Reorienting Our Purpose

It would be hard to find a human being that does not have some problematic life circumstances. In the not so distant future, for many of us, our financial life circumstances may become problematic, or more problematic than they are already. If special interests continue to fight for the last ounce of blood from a bankrupt nation, we will not be able to avoid the catastrophic scenarios that are possible. Yet, at the same time, I reflect on what a friend recently wrote to me: “I think I’m seeing tell-tale signs of something like a spiritual awakening going on amongst people who used to just be about consumption. I hope we all rise on that wave of goodness.”

The late psychiatrist Thomas Hora used to remind his students that we are not here to get what we want. Regarding that spiritual truth, I frequently suffer from amnesia. When I’m caught up in my ego, my thinking centers around getting what I want. That thinking brings suffering. But, relief from that suffering comes as I become aware of what I’m up to and I gently laugh at my shenanigans. The “wave of goodness” of which my friend wrote can only arrive if we are collectively willing to laugh at our shenanigans.

So, if we are not here to get what we want, how can we reorient ourselves? We can reflect on our purpose; purpose is behind anything we do. Suppose, for example, you have made a New Year’s resolution about diet or exercise. Many such resolutions if they are just, for example, about losing weight (however worthy that purpose is) will quickly be broken. In their presentation “Who We Are: Toward a Unified Theory of Coaching,” the Arbinger Institute asks us to consider our choices to exercise (or to not exercise) in the context of our relationships to others. They write:

I might consider whether, and to what extent, my desire to exercise (or not) is due to either Resistant or Responsive attitudes I am having toward others. Perhaps I am motivated to do or not do because of certain blaming ways of seeing others or certain self-justifying ways of seeing myself that I need the world to confirm. Perhaps I see myself, others, and the world the way I do because of my need to feel justified in how I am being in the world … Any exercise routine is necessarily about me, but because I am necessarily with others, questions of exercising or not exercising are necessarily about others as well—or more precisely, about how I am being with others in my exercise or lack of exercise.

In other words, it is not the behavior (exercising or not exercising) that matters—it is the purpose behind the activity that affects the results. Exercise itself is neutral; we give meaning and purpose to the activity. In his book The Inner Game of Stress, Tim Gallwey observes that our experience of recreation will reflect the purpose we choose:

When I was teaching golf and tennis, I was always struck by how people got very stressed doing an activity that was supposed to be recreation … They had everything they needed for enjoyment, but their faces told a different story—of grim concentration, disappointment, resentment … The stress we encounter is not inherent to the games of tennis or golf. It comes from the meaning we attribute to winning and losing, to playing well or not playing well.

We might ask this question of our choice to exercise (or to not exercise): Are we exercising to fulfill our ego’s purpose, or are we exercising to get closer to the Love, to the “wave of goodness,” that is in our Mind? Once we begin to ask these questions about any one of our activities, we can ask the same questions about all of our activities. And, we can make a different choice. It is not so much what we do, but how we do it. Is what we do an expression of Love? Or, do we do it to get what we want? This basic choice makes all the difference for the level of happiness that we will experience.

In his book A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose Eckhart Tolle writes, “The true or primary purpose of your life cannot be found in the outer level. It does not concern what you do but with what you are—that is to say, your state of consciousness.” It is helpful to be reminded that we share the same inner purpose with every human being that has ever walked this earth. We are here to awaken to our true nature; we are here to find that source of Love and Goodness within.

Back to our economic future. Many individuals and organizations view government as a sugar daddy ready to dispense what they want at the expense of others. Since that purpose for government is not sustainable, we are running into the end of that era. To the extent that we continue to demand what we want, the coming transition will be more difficult; it will be less difficult as we shift our purpose from an outer, to an inner one.

Saturday, January 2, was my children’s first Nordic ski meet. It had snowed about 4 inches overnight and was still snowing in the morning. Shortly after 7am, my wife and children were driving to the high school to meet the team’s bus. No sooner were they on the road when the coach called. The place of the meet had been moved; the original schedule was pushed back one hour. I explained that my wife was on the road. The coach replied that the assistant coach was already at the school to meet those arriving at the original time. When my wife arrived, she was surprised to see the high school theater directors (a wife and husband) walking into the ski shed ahead of her. The ski coach had called to ask them for help; the assistant ski coach had neglected to turn on his cell phone. “Could you go to the ski shed and tell him to turn on his phone?” she’d asked. In the spirit of being helpful, the theater directors got themselves out of bed and onto the snowy roads.

Remember, it was New Year’s weekend. (On New Year’s Day, the coaches had given their time to be at the ski shed to help team members wax their skis.) Over and over again, I have seen individuals in this public high school make choices to help things go right—choices motivated by something other than what is in it for me. As a consequence, the high school is a happy place and has a good learning environment. No doubt in coming years, like other institutions, it will be affected by budgetary matters; but the “wave of goodness” that is humanity’s birthright will help see it through.

In 2010, may we all have the courage and wisdom to make choices from our inner purpose. Best wishes for a happy and peaceful New Year.

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