I sat on the deck crying. It had been 8 months since Mom passed away and I was still in a dark place. It wasn’t just the immense grief that held me there. I felt as though my purpose in life had disappeared. For years I had defined myself as Mom’s caretaker as she battled the disease of Alzheimer’s. Now with her gone, I felt alone and adrift. Questions churned in my mind.
Why am I here? What is my purpose?
I know I’m not alone. Almost everyone struggles with these questions at some point in their life. So, why exactly, is a sense of purpose so important to all of us? I believe it starts with a need to feel worthy. You want to feel you’ve done something ‘important’ in your life, that you’ve somehow earned the blessings that have come your way.
So you attach yourself to roles and places and goals and things in order to define your purpose and prove your worth. All you have to do is be a good Mother, lose 30 pounds, own that convertible or win that award to lead a purposeful life. And, when you’re in the zone making steady progress, it feels pretty damn good. Even better when the moment of triumph actually arrives and you watch your last child graduate from college, check out your lean body in the mirror or look out the window of your new corner office. You feel worthwhile, proud and on top of the world.
But a sense of purpose is a slippery fellow. Soon the luster of your accomplishment fades. Doubts of your worthiness begin to creep in, leaving you bewildered, restless and wondering what it’s all about once again. To escape these feelings, you frantically search for something new to hang your hat on, something to become your new mission in life.
That’s exactly what I tried to do after Mom passed away. I felt clueless on how to proceed, so I ordered books that promised to lead me to my new purpose and soon discovered a common thread among them. All I needed to do was have a burning desire for change, do intense soul searching and be willing to get out of my comfort zone. Huh? It seemed daunting, but I figured it was worth a try. So I kept journals, meditated, ate healthy, prayed and had many talks with my inner child. Yet, I continued to flit from one thing to another, never really feeling I was good enough at anything to make it my new purpose. In other words, I continued to flounder.
Hence back to me on the deck, crying, and the moment I realized I had everything backwards. As I sat there lost in negativity, I happened to notice a sparrow on the bird feeder. I watched her for several minutes as she nibbled on a seed and suddenly had a thought that would forever change my definition of the word ‘purpose’.
Feeding a bird is purpose enough.
Its simplicity struck me and I sat a little straighter in my chair. Could it really be that simple? At first I tried to resist, but, by then, I was too damn tired, so I leaned into the idea and continued to watch the sparrow. Before long, I began to feel inklings of hope and well being.
I WAS worthy and had a purpose, no matter what my day held.
I held on to that thought and began to claw my way out of my depressed state. I reminded myself every day that there was a sparrow that did not go hungry because of me, which opened me up to see all the other important reasons I was still alive.
I now believe the whole idea of ‘finding’ a purpose is really just an illusion and, even more importantly, the notion that your worth is dependent on any person, place or thing is a bold face lie. Stripped to its core, your purpose is simply to be who you are, exactly as you are, at this very moment in time. The search is unnecessary, for the path is already laid and every second of your life is inherently filled to the brim with possibilities. You really don’t need to do anything more than relax into the flow and remember these simple truths. You are worthy. You are good enough. Not sometime in the future, but today…right this instant.
This does not imply you shouldn’t dream big, set goals or take amazing leaps of faith. Actually it’s quite the opposite, because the minute you stop attaching your self-worth to the outcomes of those endeavors, the whole world opens up to you. Most of what holds you back from trying new things is the fear of failure. Once you realize that failure is just another experience and has no bearing on your worthiness, things become a lot less scary and you feel more empowered to reach for the stars.
Coupled with self-acceptance, I believe kindness is the other magic ingredient in living a purposeful life. Whether it’s smiling at a stranger or holding someone’s hand as they leave this world, every act of kindness causes a ripple in the pool of life that has far reaching effects. I used to think that for kindness to count it had to be something huge and involve a lot of self sacrifice. If I wasn’t actively saving the rain forest, feeding the poor or finding a cure for cancer then I just wasn’t doing enough. I now realize this is not the case. Some days, providing a single seed is perfectly enough.
It’s your turn now. When you wake up tomorrow, take a deep breath and tell yourself what an amazing human being you are, with a very special purpose, which is yours alone. Then throw open the blinds, go out in the world and just be your authentic, glorious self. And watch the Universe smile.
Much love and peace to all of you.