Framing your Purpose as a compass is key to reframe your life
The Nature of Planning
Humans have walked on Earth for roughly about a hundred thousand years now. Out of which, approximately 95% spent as bands, wandering and occupying continents. For the vast majority of our existence, we lived by nature’s time: we followed the sun. Its movement through the sky dictated our moving through our days.
We lived in the present. When hungry, we would hunt. When it rained, we would shelter. When tired, we would rest. Actually, there wasn’t anything else but the present moment.
It was only very recently that we began breaking away from this way of living. In his seminal book Reinventing Organizations, Frederic Laloux builds a superb chronological narrative of how humans organized and took on more complex tasks as our capacity to collaborate and build together changed throughout our development.
As our brain got bigger and more advanced, it rendered us an understanding that not only we were dependant on nature, but also how nature functioned in cycles. We gradually learned more and more effective ways to survive other than hunting when we were hungry. We learned how to use the land to our advantage and prepare the soil, seed it`, irrigate it, harvest it and store food according to nature’s seasons.
This process introduced us to the notion of planning. And along with it, the idea of future.
Cycles imply a sequence, and the repetition of it. When we break down these sequences, we find steps that lead to a determined outcome. In the example above, the steps involved in agriculture lead to a specific outcome of accumulating food to feed ourselves. And the repetition of this cycle also leads to outcomes.
When we began trading our agricultural goods, and later on when currencies were introduced with mercantilism, we realized that the repetitive series of steps in our producing would generate other types of outcomes, such as the accumulation of wealth. And that would allow us to pursue other needs, wants and desires.
Fundamentally, what was gradually being established in our minds was the idea that our growth, not just as a species, but more specifically in the course of our own individual lives, was predicated on a linear step-taking process that steadily would grant us with more.
The Identification With a Destination
As a mathematical concept, linearity translates to this idea of a constant, gradual line that sails steadily across a graph. Another feature of it is the fact that it’s predictable, in the sense that its steadiness is consistent across time.
The way we see life does not seem to be much different.
I’m not merely stating that we perceive life as predictable. Instead, that since early on in our childhood we follow a series of steps that reinforce the perception that our lives are cycles with birth, death, and everything that happens in between. Zooming in on it, the most of us live life in very predictable tracks: preschool, elementary and high school; college, and work; marriage, kids (and more work), until we grow old and die.
Life is indeed a series of phases sequenced in a “logical” way, with a linear characteristic. More than that. For each phase, we set milestones: graduating from high school, graduating from college; finding the best place to work, getting promoted, getting our bonus; finding the right partner, move in together; having kids — and making sure that we meet their milestones too. And so forth.
Progressively, we moved from a species that lived in the present to a species that is motivated by the future. We are seduced by the promises we assign to it, by a fixation that in doing a certain thing, we will feel in a certain way. We become prey to the vision that “once this and that happens in my life, then I’ll be ok”.
In this day and age, this explains why when we try to define life using a metaphor, it is so intuitive to call it a journey.
Consider traveling, for instance.
Traveling is basically the same process of taking a series of steps until we reach the desired destination, with the promise that once we get there, we’ll be satisfied. We’ll be "happy".
The caveat in this mindset is that as humans, we’re wired for our own continuous development. This means that we innately seek to sharpen our capacities and our abilities — constantly. By nature, we are dissatisfied and curious beings, so when we reach the destinations in our life, we have already set ourselves new ones.
We raise our own bar, endlessly, under the promise that once we reach the next one, we’ll be fine.
What If Life is Not a Journey?
Philosopher Alan Watts taught this powerful seminar in which he instills the idea that life is not a journey, but a dance. Pause for a second to ponder: what does that mean?
To dance is to move freely and joyfully through space, with no particular intention or direction. It is much more about letting your body take you than having your mind direct it. We enter in a state of trance, it’s contagious, it takes over us. It is nonverbal, all about felt sensations. Ecstatic. The whole point of dancing literally is to dance.
The pleasure we get from dancing is manifested in the now. That essentially is a very different way to approach life. It steers away from future promises to present enjoyment.
The concept of Life Purpose has a central role in this shift.
But first, we need to move past the common idea that our life purpose is a destination, that once we find it or once we get there, we’ll be ok. This perception is inaccurate. Instead, by reframing Life Purpose not as a destination, but as a compass, it becomes an instrument that helps us direct ourselves wholesomely aligned — and not to a destination in the future, but with the integrity of a present we live with joy.
In the previous post, I mentioned that your life purpose lives inside of you. Over the next two weeks, I’ll explore more in depth what this means and ways you can conduct a self-inquiry to unveil what yours may be. For now, the first step is to attune to the grip we frequently have on our "destinations" (aka achievements, milestones, etc) and the so-called promise we attribute to them. For now, get a taste of what would feel like to just dance your way through life.