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Discovering Your Life's Purpose

What is your life purpose? Have you ever paused to contemplate this question?

Why are you here? What do you have to offer? What inspires you? What makes you feel alive and fulfilled? And how can you have the greatest positive impact?

Why not align your life with a purpose that you are passionate about?

We all aspire to live a meaningful life, in which we make a valuable contribution to humanity. However, we often get caught in the day-to-day distractions, and we forget our aspirations. This tendency is completely normal. Biologically, as human beings, we are set up to focus on survival and, consequently, have a lot of fear-based programming and conditioning. Even then, it is possible to rise above mere survival and fear and live a life guided by a clear purpose, one where we experience fulfillment through contribution.

What if you only had one shot in life?

We tend to assume that death is a distant reality, especially when we are young. Other people may die, but we are fairly convinced that we will live for a long time, and that we don't need to worry about it. In the end, however, there is no certainty about our good health and long life. Every one of us could actually die today or tomorrow. The idea is that, since life is precious and completely unpredictable, we may as well live it fully, not take it for granted, and use this opportunity wisely by dedicating ourselves to something meaningful.

If we don't get clear about who we are, what we want, and what our basic life purpose is, we open the door to losing control of our destiny and getting carried away by circumstances, simply reacting to what comes our way-- usually in less than skillful ways--and being flooded with life’s mundane distractions and obstacles.

Who Am I?

The question, “Who am I?” is a most ancient question that has driven human exploration forever. It is behind various systems of Eastern and Western philosophy. Even religious and spiritual traditions investigate that fundamental question. Answering the question, “Who am I?” is very much aligned with what your purpose is.

Often, we begin the exploration and try to define who we are using things that, upon a closer look, are very impermanent. You might first look at your body and personality, where you live, your work, your relationships, your possessions, background and memories. While all of these aspects are related to your life, they are all subject to change and decay. Through logic and analysis, you can deconstruct every one of these features, realizing how impermanent and unstable they are. Who you truly are couldn't possibly be tied or reduced to any one of these things, or even to the collection of these things!

Who you truly are must be deeper than--or transcend--all of that. Having contemplated this, here are three approaches that can help you discover your life’s purpose.

Discovering your Life’s Purpose Through Meditation

Contemplative practices are designed to help you discover your inner passion and purpose. Mindfulness helps us to slow down and settle into our body and basic sense of being. We can then experience a greater depth of presence, one that is not self-referenced and limited to this notion of “me” or ego.

During meditation practice, we experience more and more gaps where we forget to obsess about “me” for a moment. Lo and behold, we don't disappear. We don't go up in a puff of smoke. We are still here, but our sense of being is not defined solely by this psychological construct of self. The more frequent those moments, the more they get imprinted in our mind and begin to abide in the background of our awareness as a felt sense that there is, indeed, something deeper to our lives. The question, 'Who am I?' leads into a territory that is vast and spacious. That spacious state has qualities of innate goodness, innate compassion, resilience, and clarity. It is not constricted or narrowly defined in any way. It responds creatively and skillfully to situations

As you explore the path of meditation, you may ask yourself if the practice could lead to some kind of detachment. You may wonder whether you will stop caring and become indifferent. It is true that the notion of non-attachment is connected to spiritual realization and that our attachment and clinging to things, people, and situations causes suffering. However, even though non-attachment could possibly lead to some indifference, it is not usually the case. In fact, indifference would be a kind of perversion of non-attachment, a symptom of having missed the point. Non-attachment allows us to be more thoroughly engaged in our life, free of the drama of “me.” Out of that, it is not indifference that arises but--quite the contrary--a passionate commitment to life. So from that perspective, how might a sense of purpose emerge? One's purpose could simply be to thoroughly awaken and embrace life in all its manifestations, meeting each moment with an open heart, with a willingness to be vulnerable and experience the rawness of life.

Discovering your Life Purpose through helping others

By letting go of the drama of 'What about me?' we naturally become more aware of the world around us; more aware of others and the depth and breadth of the suffering on our planet. We become very attuned to how our own and others’ unexamined fear and survival-based instincts increase this endless suffering. This realization strengthens our desire to awaken ourselves, but also to become a vehicle through which others could awaken.

Sometimes, I describe my life purpose as ridding the world of shame and blame. This might be a very lofty purpose and probably an impossible goal, but it is without limits. It drives me to continually explore the ways to spread this message. Whatever it is that we are most passionate about, we could find our life purpose there.

Discovering your Life Purpose through journaling

We all have various talents and abilities and most of us have more economic privilege than the rest of the world. This gives us the freedom to focus on evolving personally, psychologically, and spiritually, and on aligning our lives with a purpose. You can transcend the drudgery of just coping and getting through another day. Instead, you can wake up inspired, and go to bed feeling enriched and satisfied. So I'm going to encourage you to get out your journal and try exploring these steps in the next week or month!

  • Put “Life’s Purpose” at the head of a page and start writing. Don’t edit or censure yourself. Just write and give yourself permission to dream and think big.

  • Wait a day or two and come back to write more. This time, use a highlighter and start circling the things that stand out to you.

  • Keep writing until you reach 15 or 20 pages. Pay attention to the things you have highlighted along the way. You will find that those highlighted words reveal what you are most passionate about.

Aligning with your Life Purpose

Having done that, the next step is to think about some ways that could help you align with that life purpose.

Taking a look at your current responsibilities in life, capacities, and resources, begin to shift your life and focus on aligning what you have towards your life purpose.

Start small with something you already have or are already doing. Just let that grow!

For example, someone could notice that they have highlighted several occurrences of being moved to connect with or give money to a homeless person. And that, when receiving a fundraising email, they happily make a donation. Practicing generosity seems to bring them joy and a sense of fulfillment. This person might then decide to more intentionally look for opportunities to give and dedicate extra time to volunteering in a soup kitchen to help feed the homeless.

We don't necessarily need to change our life all at once. It is just as healthy--healthier in fact--to just steadily and gradually realign our life.

Start small with your Life Purpose

Make sure you do not do this at the expense of others, friends or family members. Keep in mind that we are part of a holistic system of relationships and responsibilities. By gradually shifting your days towards your life’s purpose, you align yourself more with contributing steadily to your own and others' lives, your family, your community, society, the planet.

This alignment may increase your sense of living a life of integrity, and engender healthy and positive feelings about who you are and what your real purpose is.

Often, people tell me how exhausted they are, how they lack energy. They describe feeling like they are always a couple of steps behind, trying to catch up all the time. They complain that their lives are an endless struggle, leaving them out of breath and depleted.

A lot of that has to do with a lack of alignment. When this happens, it’s a sign that we've let life push us back on our heels. We are just trying to cope and juggle all the things that we have to do. Life feels like a debilitating and stressful burden.

By getting clearer about your purpose, you will notice that:

  • You are contributing regularly and have more energy and inspiration

  • Your life becomes simpler. Activities that do not align with your life purpose begin to fall away.

  • You find more clarity and direction, and your life feels more efficient.

Your Life Purpose is a choice

You can choose to go the other way and revert to your habitual ways… just letting life happen to you, uncertain about what your life is all about. Just trying to get by, stressed and overwhelmed by your responsibilities, struggles, and fears.

Of course, we have to take care of ourselves and our families daily. Aligning our livelihood with our life purpose might feel like a lofty ideal and might not be achievable during certain times in our lives. It would be most excellent if our work was not just a paycheck. However, this is not the case for everyone, and that is okay too.

What is crucial to remember, however, is that this is a choice. No one can make that choice for us. No one but us can shift from being stressed out and overwhelmed, to being engaged and creative, filled with clarity, purpose, joy, and energy.

That shift can only come about through effort and determination. And it begins with clarifying our life purpose.

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