever, but we often live as though it will. By shifting our perspective on life and death, we can unlock profound levels of freedom and flow.
A very powerful exercise is to project into the future. You are sitting on a rocking chair, you are old, but happy. For you have lived your ultimate life. You have left nothing on the table. You have loved and been loved. You have achieved your goals, lived your dreams, and unleashed your full potential.
Spend some time visualising this and feeling what it feels like to be looking back on a life well lived. It may well be emotional.
When you are ready, write it all down. What did you do, what did it feel like, what emotions did you feel. Write this all down and immerse yourself in this story! This is creative visualisation at its most powerful.
Let me know how you get on, and if you can share any awareness and purpose finding methods from your own life experience, leave them in the comments!