Why I can’t seem to figure out what the f*** I want to do with my life?
There is a moment that occurs for each person where they really start to question what it is that they want to do with their lives.
This moment of existential crises comes at different ages for different people and is brought on by vastly varying circumstances.
My moment came when I sold a business that I had been working on for many years and fell into a deep depression after the transaction didn’t pan out exactly as expected.
The question of purpose is one that Bill Gates even wrote about in a post of his here.
The greatest men and among us in each endeavour or discipline of life appear in some way to be guided by a higher purpose or mission.
Simon Sinek talks about the “why”. The question that forces us to examine our motive behind our actions and suggests that this will be the major driving force for both enhancing our own self-governance but also the other-governance of our organisations and society.
We are becoming a “why” culture.
The more that our basic needs are taken care off, the more time we have to question ourselves and in search of a posthumous vision about what it is that we want our lives to be about and why.
For the most part we no longer are living in a society that demand us to fight for our physical survival and in this new-found space, our minds have started to ponder the purpose of our existence on the planet.
The word legacy is on an exponential rise since 1950, around the end of WW2.
I don’t claim that there is necessarily a correlation but it is fascinating that as our society enters the most peaceful period in history of man that we should be wondering about the meaning or purpose of our lives.
I know that my depression after I sold my business led me on a pursuit of “what is it that I want to dedicate my life to now.”
I spent 4-5 years building a business, that in its final chapter I thought would bring me meaning, but I only found myself left with more questions and far fewer answers.
I sat on the balcony crying, in bed unable to sleep.
I made money but it’s never enough.
I entered a period of my life where at 26 years old I manically attempted to discover my mission and purpose on the planet.
I read many books.
I attended seminars.
I learned a lot.
2.5 years later I found myself only a little closer to really understanding what my purpose is.
This is a deep dive into the process that I underwent to discover my purpose and unfortunately it isn’t necessarily filled with many adventurous tales like Lord of the Rings, but more a philosophical process.
For a moment pay attention to that little voice inside your head.
The one that reading these words aloud right now. Notice him or her.
The voice is there isn’t it?
It’s the voice that just said, “What voice?” or “Is it?”
Now notice that you can observe your voice.
By that I mean, there is something outside of that voice that is aware of its presence.
That observer, that awareness is the gateway to discovering your purpose.
Meditators are familiar with the process of observing their thoughts.
Alan Watts had a great process here for introducing those unfamiliar to meditation and will also be of value to those that are experienced.
Listen to it right after you are done with this article.
The process is like listening to your thoughts in the same way you might listen to the passing birds or the sounds of a city’s hustle and bustle on a busy street. Just notice it.
Notice the world around you, the sounds, noises and chatter.
But don’t label it, just listen to it like you would a piece of classical music.
It is this little gateway that allows us to separate our ‘selves’ from our heavy and sticky thoughts and discover we are more than our thoughts and bodies.
We also possess an awareness that is behind those thoughts.
Quickly though we fall into a trap of sorts.
As we realize and connect with this awareness, we recognize and evaluate it making it a thought.
The paradox is that the moment that you think you have it, the moment you observe your thoughts and notice your observation, you have lost it.
And at some point, in this meditation of noticing our thoughts, we discover that we are both the knower of the thoughts and the known, the thoughts themselves.
In our experience of life there is this continuous go between.
This splitting of our perception between the object and the subject.
We are the object, and we observe a ‘subject’ outside ourselves.
We separate our experience into in either a physical dimension (outer-world) and the spiritual dimension (inner world).
We separate them as if there is a real separation that exists between matter and the spirit or energy behind that matter.
This separation is the same arbitrary separation that scientists make when discussing the properties of any molecules.
Try this thought experiment and ask yourself at what specific point does water turn into gas?
At what point does the gas turn into water?
Is it at the point where the molecules are visible to the human eye and a droplet forms or is it the moment when 1 vapour molecule bonds with a 2nd?
But what about the intermediate process which at a further microscopic level where we can still see the gaseous vapour in the form of water molecules?
Notice the arbitrary nature with which we choose to gauge the transformation of a molecule between its different properties.
Such is the nature of the separation of ourselves from the environment around us.
We demarcate ourselves from the environment around at the point where our body appears to end and the world begins.
But such a separation is highly arbitrary and only exists as a function of our limited sensory perception/ awareness and our brains limited computational capacity.
We forget that there is oxygen being breathed in through our bodies and carbon dioxide being exhaled in each passing breath connecting us to not only the larger eco-system but also the people around us.
Our hearts and brains emit electromagnetic frequencies that sensitive instruments can pick-up.
Our bodies emit a heat that impacts the environment around us.
We have billions of bacteria that live on our skin cells that feed on us and then reproduce throughout our lives.
We have viruses that are inhaled and exhaled.
In every moment, we have saliva leaving our mouths as we speak and being fed on by the smaller organisms around us.
Our skin has micro-receptor sites that are picking up the electric-vibration of certain frequencies around creating the sense of pressure, temperature.
In summary, we are not separate but highly interconnected in a very real way to the world around us.
Yet through our minds we create arbitrary separations between ‘the world out there’ and ‘me over here’.
This highly embedded illusion is hard to shake.
It would be like trying to explain to a conscious fish that it is in water. The fish (if it were conscious of itself) couldn’t separate itself from the water.
We (being people) find it hard to accept and see ourselves as a natural extension of the larger eco-system that is the environment around us.
Inside our use of language we take our experiences of ‘reality’ and break it apart. I am a man. She is a women. This is an ear or an arm. These separations are entirely arbitrary.
At what point specifically does ones ear begin and end? Is it at the point where the head’s perimeter ends? Or is it inside the head? If so how far inside the head does the ear extend? Is it as far until the ear canal ends?
But the ear canal is of course directly interconnected to the rest of the head and brain which then processes information and vibrations as sound. So it goes.
Inside our language, our attempt to describe the world around us, we lose touch with reality that is the true nature of things.
Interestingly, it is our illusion of separation from the world around us, this captive illusion, that is the source of our yearning to discover a deeper purpose to our lives.
Put simply, it is inside the moments that we separate ourselves from the world around and isolate ourselves as a separate entity in language, a noun, a thing, that ends or begins here, that we must question our purpose.
In those moments of greatest separation and disconnection that we experience an existential crises.
When our minds are not in perfect equanimity, a state where the knower-known or object-subject is collapsed, our thoughts oscillate between the questions: Why am I here, from whence did I come, what should I do.
It is inside this very suffering, this existential crises, that will allows us to answer this question of purpose.
The answer is almost disappointing at first.
Our purpose is akin to that of a sunflower.
A sunflower is the natural byproduct of the environment in which it forms.
The seedlings, nutrition, growth and its death are considered a natural process experienced in nature.
Like a sunflower we too are part of and are a natural extension of a larger ecosystem. We grow, experience, die.
Neil deGrasse Tyson said in his interview with Larry King, at death, he wants his body to be buried so it can be recycled and eaten by the worms and the energy can be again disbursed the universe from whence it came.
Our desire to separate ourselves from the predator-prey cycle of nature is at the root of our misunderstanding of our true nature.
Our identity, the inner voice, the one we call “I” or “me”, wants to continue the illusion of being distinctively separate and seeks to reinforce its separation from the world.
That “I” cannot conceive that it is, like the sunflower, just part of an evolutionary process through which there is a cycle of creation-and-destruction.
It needs to ‘feel like there is something more’ then being just a speck of ‘dust hurtling through the cosmos’.
It is inside that model of separation that our minds seek a calling or higher purpose and we need a purpose to justify our existence.
We take our disconnection from the world around us and in our psychological distress, project that our organisms purpose must lie in the attainment of something external.
More money. Recognition. Fame. Family. Children.
Notice that you do not walk past a sunflower and ask “I wonder what it’s purpose is?”
You just say ‘oh what a pretty sunflower’ or nothing at all.
You do not question the purpose of your breath. It is inherent in your nature. You breathe.
It’s purpose is inherent in its nature. To exist and express its form of consciousness in the form of a ‘sunflower’.
So the nature around us and within us is taken for granted to be part of an orderly system.
But somewhere along the line we draw out and separate through the mind’s evaluations that we are not part of a larger ecosystem.
Through language we arbitrarily separate ourselves continually from nature.
This break in the continuum of nature is the source of our desire to change our selves.
We seem to think that our position in in the world ought to be different or change.
We see ourselves as something special, unique, separate.
Something different from the eco-system around us.
Like a sunflower which expresses its nature in its growth from seedling to a full-blown coloured object, the humans expression can be characterised inside our evolution from baby to sentient being.
Rarely does it occur to us that the very act of thinking, evaluating or contemplating purpose is in itself part of our nature in the ecosystem.
The question “why”, is just a natural extension of our nature, like the sunflower grows from seedling to expand outwards towards the sun.
The pursuit of our purpose is in itself a natural extension of our purpose.
It sits on a continuum, one that doesn’t have a beginning or end destination.
The location or rather destination that we are seeking is the end of separation between self-other and awareness-ego or knower-known.
That destination, the unity between the world-around-us-and-us concludes the pursuit of a purpose.
It is the discovery that really there never was a purpose to pursue.
Every action, including this one right now of reading this article, sits inside a new-found awareness that as an organism inseparable from nature you are on purpose right now.
Your purpose is the unfolding of your experience.
Your purpose has no beginning or ending.
Your purpose is inherent in your nature and expressed naturally in the unfolding of your every action.
What you do or do not do, say or do not say, you are expressing your innate purpose.
Ultimately, you cannot find your purpose because you are always on purpose.