It’s no secret that I’m a personal development junkie. Hay House Radio is my favorite place online (so much so that Fey bought me a membership so I could enjoy the archived shows). If there is a test I can take, a book I can read, or a meditation I can do that helps me understand this world and my place in it a little better, then I’m on board.
I suppose this addiction comes naturally—I cannot remember a time in my life when I wasn’t a questioner. You know that annoying habit two-year-olds have of constantly asking “why”? I never outgrew that. Believe me, society tried to break me of the addiction. You see, “Why?” is a very uncomfortable question for most people. “Why?” does not allow you to abdicate responsibility. “Why?” forces you to examine the reasons and motivations and hidden prejudices that might not lead to the most comfortable insights.
Why are we here?
Why is there suffering in the world?
Why do some treat others cruelly?
Why are so many people unhappy?
The Big Picture
One of the most unnerving and unrelenting questions that plague me (and most of my cohort, I think, if they slow down long enough to consider) is this:
What is my true purpose in life?
Now, people have been searching for the answer to this question since the dawn of time. As a species we’ve sought answers in religion, magic, science, sexuality, wealth, good deeds, philosophy—anything that makes us feel like something more than eating-shitting-reproduction cycles wrapped in an organic shell. Everybody wants to feel they are more than a biological consumption machine with a limited shelf life.
I don’t know if everybody is like this, but I’ve always felt there was something big coming in my life. Maybe I was Mayan in a former incarnation and got a good long look at the calendar. Or maybe I have delusions of grandeur. But even as a small child, I would dream of things coming—floods, fires, changes both amazing and terrifying. The Katrina floods, in particular, horrified me because I’d been dreaming of them since childhood—right down to the people walking on the freeways, trying to escape the carnage. I don’t like to talk about such things, partly because they freak me (and others) out and partly because it sounds like I’m making claims that I am not really making.
I don’t claim to be psychic or to be able to see the future. What I claim is a connectedness that, try as I might, I was never able to shake. A feeling that this is all meaningful, and things are going to happen that seem awful in the short run but are truly cleansing in the long run. The tragedy of Hurricane Katrina, for instance, opened the world’s eyes to the dangers faced by the coastal region, woke us up from our slumber and showed us that we no longer have the luxury of burying our heads in the sand about climate change and the vulnerability of all human life.
This connectedness I feel has not always been the easiest of things to live with. First of all, it’s rendered me almost completely susceptible to depression and despair. For someone who’s had an overabundance of empathy most of her life, my shields (as Fey so colorfully puts it) aren’t worth shit. I can’t even look at suffering in pictures or see it on television without having a visceral, negative reaction. I used to turn away from it—as a child, seeing someone humiliated in a sitcom would churn my stomach to shreds as if it were happening to me. Schindler’s List practically killed me.
Facing Life Head On
In recent years, I’ve discovered I just can’t turn away anymore. It’s hard, and it hurts, and I resist seeing what’s going on out there in the world. But I know that ignorance is not the answer. This wonderful article by Steve Pavlina helped me out a lot—a perspective-changer that allows us to look at the bigger perspective without ever losing sight of the fact that everything we do (and do not do) has an effect on ourselves and on humanity as a whole. His article dovetails with realizations I’ve been making on my own over several months.
These last few weeks especially for me have been a revelation. It’s as if all the seeds of change I’ve been planting have begun to sprout simultaneously. I have let go of some things I’d been holding on to for a long time. I’ve embraced things I never wanted to face before, things that repulsed or terrified me.
And I survived. My life, my work, my love, and my spirit have already begun to see the benefits. I no longer feel like a frightened cat, claws hooked into the screen door holding on for dear life every morning when I head out the door. I smile more, worry less, and I’m sleeping better at night. Things aren’t perfect yet, nor will they ever be. There is still something big and scary on the horizon, something I cannot avoid. I know this now with everything within me.
But it’s okay. It’s okay because we are all one. We are all part of the same fabric, the same essence, and in the end, it’s all good.
It’s all good. The pain, the joy, the fear, the hatred, the love, the gluttony and generosity and fear and enlightenment—all of it. It’s all good. It’s all a part of the scheme of things, an intricate pattern that looks like chaos to us, but makes perfect sense when looked at from a distance.
Now, I know this may sound a lot like abdication of responsibility. After all, why try to create a better world, why do good deeds, why practice compassion and patience and kindness when, in the end, it’s all the same thing?
There comes a point in everyone’s life where they realize for the first time they are mortal. It’s a big blow, realizing the very act of being born carries with it a guaranteed death sentence. In fact, the very idea of mortality pisses some people off. Why give us life only to take it away? The existential puzzle makes Sudoku look like a Cracker Jack maze.
On a cosmic scale, it’s easy to get discouraged, too. Why bother with loving-kindness and ingenuity and decency and curiosity and patience when in the big picture, it really doesn’t change a thing?
Why teach your children to speak and walk?
Because no matter what happens at the end of their life, it matters now. Here. It matters to you, and to them, and to society, that your children learn to speak and walk.
It matters to you, and to others, and to society, that you are kind and decent and curious and patient. We are tiny specks, quarks in a giant universe that isn’t even aware of our individual existences. But we are also that universe, every one of us, self-contained and beautiful. And how we treat each other is how we treat ourselves. And in the end, whether it matters or not, wouldn’t you prefer to have a peaceful, compassionate, happy existence? Wouldn’t you prefer your treatment of others, the planet, the universe (in other words, yourself) to be based on love and understanding?
When we think in terms of isolation and separateness, life is frightening and discouraging. When we begin to understand that we are life, we are the future and the past and the choice and the choosing, everything falls into place and we experience a profound spiritual shift. We discover peace.
The Bullet Points
So, armed with that new perspective, I’ve decided to tackle once more my Ultimate Question: “What is My True Purpose in Life?” I nabbed this easy plan from Steve Pavlina (How to Discover Your Life Purpose in About 20 Minutes) and decided to give it a go. Below, you will find my unedited responses. I don’t know what it means, and I’m not sure it matters. But I’m excited to get started.
Here’s what to do:
Take out a blank sheet of paper or open up a word processor where you can type (I prefer the latter because it’s faster).
Write at the top, “What is my true purpose in life?”
Write an answer (any answer) that pops into your head. It doesn’t have to be a complete sentence. A short phrase is fine.
Repeat step 3 until you write the answer that makes you cry. This is your purpose.
What is my true purpose in life?
• To help others
• To help humanity
• To understand the nature of reality
• To have fun
• To experience love
• To experience life
• To bring people together
• To make a difference
• To experience the universe
• To be strong
• To be brave
• To be wise
• To be kind
• To be smart
• To be curious
• To fly
• To crawl
• To grow
• To sleep
• To dream
• To choose
• To discover
• To break through boundaries
• To walk through walls
• To make my life important
• To make my life meaningless in the context of a greater importance
• To empower myself
• To empower others
• To give
• To give more
• To be the universe
• To be all and to be nothing and to be singular and complex
• To live greatly and love freely
• To understand what it’s all about
• To honor the past
• To honor the future
• To laugh, a lot
• To see fairies in the garden
• To look at the stars and have my breath catch at the enormity of it all
• To learn about string theory and how to make vinyl chairs and the political history of salt and any other random thing that catches my fancy
• To do all these things, and still wake up in the morning excited about what new adventure I am going to have this day.
Okay, that one got me wibbling. But not crying yet. Onward.
• To let go of my body and my cell walls
• To understand the true nature of my being
• To learn not to fear greatness
• To learn silence
• To learn peacefulness
• To learn humility
• To learn compassion
• To learn not to fear my power
• To abandon shame as an unnecessary thing
Pensive moment. Taking a second. Still not crying. Onward yet again.
• To remember
• To understand
• To believe
• To have faith
• To act
• To dream
• To inspire
• To forgive
• To let go
• To move on
Another pause. Not crying yet, but I feel rather quiet about all this. Allons-y.
• To connect
• To sing
• To create
• To cry easily
• To enjoy myself
• To face the future without fear
• To never ever forget who I am, or who I can be
You know, I don’t think I’m going to cry tonight. Oh, well. It’s okay. I don’t need to figure out my life purpose at the moment. I can always come back and try again. I’ve got a great list to start from.
So. What about you? Do you want to find your life purpose? Can you reach that purpose that makes you cry? Can you find that one truth beyond all others that resonates with you and points you in the right direction to fulfill your destiny?
If you gain insight from this exercise, please let me know. I’d love to hear what you discovered. Until then, peace to you all. Remember—you are life itself. There is nothing wrong with you. Blessings.
I’ve encountered a lot of atheists in the past few years. A random way to start a blog post, I know, but it has been on my mind for a while.
You see, I’ve lived my entire life in one conservative religious area or another. Raised in Catholic Louisiana, moved to Phoenix, Arizona, where the Mormons are, and finally settled in the heart of Southern Baptist Central in Kentucky. While I may not agree with them 90% of the time, and while my “lifestyle” (whatever that means) is enough to send many of them into fits of holy despair, flailing and blessing themselves and speaking in tongues at the horror of me, it still feels normal to be surrounded by folks who take their religion seriously, and who aren’t afraid to let you know it. (You may not agree with Christians, but at least you’re pretty sure of where you can find them on Sunday morning.)
It’s possible this background has ill-prepared me for a life among the secular crowd (you know, the ones who didn’t have priests over to their house for Sunday dinner and who didn’t spend Monday night at catechism class instead of at home, watching Logan’s Run like they really wanted…). People who sleep in on Sundays, who never bless their food when it drops to the floor (a quick Sign of the Cross plus the Two Second Rule is usually enough to stop most germ-related disasters), and who simply do not believe in religion.
No, where I come from, atheists are like ghosts, phantoms used to scare little children, more fantasy than fact. I was almost thirty when I met my first “out” atheist. At forty-five, I’m still a little shocked when I hear someone tell me they don’t believe in god, religion, or any such thing.
So why am I suddenly seeing atheists everywhere?
Out of the Secular Closet
Perhaps one of the reasons I’m seeing more atheists these days in online communities is that it’s simply no longer such a social taboo to identify as a non-believer. Not only does the online world offer access to all types of people with all types of beliefs, it also provides a space where people can express ideas and reveal personal information with far less fear of judgement and shame than ever before. These days nobody bats an eye when you tell them you are gay, in an interracial relationship, on antidepressants, or any number of things that were once really, really, really taboo.
People just take things more in stride today. And without the risk of utter ostracizing looming on the horizon atheists and agnostics are becoming not only more vocal, but more assertive. Famous atheists like Bill Maher and Richard Dawkins have made reputations for themselves (not always positive) as aggressive, unabashed non- believers who have little time or patience for the “fantasy” of religion.
Drawing the Lines in the Sand (and Elsewhere)
It is also no surprise that the steady rise in power of the Far Christian Right in America and abroad has engendered a backlash. More and more people, in an attempt to distance themselves from the profound intolerance and narrowness this movement generally displays, have become more openly accepting of “fringe” religions such as Wicca, and of no religion at all. The phrase “I’m not religious; I’m spiritual” has tripped from the tongue of many liberals over the past twenty years.
My own faith, which is an unruly mash-up of Buddhism, pantheism, goddess worship, and the occasional Catholic dogma, can hardly be classified as religious. And while I have definitely drawn my line in the sand, both with family and friends, as far as my faith goes, I still don’t feel the extreme antipathy many non-Christians have for our Christian neighbors. No, my philosophy is Live and Let Live, but don’t try to tell me how to live or pray.
A Disturbing Trend
But back to atheists…. Recently I’ve noticed a trend among bloggers who identify as atheists to be dismissive and often downright insulting when discussing religion and the people who practice those religions. In movies like Religulous and on more and more public forums, there is often a confrontational tone taken by atheists asserting their right to believe (or not believe) whatever they choose. It seems more often than not, when I see a person or a group who pronounce they are atheist, there is a general attitude of hostility in the air, especially towards people who follow some sort of spiritual or religious path.
Back in the Day, when I used to regularly attend science fiction conventions, there was a phrase we used to describe obnoxious fans who delighted in tormenting so-called “normal” people with outrageous and often inappropriate behavior. We called it “Playing Shock the Mundane.” You see, for so long these folks were the butt of every joke in the “real world.” Once they were safely in the majority, they reveled in turning the tables on people who just looked like they were normal. It was juvenile, embarrassing, and hardly did our group any favors in the community.
I think a lot of atheists are engaged in a massive game of Shock the Mundane with people of faith. For years, they have had religion shoved down their throat, were preached to, pummeled with reasons and rationales that were downright offensive to their skeptical minds. With the rise of the Internet, however, more and more people are “coming out” as nonbelievers. And this heady new group mentality can be tempting….
Okay, before you get all crazy, no I’m not criticizing people for being atheists. When my dear friend and mentor told me he was an atheist (and had been for as long as I’d known him), I was surprised but not offended. This man spent the bulk of his adult life surrounded by pagans and witches and people of all faiths and sizes, yet he is the least judgmental person I have ever known. He respects my beliefs and asks that I respect his. Our friendship is based on mutual trust and shared interests, and is too strong to be shaken by the fact that one of us is a believer and the other is not.
Transcending the Awful
As our world grows steadily smaller, we are going to have to find a way to live together on this planet. People of differing faiths have to work out a strategy for dialogue that promotes civil and respectful cohabitation. This dialogue must also include (and welcome) atheists, agnostics, and the undecided.
There is nothing to be gained on either side by name-calling, baiting, or harassment. People of faith are not stupid, and contrary to a bumper sticker I once saw, April 1 is not National Atheist Day (“because only a fool wouldn’t believe in God.”)
We are all just humans, trying to make sense of the universe around us using whatever tools work best for us. Whether our tool of choice is faith, science, philosophy, or some other esoteric discipline, we are all still heading towards the same goal of basic understanding.
In the end, it doesn’t matter if you’re Catholic or Mormon or Dianic or Druid or Church of the Sub-Genius, nor does it matter if you don’t have an ounce of spiritual/religious faith in your body. What matters is cooperation, mutual respect, and civility between all people.
And whether you’re a follower of Christ, Buddha or Stephen Hawking, you have to admit those are pretty good goals to pursue.