by Justin Deschamps
Purpose and meaning in life are an essential part of the human experience, at least this is what almost every spiritual and philosophic work in history has said. But how do we make our lives meaningful? How can we find purpose and direction, beyond the shallow materialistic pursuits of today?
Author – Justin Deschamps
Dr. Jordan B Peterson is a professor of psychology at the University of Toronto and a clinical psychologist with over 20 years experience. Students who attend his lectures describe them as the single most important body of information they ever learned, helping them shape their lives and mold themselves for success in the world.
For those on the awakening path, it might seem that finding our purpose is a given; we are simply here to be kind, loving, and spiritual people. And while that is true, this answer appears to be too undefined and nebulous.
Dr. Peterson asserts that what makes life meaningful is the choice to take on a burden, to care about something enough so that it activates all of our faculties. He says that suffering is a state of being all people face, which can be made meaningful by finding something productive to do. Suffering without purpose is what can be so maddening, but with purpose, almost any situation can be embraced and overcome.
In short, because there is so much suffering in the world, by working on yourself to develop knowledge, wisdom, and skills, you cultivate the capacity to limit suffering for yourself and others. In this sense, the purpose of life is to realize your potential through experience (purpose) and then use that for the benefit of others, to alleviate all suffering as much as possible.
The archetypal savior figure, such as Christ, Buddha, Mohammad, and Joseph, are all examples of individuals (whether real or not) who took on the burdens and problems of the world, who believed in themselves and their capacity to improve things. The story of Christ is particularly reflective of this principle of purpose in that he died for the sins of man, and in doing so, became the great Redeemer.
“The purpose of life is to contribute in some way to making things better.”
The Effects of Purpose
Whether we consider such stories as myth or history doesn’t detract from their ability to reveal a very useful concept to us, which is that purpose is essential in order to have a meaningful, rewarding, and fulfilling life. Purpose is the thing that organizes all the seemingly separate and divides aspects of self into a coordinated machine of action.
A composer who spends years learning different musical styles and forms, who explores other art throughout life, one day feels the pang of inspiration and writes a musical piece that embodies all their studies and more—an emergent creation that is more than the sum of its parts. All purposeful action is similarly all-inclusive in that what comes through in these moments is new, novel, or additive.
“You were put on this earth to achieve your greatest self, to live out your purpose, and to do it courageously.”
Therefore, purpose is that agency of consciousness that is holistically generative, that makes use of aspects of our being we didn’t know were useful. As a case in point, a wealth of experiences we usually pay no particular attention to during childhood often becomes an invaluable resource when raising children of our own. In this way, purpose also provides us a new point of view on things we might have forgotten about.
It seems that the more experiences we have and the more eclectic and adventurous we are the more raw data there is to draw from when the sound of purpose comes knocking at our door. As such, the more we can develop caring and curiosity, the more meaningful life becomes. Often we learn things that seem unimportant or unrelated to our current desires, only later to discover that without these experiences we wouldn’t be where we are today.
So while it might seem unpopular, socially taboo, or uneasy to be adventurous, especially when it comes to information and research we don’t believe in, the more we expose ourselves to new things the more driven, inspired, and purposeful life becomes.
Small or Large Purposes
But not all purposes are equal. Some pursuits drive people to commit horrible acts. What we value determines what we consider meaningful, and therefore if we haven’t taken the time to develop enough knowledge about reality, our values could become twisted, harmful, and unproductive.
The scope and impact of our purposes are important to consider.
If we choose as our life pursuit the counting of blades of grass, this might give us a small sense of accomplishment but our impact on the world will be marginal at best. Conversely, the purpose of cleaning the environment is much more influential. And even more, the pursuit of educating others is even more influential, as we can help raise up our fellows who can then go on to find purpose as well. In this sense, teaching can be thought of as a grand pursuit, an overarching purpose that enfolds other activities within it.
Is There an Ultimate Purpose?
This is a big question to consider.
Ancient people, mystics, and philosophers, who took an honest look at life, all seem to agree that spiritual purpose is the ultimate because it is holistically inclusive. The environmentalist focuses on nature. The doctor focuses on human health. The scientist focuses on discovery. And while these are all grand pursuits, they enfolded or incorporated under the umbrella of spiritualization.
“All religions, arts and sciences are branches of the same tree. All these aspirations are directed toward ennobling man’s life, lifting it from the sphere of mere physical existence and leading the individual towards freedom.”
[Moral Decay (first published 1937)]”
― Albert Einstein, Out of My Later Years: The Scientist, Philosopher, and Man Portrayed Through His Own Words
The term spirituality has been used throughout history, and for the purposes of this discussion, it will be defined as the aspects of being and experience that are all-inclusive. For example, if one considers the impact of their actions on all things, then this all-encompassing perspective can be thought of as spiritual. Thus, the spiritualization of the cosmos is the pursuit of improving and uplifting all things, everywhere, for all time.
The Great Work is a term coined by alchemists when referring to the transmutation of the material world via spiritual influences. It supposes that the Universe is becoming more perfect and organized as time goes on, through each individual creature of time and space in their quest to find themselves and grow in experience. In essence, the entire creation is evolving towards some supreme goal of ultimate cosmic destiny, which includes the seemingly small goals of solving the problems we face on earth. That is to say, what we do with our lives, to improve them and grow wise, is as important as the upliftment of the human race, the solar system, the galaxy, and even the universe at large.
Taking this premise into consideration, the greatest work anyone can conceive of doing is one in which every thought, feeling, and action we take are contributing to the evolution of the cosmos and consciousness. And if you can learn enough about life to understand this, the purpose and meaning that can be felt are almost unimaginable. All of our past hardship, suffering, and meaninglessness can be transformed in the twinkling of an eye when we finally come to understand our true purpose.
Historically speaking, those who have come close to recognizing this spiritual life purpose have gone on to do great works in the world, laying the foundation for future generations.
Purposefulness is Unpopular — An Epidemic of Soul Sickness
But we need not think of ourselves as saints or saviors in order to find some purpose now. It takes time and dedication to reach the grand spiritual purpose, but the foundation of all purpose starts with knowledge and caring.
In today’s world, it is popular to care about nothing, to marginalize things we don’t understand, and to relish ignorance as some kind of badge of honor. One need only look at the state of popular media to recognize that the pursuit of knowledge is no longer socially acceptable, and to care about making the world a better place is often seen as a waste of time—what can one person do anyway?
The powers that should not be are indoctrinating the masses into a nihilistic, uncaring and ignorant conception of reality, where the only meaning in life can come through consumerism and escapist media, like video games, TV, and movies. But such a worldview is toxic, not only to the individual but to the world when one who subscribes to such a belief eventually becomes resentful—they begin to hate life so much they want to dole out suffering to others.
Of course, such resentfulness is often justified for various reasons, but the effect is the same—when we feel purposeless, we tend to become emotionally toxic and mentally disempowered. We tend to “vent” to our friends and family who feel the same way, doling out judgments and scorn to anyone who will listen—misery loves company after all.
Even within the awakening community, complaining about the Cabal, the financial system, the unawakened masses, ad infinitum, is a regular feature.
But what is the effect of such behavior, such negative self-talk? Does it make us feel inspired, happy, and empowered? Do we feel capable of making the things we complain about better, or are we just relishing in some good old s**t talk?
While it’s understandable and beneficial to express ourselves fully, especially when we are emotionally unbalanced, we shouldn’t try to stay there either.
When we feel a lack of purpose, what is often referred to as a state of boredom, we tend to become emotionally unbalanced, needy, and impulsive. Instead of moving through life with a definite goal and ideal in mind, we wander about in an aimless trance, hoping to stumble upon something that sparks our interest. This can be thought of as a kind of soul sickness because without purpose we can’t organize our being in a holistic fashion, leading to addictive and often deleterious desires, behaviors, and habits.
In this sense, if we train ourselves not to care about anything or only certain socially acceptable things—as is so popular at this time—we close doors of opportunity and inspiration within ourselves.
For example, there are whole populations of individuals who only care about fashion or certain musical acts, and everything else is just “uncool.” This is a pathological and socially maintained form of close-mindedness that causes lifelong fulfillment deficiencies. Subscribing to such a way of life tends to make people shallow, materialistic, and egocentric, not to mention generally unhappy, disempowered, and co-dependent.
Caring, Curiosity, and Responsibility — Building Blocks of Purpose
But caring is the spark that ignites curiosity, which leads to the taking of responsibility, purpose, and direction.
So even if you’re not willing to consider spiritual realities, at the very least ask yourself: Do I care enough about truth and reality to do something to make a difference?
“The purpose of life is to live it, to taste experience to the utmost, to reach out eagerly and without fear for newer and richer experience.” ― Eleanor Roosevelt
Responsibility, in this sense, is our greatest saving grace. To one who abandons their responsibility, life seems meaningless—because it is. But to one who seeks to expand their responsibilities in a harmonious way, every moment of life is overflowing with insight and inspiration.
When we allow ourselves to care about something, it makes us curious. Curiosity is the holistic expression of an open and inspired being, employing both mind and heart, emotion and intellect. Curiosity opens the gateway into the depths of our consciousness that allows what is absorbed to change who we are, even if it isn’t recognizable. For example, if we become genuinely curious about health, we’ll take what we learn very seriously, and feel powerfully inspired to change or move towards the new ideal vision of health being developed. We might decide to stop eating toxic products and consume more living foods.
The dynamics of care and curiosity suggest that finding our purpose can’t happen in a vacuum. As was mentioned earlier, we need to be adventurous and explore the unknown, not with fear and anxiety, but with the wide-eyed gaze of a child. We should allow our curiosity to become the central guiding factor in our lives. I think this is one reason why the awakening experience can feel so good for some of us because we’re being guided by our curiosity, something we haven’t let happen for years, and what we discover transforms us for the better.
The healer didn’t know they wanted to heal until they became aware of the suffering of others. The architect didn’t envision their first drawing until they learned enough about architecture. And the musician didn’t know what they were capable of until they started to learn and play music.
Therefore, life purpose is born out of diverse, open, and free-form experience—we have to be willing to see past our close-mindedness and fear so that our purpose that eludes us can be found.
“The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well.” ― Ralph Waldo Emerson
One last comment on this score is that when you’ve found deep and meaningful purpose, it eclipses all the shallowness of the past. For example, the all-encompassing purpose of raising a child is often undetectable until we actually have children. But once we do, the fulfillment we feel is awe inspiring.
In this sense, you can tell if your chosen pursuits are really giving you meaning and fulfillment by asking yourself how you feel, and how inspired you are.
Real purpose feels good, by and large, but not always happy.
Real purpose is motivating and courage building, it helps us move past our shortcomings and fears, knowing that the growth we’ll experience as a result is worth the effort.
True purpose makes meaningless suffering into purposeful suffering—it is the thing that the mother in labor invokes to push through the hardship of childbirth. It is the thing the addict holds on to overcome detoxification pain. It is the thing the student uses to embrace their errors and mistakes, knowing that these things contain the seeds of wisdom.
So while purpose gives meaning to suffering, it also rightly places our focus on attainment, not happiness. When true purpose has been found, feeling good isn’t enough, it also has to mean something in relation to reality as a whole.
The following discussions will hopefully help inspire you to keep seeking your life purpose and to enrich it once it has been found.
Justin Deschamps is a truth seeker inspired by philosophy and the love of wisdom in all its forms. He was formally trained in physics and psychology, later discovering the spiritual basis of reality and the interconnected nature of all things. He strives to find the path of truth while also walking it himself, sharing what he knows with others so as to facilitate cooperative change for a better future. He is a student of all and a teacher to some. Follow on Twitter @sitsshow, Facebook Stillness in the Storm, and minds.com.