The bench at Conrad Aiken’s grave at the Bonaventure cemetry

Seeking the Destination Unknown

I’ve been spending a lot of time contemplating my purpose. I think that re-examining one’s life happens periodically, but when you hit the half-century mark, suddenly, time no longer seems like it will stretch endlessly over infinite horizons anymore.

There seems to be less room for mistakes. If I’m going to leave my mark on the world, I better figure it all out now and then write an e-book, so there is some imprint of my life left behind!

After months of reading, and watching TED talks, it seems that finding one’s purpose is a bit of a paradox. The more we try to nail it, the more it shifts. The more we try to define it with words on the outside, the more inscrutable a whisper it seems on the inside.

So we have to be clever here. Rather than going to purpose directly we can look to fulfillment. It’s for each to define what “fulfillment” means but I find fulfillment easier to get at than purpose.

Fulfillment feels authentic. It feels deeper, more abiding, more rooted in our experience of who we are at our core, more than a fleeting pleasure, never just a distraction.

I believe that when we are fulfilled, it implies that we’re living our purpose. Each of us will live our purpose in different ways, depending on how we have been shaped by our beliefs, talents, and circumstances. Purpose and fulfillment may well be two sides of the same coin.

I do believe we’re here for a purpose. Ultimately, I think it all boils down to being of service to others. We don’t have to do that on a grand scale. Every act of service, however small, can transform both our world and possibly someone else’s. Every act of service is an act of love.

There are infinite ways to be of service, but there is a sliver of possibilities wherein lie our talents and where we may find the most fulfilling ways to deliver on our purpose.

I used to think that being of service meant feeding the hungry and clothing the poor. Yes, there were spiritual and psychological needs, but weren’t those at the top of Maslow’s pyramid, to wait until stomachs were full and there was a roof to keep out the rain? I’ve come to realize that perhaps that pyramid is inverted, or that there is more than one end at which to start. I can look now for ways to care for the soul and spirit without feeling guilty for not being in service solely to people’s physical needs.

Whether we work at a homeless center, teach kids, sell real estate, run an art school, work in retail, make jewelry, farm the land, volunteer at a hospice, or raise kids, we can be on purpose. We can bring love to what we choose to do every single day and find fulfillment.

Over time though, and with accumulating wisdom, I think we are called–when ready–to go well beyond our limitations, to go deeper and be more loving than we think we can be.

If we feel we’ve not found our true purpose, or calling, everything we’ve done thus far will have prepared us to receive that call. Sometimes we just need to tune to the right frequency and hear the calling that’s been there all along. And then be courageous enough to heed it.

“Let yourself be silently drawn by the stronger pull of what you really love,” wrote Rumi.

A calling to purpose is like that, like the pull of the tide drawing us out from the safety of land to the ocean.

In the sea, there are countless treasures, but if you desire safety, it is on the shore

These are the words of Persian poet Saadi Shirazi and it speaks to “following the pull” as Rumi wrote, though your instincts may be to run in the opposite direction. It is a call to let go of the ego and its aspirations and to surrender to the flow of where life wants to take you. It may sound trite but surrendering to the flow of life is the most authentic and scary thing you can probably do.

Ed McGaa, a native American writer implores: “you must begin to understand the essence of truth; the essence of thinking and doing without ulterior motive and flowing in unison with the stream you are becoming.”

Savannah poet Conrad Aiken one spied a ship called the Cosmos Mariner. He looked it up in the logs to see where it was going and it became a metaphor for his own life. When I visited the Bonaventure Cemetery in Savannah last year on my way to a meditation retreat, there was a bench by Aiken’s grave engraved with the words: “Cosmos Mariner, Destination Unknown.”

So we can give in to not knowing.

We can move more freely, and easily through this world. And we do, we will be carried forward purposefully like a surfer riding a wave; no matter what activities we attend to in the external world we will be on purpose. And we may not have to worry about finding our purpose for it likely will have found us.

Can we free up our hands and hearts to stop grasping at our purpose?

Michael Singer, in The Surrender Experiment writes:
“There was no difference between teaching my classes…running spiritual retreats, or doing a construction job. All these tasks had one thing in common: they had all been given to me by surrendering to life’s incomprehensible flow.”

When we are truly on purpose, I sense there will be no ego-based ambition, objectives, or goals that must be achieved. We will begin to make choices, not decision. When we have done the work of surrender, connected to our authenticity, and remain present in our experience, our very being, our lives, magically becoming the very purpose we have sought for so long.

Like the Cosmos Mariner, we can gently catch the wind and navigate our boat across the ocean, destination unknown.

There is a haunting beauty to Bonaventure Cemetery. The air is laden with moisture, and the trees draped with Spanish moss. Crumbling crypts abound, and now and then, unsettling and beautifully carved statue vacantly seek your gaze or look heavenward.

As I walked through the cemetery, with only the wind and the cry of birds for company, I was unsure what my next steps were. I had left my job to go overseas and then decided that was not the best path for me. I was worried about finances, and what would call to me next as a vocation. In my early 50s, I felt some urgency in figuring it all out.

How I began to heed my call is a story for another day, but these blogs I have started writing, this sharing is part of my living purposefully. It’s something that I have been reluctant to do preferring to dwell in the interior spaces of my life. Though challenging my notions of who I am, it’s giving me a deeper sense of fulfillment as I start, to paraphrase McGaa, flow more in unison with the stream that I am becoming.

As I sat on the bench that Aiken had instructed be placed upon his grave, I contemplated his traumatic life. His bucolic childhood was forever shattered in his Savannah home, when he heard gunshots, only to discover his father had killed his mother in the next room before taking his own life. Aiken was to be forever gripped by that childhood tragedy, with his life — and poetry — shaped by it, So, I was especially touched by these generous words, his eternal offering, also engraved on his bench:

“Give my love to the world.”

I realize, only now, as I write this post that this message was intended for the Cosmos Mariner as it set sail out into a world that had not yet been transcribed by google maps; a world in which mystery and possibility still held sway, a world, where, perhaps, the peace that eluded Aiken could be found.

In this spirit, in homage to Aiken, may we all navigate our own small patch of the cosmos like the Mariner, destination unknown. May we all, no matter what we have endured, still choose, whatever our future path, to give our love to the world.


As a co-active coach I help you untangle the tangle of your life, to find freedom to fully express who you are so you can live the life you want. If you’d like to explore a complimentary session with me to discover what coaching can do for you, please email me at yassir@yassirislam.com