David Brooks, the columnist from the New York Times, has been philosophical of late. Last week he wrote a piece on finding the purpose of your life. He started it like this: “Every reflective person sooner or later faces certain questions: What is the purpose of my life? How do I find a moral compass so I can tell right from wrong? What should I do day by to day to feel fulfillment and deep joy?”
Weighty questions, these. Questions that can and should be considered every day of our lives with answers that keep changing and evolving. We all come squalling into this world with one purpose — to LIVE! From then on we experience life, make our choices and suffer or enjoy the consequences. Stuff happens. Purpose? Fulfillment? Deep joy? For all but the lucky few, those can only be assessed from the long perspective of old age.
Those on a spiritual path have perhaps more concrete goals and rules of behavior which are focused on getting through this life and on to whatever awaits us on the other side — salvation, God-realization, virgins. Until then we must get through every day.
When I was sixteen I thought my purpose in life was to write something meaningful and make “someone” very happy. Well, that didn’t work out. When I was twenty-five my purpose was to get all the small people in my house out of diapers and in bed by eight. When I was forty it was to meet my deadlines and make it to the end of the month. At sixty I was more into collecting experiences, some good, some bad, some life altering. Despite the daily grind I thought of myself as an introspective person; my life was not unexamined, I strived to be a good human being, whatever that might be. Definitions of right and wrong became more nuanced.
Sometimes I wander off into mystic realms. Why am I in this body and not another one? What is consciousness? Why am I here? Where does my conscious self go when I die? Is there Purpose in there somewhere? I don’t know. They are questions without answers.
Over the decades I’ve developed some rules to live by:
Say “please” and “thank you.”
Talk less. Listen more.
Be the kind of person you admire.
Be generous — with your money, time, talent.
Clean up after yourself. Don’t leave a mess for someone else to clean up — be it environmental, financial, emotional or just dishes in the sink.
Be careful what you promise. Keep the promises you make.
If someone shares a secret, keep it.
If someone does you a favor, pass it on.
If someone hurts you, get over it. Nursing a hurt only hurts you twice.
Don’t take more than your share.
Do more than your share.
You are not entitled.
Be nice. It’s easier.
Now that I’m nearing eighty and looking back at my life, I don’t see any grand purpose, just an accumulation of life. Not fulfillment exactly, but contentment. Not many moments of deep joy, but many, many moments of delight.
Rosemary Rawson is the author of Coming of Age (SRP, 2014).
Coming of Age by Rosemary Rawson is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.