Do you want to know what my favorite saying is? “Today I learned…” (with “This week I learned…” as a fair back up). To me, there really is nothing more thrilling than learning something new, being exposed to information or ideas I did not know about, and meeting people who share a different point of view with me.
In my pursuit of stuff to learn, I have sort of chucked away conventional common sense and glommed onto the words of William Butler Yeats: “There are no strangers here; Only friends you haven’t yet met.” That’s right. Despite all the training given to me in childhood, I talk to strangers. In grocery lines, in restaurants, at stop signs, the ladies’ room–pretty much anywhere conversation is possible. Strangers are infinite sources of knowledge–you can sometimes learn more from a stranger than you ever could from a friend. Strangers challenge your status quo and push you to move beyond your comfort zone.
One of the best friends I ever had, Renee, was met like this. I saw her in the hallway at college and she happened to be carrying a binder with an 8×10 photo of George Takei as Sulu on the back. Now, this was long before it was “great to be Takei,” when he was just an actor in a failed sci-fi show. But I saw that picture and my dealie-boppers twitched. I pointed and yelled, “Sulu!” at her. (Yes, I was in college….) A friendship was born out of two strangers bonding over a photograph. And while we shared a lot of interests, Renee was very different from me and challenged me to move beyond my own limitations.
So many of the wonderful, crazy, inspired experiences I’ve had in my life have stemmed from the fact that I don’t let not knowing someone get in the way of an intellectual or spiritual connection.
In this light, I want to point you toward a web-site called “I Talk To Strangers.” Robbie Stokes was working at the United States House of Representatives when he made a decision that would astound most people. Determined to not just change the world, but connect it, Stokes sold everything he owned and began a journey. He challenged himself to meet and talk to as many people as he could, and encourage them to do the same.
Imagine that for a moment. Dedicating your life to meeting people, and inspiring every person you meet to do the same. Can you fathom the ripple effect of such an act? Stokes could, and he’s bringing others into the wave. His site offers opportunities for volunteering and employment, as well as blogs and videos.
All because one guy wanted to meet people!
What could you do, if you were brave enough (and crazy enough, perhaps) to follow your passion? Where would you go, and who would you become?
What an amazing world we live in, and what amazing people for us to meet! I am going to volunteer, and I’m going to keep talking to strangers.
Sleep well, and dream of fascinating conversations, my friends.
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.