What Is The Purpose Of Life? A Quick Guide To Find Your Calling
How do you find your calling in life? What does it even mean to consider the purpose of life? I became fascinated with this question years ago after hearing a lecture by Eckhart Tolle where he shares his answer .
What is the purpose of life?
This a two-fold question: there’s your ultimate life’s purpose, and your relative life’s purpose, or calling.
Here are some examples of an ultimate life's purpose:
live in the moment
be fully authentic
be happy and to share happiness with others
love and be loved
live from a place of truth
What is the purpose of life? Pema Chodron has an excellent way of talking about your ultimate life's purpose. From an ultimate perspective, the answer to that question is: to be here, now.
What does it mean to be here, now?
Training yourself to be present means checking in with yourself--body, speech and mind--on a daily basis. It is helpful to have a formal practice--such as ashtanga yoga or sitting meditation-- to do this. When you train yourself to be present, you learn to ally with the sane aspects of your being, and to give space to challenging aspects. Presence allows you to graciously accommodate all that arises, rather than getting distracted by nonsense or carried away by destructive thoughts that might derail you from your life’s purpose.
Well, just imagine that you have a gift --and a love--for training horses, but you were raised in a family that only valued academia as a career choice. You might grow up feeling that working with horses was not a valid option and develop a whole self-defeating internal dialogue to prevent yourself from ever exploring this path.
When you are able to rest undistracted in the present moment--even for just a moment-- this self-defeating dialogue doesn't get a voice. Tuning in to body, speech and mind brings you into the immediate circumstances, where the loudest voice is that of your heart-- your inner wisdom. So you might give in to the urge to walk down to the stables and see the horses, which may lead to a chance encounter...which may lead to...who knows?
But it takes practice to develop your ear for this voice of inner wisdom. It is different than simply creating an agenda and going through the motions of fulfilling tasks that will get you there. There's a sense of following the wisdom, rather than trying to take the lead. For us bossy types, this can be challenging!
How do you live your ultimate life's purpose?
The short answer to that question is to develop a mindfulness practice. By aligning body, breath and mind with the call of your heart, you practice being in the present moment, without agenda. When you practice like this, your relative life’s purpose will reveal itself without you having to do anything.
I can't tell you how many times I've experienced this. Frequently, I've been at a crossroads, unsure which direction to take in life, and so rather than make an uninformed choice, I schedule a meditation retreat. I sit and wait for clarity. Inevitably, some new door opens: I get an email out of the blue, I have an auspicious encounter or a new insight suddenly illuminates how I need to proceed.
The work is in training yourself to be present, through developing some type of mindfulness practice. You learn to listen, then hear, and then follow the voice of your inner guidance.
Here’s the trick: when you live your ultimate purpose (of being present) your calling, or your relative life's purpose unfolds before you.
What is the relative purpose of your life?
Here are some examples of a relative life's purpose:
serve others through teaching yoga
raise a healthy family
contribute to world peace by engaging in social activism
save the giraffes (or train horses)
inspire through sharing artistic talents
entertain and uplift by being a world-class athlete
be a connector in your community
remain steady and reliable as a voice of wisdom for others
A relative purpose evolves, and is often unrecognizable until after the fact. I often think we get this completely wrong in western culture, where we ask high school graduates to decide "what they want to be" by choosing a university major during their first year. How can anyone under 20 know their relative life's purpose? How can anyone over 20 know, for that matter, when the entire landscape of our society changes so quickly? Professions that used to be rock-solid reliables get retired and replaced by technological innovation. New "professions" reveal themselves daily as we respond to new needs. Just look at the music industry. (One of the saddest days of my life was when Soul Train went off the air. I believe my true calling was to be a Soul Train dancer.)
Oh well. Sometimes we miss. But that's OK too.
The purpose of your life evolves as your experience takes shape. The way to keep in touch with this evolution is to practice the ultimate purpose of life, which is to keep coming back to the present moment with awareness.
Here's a checklist to help you find your calling:
Set an intention to be present. Carve out space in your day to do nothing but observe.
Connect with the body. Engage in a daily practice of physical awareness or movement.
Tune in to the breath. Make a habit of checking in with your breath. Settle the breath into a smooth rhythm.
Rest in the nature of mind without distraction. Learn to focus the mind and train your awareness through meditation practice.
Listen to what your heart tells you. Once you are able to be authentically present with body, breath and mind, you’ll start to hear what your heart is saying.
Move with your heart’s instructions. Take one small step in the direction your heart calls you to go.
These practices, when engaged with intention, will help you to clarify what is important to you in life. After all, this is the purpose of life: whatever you decide is important to you! You might see the steps you need to take to start living with more joy, more love and acceptance. Once you find your calling, there may still be suffering--this does not mean you are doing it wrong. But finding your calling means, above all, living in alignment with both The truth and Your truth.