It’s a grey, damp Tuesday morning. Unglamorous. Within you, you feel an obligation to start your day.
It’s a fear-based impulse. You don’t really want to move but things need to be done. The bills won’t pay themselves. A twinge of pain reminds you of your current relationship problem. Life seems full of practical problems that demand your attention. Really, you just want this day to go away and for you to be left alone in peace. What is the purpose of all this struggle you think to yourself? What’s the point? Why does my life seem like it has no real meaning other than solving a never ending list of problems?
It’s hard to argue with this perspective. Life’s problems certainly do seem to be unending and relentless. We’ve been conditioned from an early age to be constant problem solvers. To chase and attain the gold at the end of the rainbow. That is of course, the ever-elusive security, love and comfort we so desire. But even if we do attain it, what are we left with? What have we attained if we have merely removed problems?
Here, I’m not going to try to convince you that your worldly goals are, in fact, important. I’m not going to give you a motivational boost or to try to convince you to keep trying, hustling…struggling. I’m not going to say that getting the promotion, the new car, the new relationship will bring a sense of purpose or meaning. Because, the truth is, they won’t. Any positive feelings that come from such accomplishments are always very short lived, if they come at all.
What I am going to talk about however, is how to recognize this truth and how not to let it suck you down into a pit of depression and nihilism.
If life (the achievement impulse for worldly attainment) has no meaning, where can we look for meaning? Well, we can start by embracing the truth. What if, instead of resenting this fact, we embraced it? By embrace, I mean that we do not allow it to consume us with paralysis or bitterness. As a person who realizes the futility of worldly striving, what is your role? How about this: you become an example for others. You start to bring a sense of peace and understanding to the people you encounter. You recognize that they may still be striving within illusions (as you see it). You can act as a refuge, a support, for the people in your life who are caught up in the anxiety trap.
This is not only a potential purpose for life, it is an incredible purpose. How many people do we know who are like this? How many people do we meet in the world who remind us that everything is ok and that there is nothing to fear, to attain, to prove, to accomplish? How many people remind us to see life as a game, to be played, not to be taken too seriously? You could act as this person in the lives of the people you touch. You can become an oasis in the desert for the people you meet and influence. The world is desperate for people who give this energy to others. Life may not have the purpose we assigned to it, but it may have a purpose after all.
Living life with the realization that nothing (worldly) matters, does not mean that we pack it all in, become a Monk and meditate on a mountain top for the rest of our lives. The reason for this is that, by running away from life (the ordinary, often mundane life we know), we are confirming that it is real and needs to be escaped from. We stay. We live within it. We meet the responsibilities others expect of us. Not doing so increases fear for those who believe they rely on us (not the function of those who seek to release others from fear).
However, to live this purpose as an example to others, our main job is to become and stay detached from the world of anxiety ourselves. That is how we become truly useful in our role. This is how the example is truly given. Not through words or philosophy, but in how we respond to the inevitable ups and downs of daily life.
I am not advocating a stoic, emotionally disconnected approach, by the way. Escaping the anxiety trap brings with it a multitude of emotions. At its core however is an underlying sense of peace. Here, even so called ‘negative’ emotions are met with compassion and understanding. They are never supressed or denied. A central element of living this way is humour. We smile a little more, perhaps quietly and to ourselves. We forgive ourselves, not through sombreness, but through laughter.
You may feel that embracing the fact that life (worldly striving) has no purpose will leave you goalless and directionless. This is never the case, however. Through detachment, we become emotionally liberated. But you will always act in the world. There will always be activities taking place in your life. But by embracing the meaninglessness of strife, we are freer than ever to move with passion and enthusiasm. Life’s tasks are seen as games to be played rather than obstacles to be overcome. If there’s nothing to win, there’s nothing to lose.
Remember, to act as an example to others (a needed purpose within the world) we need to primarily focus on our own reactions and attachments. Can we start to let things go more? Can we start to drop the need to be ‘right’ a little more? Can we accept people as they are a little more? Can we enjoy ourselves a little more?
What a purpose to have.