The Issue of Purpose

We often banter about our life’s purpose. What are we here for? What is our reason for being? To some, that reason is to worship God. To others, it is to be successful in all that they do. However, when on your deathbed, would you consider yourself finished with anything you can possibly consider your “purpose”?

The short answer is probably not. When once asked what I considered my life’s purpose to be, I replied “to live in the service of others”. Yet daily I see myself failing in this purpose as well as succeeding. In the great paradox of the universe, success cannot exist without failure, so in order to experience one you must surely experience the other. So, if I fail so readily at “my life’s purpose”, can it really be my purpose at all?

The continuance of the short answer makes it a rather lengthy one. In doing some research, both from the external and the internal perspective, it has become quite clear that we have two purposes. One, the outer purpose, is the purpose we serve in our natural egoic state of needed something to succeed at. In this, we can never succeed, because anything rooted in ego is doomed to failure and to illicit suffering. My outer purpose is to live in the service of others, and in that I will surely find failure and success. I will do my best daily to serve others, to help where possible. I will succeed, and I will fail. I will experience glory, and eventually as with all outer purpose – suffering.

Similarly, the “praise God” purpose will offer success and failure if it is the outer purpose. That is why the Bible instructs us to keep our “light under a basket”, which could simply be a metaphor for converting an outer purpose to an “inner purpose”.

The inner purpose is quite different from the outer purpose. It involves awareness and consciousness, meaning complete dedication to the present moment. It turns whatever you are doing at that present moment into your life’s purpose. For instance, when you are walking across a room to get a book, your purpose is walking across the room (not getting the book). When you reach the book, your purpose is to get the book. And when you begin reading it, that becomes your purpose. There can be no success or failure in inner purpose, and their can be no loss of significance of each moment, of each purpose. There is no ego involved in the inner purpose, and since it is all about the event of the present moment, it can change quite quickly.

For instance, I used to be a specialize rescue technician. My life’s purpose could quickly change from grilling burgers for the family to rappelling down a 50-foot shaft and skirting out an icy pond. Each individual moment is your life’s purpose. The end result – the rescue – is the outer purpose, yet each individual moment in that effort is the inner purpose.

I once read an article of a spelunker who was repelling into a 250′ canyon to explore some caves. He apparently was a very experienced at rappelling, spelunking, and rock climbing. It became his purpose to explore some particularly dangerous caves, and his death became the subject of a lesson to all of us who took part in such activities: don’t become so engrossed in the success of your goal (outer purpose) to forget the minute details of each moment of it (inner purpose). Although each moment of his inner purpose happened exactly as it was ordained to, he ultimately failed in his outer purpose because of a lack of awareness, that moment when ego took over and mistakes were made.

Apparently the drop to the canyon floor was 250 feet, but our explorer only had 150′ of rope. Now, a common practice in rappelling is to tie off the end of your rope for two reasons: first, so that your rope bag stays at the end and second so that you cannot rappel past it. He apparently thought he had 250′ plus of rope, and only found out how wrong he was when his brake (he was using a figure 8) ran out of rope and he fell 100 feet to his death.

Now I am positive that while he was on rope he was very in tune to each moment, we all are. He checked his rigging, his harness, his light, all of his gear. He was very in tune with his surroundings, very true to his inner purpose. Each movement went slowly in his mind. He served his life’s purpose with each move, and as he realize he had quite literally reached the end of his rope, he served his life purpose in the end of his earthly existence. He failed in his outer purpose, and much suffering came of this failure, but each moment of his inner purpose was as it was meant to be.

If you take any form of outer purpose (all outer purpose is of form) and apply it to this man’s life, he would sure have failed (that is, unless his outer purpose was to die in a rappelling accident that could have been easily avoided). If glorifying God was his purpose, would he have succeeded? Probably not, as since the action of “glorifying God” is egoic, it is subject to judgment as to what is success or failure, so the measuring stick can be quite different depending on who you talk to. If his life’s purpose was “the service of man”, would he have succeeded? Probably not, since that too is egoic in nature so one cannot measure it’s success. However, if you break down each moment near the end of his life, did he succeed in inner purpose? Of course he did, for you cannot fail in purpose of each moment even if the purpose of your final moment is to die.

Inner purpose, because it involves awareness, cannot be of form so it cannot be egoic. To quantify it as “success” is unnecessary, just as describing water as “wet” is unnecessary. It is how it is, and the ultimate success is in whether or not you are aware of it. Your inner purpose never changes in the fact that it is always as it is, only your level of awareness of it can change.

Right now, my life’s purpose is to complete this post. Then it will change. I can’t wait to see where it takes me.