As soon as you rise above mere survival, the question of meaning and purpose becomes of paramount importance in your life. Many people feel caught up in the routines of daily living that seem to deprive their life of significance. Some believe life is passing them by or has passed them by already. Others feel severely restricted by the demands of their job and supporting a family or by their financial or living situation. Some are consumed by acute stress, others by acute boredom. Some are lost in frantic doing; other are lost in stagnation. Many people long for the freedom and expansion that prosperity promises. Others already enjoy the relative freedom that comes with prosperity and discover that even that is not enough to endow their lives with meaning. 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–that is to say, your state of consciousness. So the most important thing to realize is this: Your life has an inner purpose and an outer purpose. Inner purpose concerns Being and is primary. Outer purpose concerns Doing and is secondary.
Eckhart Tolle in A New Earth
As I read this for the first time I instantly thought back over my own life. The concept of simply Being without doing seemed foreign and uncomfortable. I had to be doing something in order to feel good about myself. I had to:
Get the girl
Pass the test
Make the basket
Get the job
Have the children
Build the house
Buy the car
Watch the show
Cheer for the team
Attend the service
Get the degree
Mow the lawn
Secure the loan
Work the overtime
Make the sale
Tell the funny joke
and God knows do everything else under the sun.
All my activities weren’t bad in-and-of themselves–I still do many of the same activities now. But I turned to these Outer purpose activities as a means to gain Inner purpose. As you can imagine, it never worked. I constantly had my thinking backwards. I thought I could do, do, do and that would lead to Being. I let my mind run my life and struggled to ever find any balance or satisfaction.
“Your inner purpose is to awaken. It is as simple as that.” Tolle goes on, “You share that purpose with every other person on the planet–because it is the purpose of humanity. Your inner purpose is an essential part of the purpose of the whole, the universe and its emerging intelligence.” When you first hear that, it doesn’t feel right so you disregard it. At least I did.
“It certainly cannot be that easy, can it?”
“All I have to do is awaken?”
“If I awaken and that is my inner purpose, how can that change my life or the world in any way?”
“I am awake!”
Your mind is probably going in a thousand different directions as to why this can’t be true and your ego is certain to protect your standard mode of operation you’ve been living with for so long.
Spinoza said Joy is man’s passage from a lesser to a greater perfection and Sorrow is man’s passage from a greater to a less perfection. In his book, To Have or To Be, Erich Fromm explains it like this: “Joy, then, is what we experience in the process of growing nearer to the goal of becoming ourself.” Or, to put it another way, Joy is the result of seeking your inner purpose of awakening.
I have struggled off and on for years not being satisfied with my job. On many occasions I nearly made the decision to quit and pursue a vocation more suited to my gifts and talents. I’m sure if I did quit I would have been just fine finding a different way to make money. But thankfully I didn’t quit my job. I say thankfully because if I quit, I may not have learned the lesson that my inner purpose is to awaken. When I made my job responsible for satisfying my inner purpose, I felt frustrated, lacking, and unfulfilled. But once I realized my job was my outer purpose and my inner purpose was up to me to fulfill, then I could go about my business of awakening on my own time separate from my job.
The process of awakening is a slow and ever-evolving process. I spent many years in therapy and began to dissect my thought processes one at a time. I walked away from my comfort zones in order to intentionally weed out any beliefs that didn’t serve my inner purpose. Rather than blaming my upbringing, or other people, or circumstances beyond my control, I found greater purpose in focusing on my reactions to things. I’m a fairly laid back person anyway, but for me, learning to simply be, instead of react, turned out to be my best response.
As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I was an expert at figuring out what was expected of me and giving people what they wanted, but I did not always acknowledge what it was that I wanted. With every fruitless search for external gratification, I lost touch of my own intrinsic happiness until I finally set my sights on my inner purpose.
Awakening doesn’t mean that I have “arrived” and I’m somehow superior to those not considered awakened. Awakening, to me, simply means I show up every day–I listen when spoken to, I strive for awareness in each moment, and I’m open to the mysterious flow of our existence here. Awakening means I bring my true self to every encounter instead of relying on my alienated self or one of many false selves. By being real, I am free to grow. Awakening means I let go of my regrets, shame, guilt, and accusations and instead I accept what will be will be. I attempt to let go of my attachment to any outcome and find joy in any circumstance.
Interestingly enough, as I turned my focus on my inner purpose of awakening, my outer purpose shifted into alignment with my inner purpose. Instead of hating my job, I actually began to enjoy myself there. I found purpose and contentment in an environment where bitterness and begrudging once resided. The joy that I experienced in my early-morning writing and meditation snuck into my lunch pail and accompanied me throughout the day. The constant wrestling with ideas in my mind while I was at work shielded me from the petty gossip and never-ending drama that unfolds there. Some days I added fuel to the fire just for shits and giggles but I could easily detach myself from taking any of the drama too seriously or too personal.
This whole idea of awakening may seem foreign to you. If it does we could talk about it if you’d like. Otherwise, here’s three ideas for your own awakening:
- Consider the difference between your inner purpose and your outer purpose. In what ways have you been unjustly making your outer purpose be responsible for your inner purpose? It wasn’t until I realized the importance of my inner purpose that I began to give it the attention it deserved. Let go of the idea of awakening as only a Buddhist reference. Awakening, Being, Presence, Aliveness, True Self, etc. are all deeply spiritual references and can be applied to any religious preference.
- Consider the different ways you stay distracted. Instead of turning to your phone, TV, or novel reading, open up a pad of paper and write down your thoughts. Journal about your uneasiness or discomfort of sitting still with yourself. Is there too much pain your hiding so you don’t want to be alone with yourself? Putting your ideas and feelings on paper where they can be wrestled with is a wonderful step towards healing and awakening.
- Consider a regular practice of meditating. Meditation was difficult for me at first. I could only start with five minutes without going crazy. Eventually I grew to love that quiet time where I completely shut off my mind and focused on nothing by the air that filled my lungs and diaphragm, and then on that same life-giving air as it left my body. You don’t have to sit a certain way with your hands in a special pose; just get comfortable, close your eyes, and focus on your breathing while everything else melts away. As your mind shoots a million different thoughts at you, simply see the thought and let it go the way you would see a butterfly land on your knee and then let it fly away. Don’t judge yourself for having too many thoughts–especially at first–because the mind is very difficult to silence until you get comfortable with it.
As always, any questions or comments, don’t hesitate to comment, call, or email.
Peace my friends!