January 2020

In Search of Purpose

Author: Linda S. Hopkins

“There is no substitute for finding true purpose. But the true or primary purpose of your life cannot be found on the outer level. It does not concern what you do but what you are.” –Eckhart Tolle

Do you ever find yourself wandering aimlessly through your day, doing all the things you are supposed to do or are obligated to do and then wondering what it all means or if it means anything at all? Have your goals gone missing? Are you void of hopes and dreams? Feeling a bit useless or used up? If you answered yes to any of the aforementioned, you are not alone.

As I recently danced around this topic with a group of friends, one of them identified it as a “crisis of purpose.” “Yes, exactly,” I said. And everyone nodded.

Of course, I went home and Googled “crisis of purpose,” and sure enough, someone has coined the phrase. Pop psychologists are beating it around much like the terms midlife crisis and empty nest syndrome, neither of which defines my current situation. I don’t feel the need to buy a convertible, get a face lift, have an affair, or take up residence at an ashram. Maybe I should pursue a new hobby, take a class, learn a new skill. I could volunteer. This, of course, is the same reel that runs through our heads any time we begin to question the status quo or wonder who we are and why we are here.

Most of us tend to define ourselves by our jobs, family positions, and other roles we play. Our purpose seems clear until it doesn’t. Ask me who I am, and I might say that I am a wife, a writer, a cat lover, a stepmom, a friend, a fitness enthusiast, etc. My husband would say he’s an engineer, a CEO, a grandfather, a musician and a magician…. But is this who we really are? Surely life is larger than the sum of our degrees, titles, family hierarchy, hobbies, and to-do lists.

The other term synonymous with a sudden sense of personal disillusionment is referred to as an “existential crisis.” (Yes, you can Google that too.) This state of mind is often attributed to the current epidemics of busyness and unconscious consumption, both of which I would have to plead guilty should I be interrogated by the official Lost Purpose Investigation Committee. Scrolling social media sites and filling my online shopping cart has me coming up empty. But then, taking on too many work-related tasks or over-obligating myself socially can leave me depleted. When there is a lack of balance between mindlessness and mindfulness, busyness and stillness, and/or togetherness and aloneness, our purpose can become muddled.

So, what is this elusive purpose or magic middle ground we seek? And why are so many of us feeling restless, bored, overwhelmed or stuck?

Psychotherapist Jason Winkler put it this way: “Being-in-the-world is examined closely in an existential crisis and, often, there are no answers to one’s questions. It typically is an experience of feeling completely untethered, existentially alone and lost—even despite one having a wealth of loving friends and family, a successful career and professional reputation, material acquisitions, and religious/spiritual faith.”

And that is the irony of my personal quest. I have it all: a nice family (plus a fabulous cat!), lovely home, comfortable lifestyle, loyal friends, a healthy mind and body, and work that I genuinely enjoy—yet some piece of the puzzle seems missing. My first inclination is to “do” something—to strive harder, aim higher, achieve more—but I’m beginning to explore a more radical path.

In his book, A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life Purpose, author and spiritual teacher Eckhart Tolle draws the line between being and doing: “The ego knows nothing of being but believes you will eventually be saved by doing. If you are in the grip of the ego, you believe that by doing more and more you will eventually accumulate enough ‘doings’ to make yourself feel complete at some point in the future. You won’t. You will only lose yourself in doing. The entire civilization is losing itself in doing that is not rooted in being and thus becomes futile.”

Perspective reset
While we often find our passions through participation, there is a case to be made for looking inward. Rather than dwell on the search for meaning through activity, my intention is to slow down and pay attention. Thinking of my purpose in the grander scheme, I dig deep and consider who I am as a human being; I push my brain’s refresh button and look at the world on a brand-new screen. I’m no longer seeking something new or different or more to do to fill my time and fulfill my purpose. I’m no longer counting on the acquisition of more things to make me happy. Instead, I’ve decided to consciously focus on what value I bring to the universe wherever I happen to “be” in the moment.

I hereby grant myself permission to revel in the small pleasures so often squandered in the constant pursuit of more. What if my purpose today is to do what comes naturally to me, which is, in essence, my way of being? I can encourage a friend who’s feeling low or inspire confidence in someone who needs a boost. I can invite conversation and connectedness by listening and showing empathy. I can scatter compliments like parade candy and spread kindness like confetti. I can do all of this without special training or preparation, without a specific cause or significant investment of time, and without stress or hesitation. And in doing so, I find an unmatched sense of worthiness and belonging.

What if I don’t need a fancy title, a set intention or a game plan to make a difference in the world? And isn’t that our highest purpose—to matter? What if being me is enough? What if I simply show up?

Gradually, I find myself breathing easier, my initial angst replaced by acceptance, gratitude, and love for what is. No need for resolutions this year. What I thought was a crisis was merely a growth spurt. I realize now that I am exactly who I need to be. I carry all the essentials of happiness within myself, and my purpose will reveal itself wherever my path may lead.

Happy 2020!

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