What if we knew our life’s purpose with absolute clarity? What energy we could draw on! How free we would be from worrying about unimportant noise and distraction! Our hearts and attention could flow fully along the right path.
Even better, imagine we understood how to fulfil it. This sounds too good to be true, but it’s possible. It takes no special skill, but it demands great self-awareness, intimately knowing who we really are.
Life is its own purpose
In truth, life is its own purpose. It doesn’t exist for something else. Life is the expression and experience of itself, of all it is.
We fulfil our life’s purpose by expressing and experiencing all that we are.
What does this mean for us? Consider our lives as specific instances of ‘capital-L’ Life. Our lives are the expression and experience of all we are. So we fulfil our life’s purpose by expressing and experiencing our full selves.
That sounds simple enough, but have we performed a conjurer’s trick, simplifying life’s purpose only by sneaking all its confusion and complexity into the definition of ‘me’? Whatever this ‘me’ is, satisfying my life’s purpose has two elements. First, a creative one, expressing ‘myself’. Second, a witnessing one, experiencing ‘myself’.
Self-image is not self
These creative and witnessing roles are very broad, but they resonate with much of what sages tell us to do: ‘Speak your mind.’ ‘Live your truth.’ ‘Be present.’ ‘Drink it in.’ ‘Live the dream.’ These pointers are simple and useful, but we stumble putting them into practice.
The thing is, truth and life are alive. They squirm, wriggle, dart and dance, never standing still. They are fresh each moment. You and I also live, so we are ever changing. But our self-images are at best sticky and at worst frozen. We get in our own way by mistaking our self-images for our selves.
It turns out that expressing oneself and expressing one’s self-image are quite different things. What we truly are changes second by second, so setting out to express any picture of ourselves misses the point.
Expressing oneself and expressing one’s self-image are quite different things.
Our minds see this fundamental challenge as insurmountable. How do we express ourselves without a clear definition of what we are?
We can explore this at two levels. First, let’s commit to expressing our true, ever-changing selves instead of the self-images we’ve spent our lives projecting and protecting. We may reach and then glance back from a second level at what was going on during our old, false expression.
Gateway of experience
Our life purpose is to express and experience all that we are. I’ve been addressing our self-expression, but this step asks us to focus instead on our experience of ourselves. Please consider this: much of what we take as our experience of the world (and other beings) is actually self-experience.
Much of what we take as our experience of the world (and other beings) is actually self-experience.
Brussels sprouts taste bad to you and delicious to me because of a difference between us, not because of the vegetables themselves. Time flies while we chat with friends, but it crawls as we await exam results. This owes to our relative enjoyment of these activities. In any moment, our genetic makeup and our life’s accumulated experience colour our current interpretations. They even determine what we attend to or unconsciously ignore.
To pursue our life purpose of experiencing all that we are, we must come to understand our filters and their effects. They sit deep in us, so we cannot eliminate them entirely. The best thing we can do is shift our perspective, looking at our filters as part of life rather than seeing life through them. Even this is challenging, since they are unconscious and not directly observable.
But life helps us. Because it is wild and untameable, it will crash against anything that attempts (like our self-definition does) to stand fixed within it. Life, carrying our true, ever changing self, butts heads with our self-image. These collisions create uncomfortable, often intense, feelings — sensations in our body. We can use these unlikely allies as sign-posts to help us indirectly see our self-image and its filters.
By letting more experience in unfiltered, we allow more expression out unhindered. We deepen in both our creative and witnessing roles.
The benefit? Our experience becomes richer. We open, and any opening allows movement in both inward and outward directions. By letting more experience in unfiltered, we allow more expression out unhindered. We deepen in both our creative and witnessing roles.
Now, let’s turn to the second level I mentioned.
With courage and curiosity, we may use the first step of investigation to look at rather than through our filters. We come to view them as part of life. By relaxing our nervous systems and increasing our intimacy with experience, we open the door to a further perspective.
The living truth we are here to experience is simply what-is-happening each moment. That’s it. When this sinks in, everything shifts.
Look closer, and we see that even our filtered experience and image projection have been elements of reality’s unfolding — legitimate aspects of life. When our own self-obstruction is part of what-is-happening, that is what we witness, just as it is what we express. The truth and the proof are always in what-is-happening.
From this new level, we come to realise the dominant aspect of our self-image has been the sense of separateness from what-is-happening. We’ve unquestioningly imagined a deciding, judging, acting part of ourselves as somehow off to the side of the rest of reality.
It is as an integral part of reality’s stream that we express ‘ourselves’.
Through our work identifying our self-images and filters, we begin to see ourselves in an organic, intricate interdependence with our previously abandoned aspects as well as all the rest of life. It is as an integral part of reality’s stream that we express ‘ourselves’.
So there’s no need to define ourselves. Life does that for us in every new moment. Without effort, we fulfil (and always have fulfilled) our creative purpose. We’re not passive, but neither are we separate. We evolve — expressing and experiencing — as part of reality’s weave.
The special ingredient we bring to existence doesn’t sit apart from what-is-happening or within it. It holds and composes what-is-happening. That gift is our awareness, our subjectivity. Our witnessing purpose is to bless everything that arises with our attention. And we do that automatically and easily, every instant. We always have, even when what we witnessed was a false sense of self and a filtered version of life.
Our witnessing purpose is to bless everything that arises with our attention. And we do that automatically and easily, every instant.
All that needs doing still gets done. Sometimes, what-is-happening includes a sense of identification with a self-image. Increasingly, it doesn’t. We may find our steps lighter, free from the worry that stemmed from imagined isolation and struggle.
Yes, we still fail often — and sometimes spectacularly — to impose our self-image and preferences on the world. This will happen whenever what-is-happening contains both these personal demands and worldly conditions that defy them. But we cannot fail to play to perfection the role that life asks of us.
Eventually, we may see that even in our moments of greatest ignorance and delusion, we have always fulfilled our life purpose, as an effortless aspect of life’s cresting creative wave and as the awareness that always peacefully witnesses exactly what-is-happening.
Faces of God
The world’s wisdom traditions point to one truth, but each highlights distinctive features.
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