purpose with a little p

Purpose and Direction

Whenever I hear someone ask “What’s your life purpose” I squirm inside. 

I think it was the philosopher Alan Watts who said, “The true meaning of life is no meaning, that ‘its’ purpose is no purpose …”  It seems quite omnipotent to think that I am so enlightened that I have the meaning of life worked out. That whilst other’s struggle to answer that question, here I am with the key, at least for me. 

Nope I don’t know my “life purpose” but I do know what makes me feel connected, congruent, alive and happy. I can look back over my life, the jobs I have held, the roles I have played the communities I have been a part of and my way of ‘being’ in those contexts is constant. Better than that, when I have felt most connected and alive I have been playing a particular role, one of being of service. I can’t say that that’s “my life purpose”, I can say that it is a pattern of behaviour and a guiding light that always makes me feel good.

I recently read this by Marcus Aurelius Anderson,  “Without purpose we lack direction. Without direction, our lives simply meander down the path of least resistance. We become controlled by a purely reactionary or strictly pleasure seeking existence. We’re constantly putting out fires, in some ways, waiting to be victimised by things we are unable to control.”

I got to thinking of all the places where I ‘meander’ versus those where a purpose gives me direction.  My wife and I have been in a relationship for 40 years.  At first like many people we happily meandered, getting to know each other, enjoying the discoveries we made in ourselves in relation to each other.  Then after a few years we knew each other, we accommodated each other’s ‘ways’, compromised a bit, and mainly worked as a team as we created a home, family, business and lifestyle.  We had purpose and direction when it came to business, finances and investments but with our relationship in the early days we meandered.  

Around the year 2000 we had our little family, a small but growing business, we’d moved out of the big city and we had time to think.  We started to look at our relationship and wonder how we could ensure it would last the test of time and not end up in tears, separation or the toxic mess that we saw in some relationships around us.  Ironically we explored “the purpose” of being in a relationship.  We did this on a global sense and individually.  We separately wrote down what we wanted to gain by being in a relationship with someone as opposed to being alone.  We also wrote down what we wanted from each other and what we wouldn’t tolerate from each other. 

Our answers ranged from number of kids, where on the planet we wanted to live and how long for right down to simple things like who takes the trash out (I’ll let you guess whose job that is). in the end we had a kind of manifesto for relating with each other in our relationship.  It sounds kind of sterile and dorky as a write it but it’s worked. 

Recently a few people I know have been seriously struggling within their relationships and i wonder what conclusions they would come to if they took some time out, just by themselves and answered these questions about their purpose for being in a relationship…

  1.  What is the purpose of being in a relationship with someone?
  2. What is it that I want to experience emotionally, mentally, physically and spiritually?
  3. What are the practical benefits I want to experience?
  4. Right now does this relationship match up to what I want?
  5. Right now would my needs be better served by being out of this relationship?

As Marcus Aurelius Anderson said earlier, “Without purpose we lack direction. Without direction, our lives simply meander down the path of least resistance… We’re constantly putting out fires, in some ways, waiting to be victimised by things we are unable to control.”  This sounds very much like my friend’s relationships and I wonder if by revisiting their ‘purpose’ for being in a relationship and that particular relationship they might find the direction they need to move in next.


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