“People say that we’re searching for the meaning of life. I don’t think that’s it at all. I think that what we’re seeking is an experience of being alive, so that our life experiences on the purely physical plane will have resonances within our own innermost being and reality, so that we actually feel the rapture of being alive.”–Joseph Campbell in The Power of Myth
I’m with Joseph Campbell on this one. I don’t think that most people want to understand the meaning of life intellectually, but want to experience meaning by being fully alive. I have discovered what gives my life meaning. The best way that I know how to do that is to give and receive love — love of family, friends, nature, learning, ourselves, and everything around us. It is a challenging way of conducting our life, but I do believe that the secret of life is to become a more loving human being. Holding our life’s purpose as becoming a more loving person is the most direct way I know to experience fulfillment.
We can survive without a sense of purpose in our lives, but we can’t thrive and experience a deep sense of well-being. Discovering our purpose is the inner compass that gives meaning to our behavior and provides us with the sense that our time spent on the earth serves a greater end than the satisfaction of our own personal desires. As we live our commitment to become a more loving person, our purpose expands our identity from that of a small insignificant entity whose existence doesn’t much matter in the overall scheme of things to that of a valuable contributor to something far greater than that. When we are grounded in a sense of purpose, we don’t just believe that what we do matters, but that who we are does.
We are all challenged to know what we’re passionate about, and what enlivens us, what our path with heart is and to deeply know ourselves. We cannot experience happiness if we’re living out a script that someone else put in our hands. Our parents, lovers, religions, spouse etc. will surely try. We’re challenged to know ourselves well enough to know what resonates, and what is true, and then to go on to cultivate the courage to live that life. That truth is likely to meet with disapproval from others. In our highly materialistic culture, where success is defined as money, power, and status, we may find ourselves swimming up stream to define success as the depth and breadth of our loving relationships. We’re challenged to discover if giving and receiving love is true for us. It will take courage to take a stand for our truth.
But living out of our passion is utterly compelling. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi calls this compelling state the flow state. It occurs when we are so engaged with what gives our life meaning that we have extra energy to commit to what we are doing. When we’re embodying our experience, we feel especially alive, and life is infused with passion. The answer to the question of purpose and meaning isn’t usually available instantaneously. The clues have to do with what experiences bring a sense of passion into our life. People that don’t know what has heart and meaning haven’t yet looked hard enough to answer that question.
We’re all born with gifts that can be strengthened and cultivated by exercising them. But we must use them or lose them. When we are expressing our gifts, we feel like an athlete who is playing “in the zone.” We’re in sync with our natural predispositions. The focus is on the experience of being in the process of doing whatever we are doing; loving, teaching, playing, discovering, acting, learning, relating to whatever it is that brings passion into our lives.
Living with purpose heightens our sense of aliveness, regardless of what the consequences are. And when we’re not living it, nothing feels like it’s quite enough. It always feels like there’s something missing. When we get clear about what brings meaning into our life, it becomes nearly impossible to dishonor the urge to express it.
~Linda Bloom L.C.S.W. has served as psychotherapist and seminar leader practicing relationship counseling almost forty years. She is a regular presenter at Esalen Institute, Kripalu, and Multiversity. She has spoken at several conferences sponsored by the International Transpersonal Association, the Association for Transpersonal Psychology, and The Northern California Mindfulness Institute. She is coauthor, with Charlie Bloom, of 101 Things I Wish I Knew When I Got Married: Simple Lessons to Make Love Last, Secrets of Great Marriages: Real Truth from Real Couples about Lasting Love, and Happily Ever After… and 39 Other Myths about Love, and That Which Doesn’t Kill Us: How One Couple Became Stronger at the Broken Places.
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