When the word purpose is used in conjunction with existence, people oftentimes assume that one is religious. There is a tendency to assume that unless you view the world as the result of creation as opposed to evolution, you cannot possibly believe that any of us has a specific destiny or reason for being here. We are simply living, oftentimes with no clear-cut sense of direction or meaning. Thus, we drift, like rudderless ships on a vast ocean of nothingness, perpetually in the present or in the past, failing to make adequate or effective plans for our future.
The question is: is this realism or are we trapped in a cycle of self-deception? Is it possible that in ceasing to think we have any purpose for being here, we are actually providing ourselves with an excuse for living exactly as we please? If we define living as we please as freedom, then the answer might be yes. To imagine that we have no obligations to anyone can be alluring for it provides us with a justification for not taking responsibility for anything, not even ourselves.
But how lasting is this type of freedom? And how much happiness does it bring us? When we fail to connect with those around us and develop a capacity to share in their pain and suffering, what have we become?
We see ourselves as beyond personal vulnerability. Yet it is our frailties and inadequacies that make us fully human. In turning our back on the dark side of human existence, we deny the innate courage, resilience, and strength that we possess both to cope and overcome these things.
The human will has infinite power, depth, and tenacity. We were not born to crumble under the tyranny of pain and suffering. And, in order to honor ourselves and humanity, we must be willing to bear the truth of all experiences, whether they be painful or joyous.
Ernest Becker, the noted anthropologist, scientist, thinker, and writer once spoke of the incapability of suffering as “obsessive denial of reality”. A few months ago, I wrote an article that encouraged you to create your own reality. I now perceive how dangerous this advice could have been. In choosing your own subjective reality over the reality that is part of all our lives, you can too easily subscribe to beliefs and opinions about yourself, other people, and the world that have no basis in truth. This does not mean that I do not support the idea of having faith in yourself or in trying to improve your life in every possible way.
What it does mean is that no matter how tempted we are to allow imagination to expand our minds, we must never let illusion substitute for reality. When we refuse to acknowledge that certain experiences are genuine or do not allow ourselves the freedom to express our own frustration about life, we are asking ourselves to live a lie. Children enjoy fairy tales because they enable them to escape into a world of fantasy where they imagine themselves as fanciful figures who have magical powers to overcome the everyday stress and tedium that mere mortals experience.
Trying to escape the monotony of existence is something that we learn to do early in life. Yet, as we grow older, if we continue to attempt to run from reality, what are we accomplishing? To face the truth takes strength. But what is more difficult than acknowledging truth is finding it. We manage to cast our own veils over Truth, much as we might cover the face of a statue that we are afraid to look at.
We fear that Truth will force us to see ourselves as we are, rather than as we wish to be. And that is something that many of us are not prepared for. The logic behind this rationality is difficult to fathom when you begin to understand that until you see yourself as you are you will not be able to take the steps necessary to become what you want to be.
Why it is that seeing ourselves as either less or more than we are is easier than seeing ourselves as we are? Is it so difficult to accept our true selves? Perhaps, our narcissistic society is somewhat to blame for our inability to see ourselves clearly. We choose the ideal self—the image—over the reality of who we really are.
We may even manage to convince ourselves that we will bring this ideal image into existence by holding it in our minds. But isn’t there something terribly irrational about that concept? If we do not see and embrace our true selves, how can we create genuine change? Can we live authentically and yet see ourselves as being different than we are?
If the answer is no, do we then choose to live without authenticity? And how meaningful would such a life be? As children, we were intoxicated by fairy tales, and, perhaps, many of us still are. There will always be something deeply alluring about entering into a magical land of make-believe where we may have a chance to “live happily ever after”. But would we choose that if we knew that none of it could ever be real?
Would we rather live outside of reality and create wondrous experiences in our minds. Or would we rather enter into the realm of being and accept both the good and the bad that life has to offer us? We cannot have it both ways. Our own reality can be created. But unless it exists within truth (which is not possible as our own reality is, by its very nature, purely subjective), it remains part of an illusion that will only lead us further along the path of self-deception.
For awhile, self-deception can seem harmless enough. It enables us to believe whatever we want to about any given circumstance within our lives. Moreover, we can choose to ignore anything unpleasant, too. We can even deceive ourselves into believing that life is nothing but a series of positive experiences for when we imagine that we can create whatever reality we choose there are no limits. Unfortunately, such thinking tends to promote narcissism. We begin to see others as being here to serve us and our purposes. As a result, we lose sight of the fact that it is actually the other way around—we are here to serve others.
It has been said before that the love you give away is the only love you really get to keep. Then, might it not also be said that the life that is spent in service to others is the only life that is truly meaningful? Or do we dare to imagine that giving could be more important than getting?
Our consumer-oriented culture wants us to believe that the more things we have, the happier we’ll be. But what is the truth? How many of us will come to the end of our lives wishing that we had more clothes or a more expensive car? Will it matter how many trips around the world we took or how much jewelry we own?
Perhaps, I have it wrong. Maybe it is more important how much we have than who we are as people. But, if so, why is it that so many people who have everything they could ever ask for remain so unfulfilled? If getting and having do not bring us satisfaction, is it possible that the more we have and get, the more dissatisfied we become? In our attempts to diminish our inner thirst with that which will never quench it, it would seem that it’s possible we may actually be making ourselves thirstier. It is akin to trying to nourish our body with food that has no nutritive value. Eventually, we will starve.
This is why pulling ourselves out of our own reality and into the light of Truth is so crucial to having a life of purpose. In the words of philosopher Harry Frankfurt, “Our success or failure in whatever we undertake, and therefore in life altogether, depends on whether we are guided by truth or whether we proceed in ignorance or on the basis of falsehood.”
Frankfurt believes that we need truth not only to understand how to live effectively but even in order to survive. When we look at the state of the world we live in, we have to wonder whether or not the fact that the search for Truth has been replaced by a desire to believe whatever we want to hasn’t contributed to the collapse of humanity. We may talk of creating our own beliefs, but stepping too far outside the truth can affect not merely us but society, as a whole.
Even though we may not want to acknowledge it, we have responsibility in this world for more than just our own lives. We have an obligation to humanity. It’s not really all about you anymore, nor is it about me or any other single person. It is about us. Our journey is both personal and part of a collective journey that all of us are on. It is the experience of being human, and each of us can has the ability to make of this experience anything we choose. We can either accept the pain and the joy and make the best of each, or we can allow ourselves to lose sight of our collective purpose as we get immersed in ourselves and our narcissistic realities.
Whether you are religious or not, imagine, if you will, the impact that Christianity would have had on the world if we had been told that Jesus came only to save a few select individuals who were in some way set apart as being “special”. Rather than being seen as a figure of eternal selflessness and self-sacrifice, we would perceive Jesus as the ultimate elitist. Yet, much of the time we set ourselves apart as being exempt from the human experience—as having a purpose that is somehow more unique or exceptional than anyone else’s.
Then, we wonder why it seems as if we are unable to establish relationships of any true significance. How can we when we are so absorbed by ourselves and our own lives? The irony is that in spite of our all-encompassing self-absorption, we have not necessarily ever really “found” ourselves. Often, we are absorbed by the false image of ourselves that we hold within our minds and the things we feel that others should be doing for us and/or that the world should be giving to us.
However, beneath all of the superficiality, we still want something deeper . . . something more, whether we admit it to ourselves or not. We are seeking the purpose that we say we don’t believe in—the reason for living that we say doesn’t exist. For, we are oftentimes so out of touch with our authentic selves that we cannot discriminate between that which we think we want and that which we truly need.
Perhaps the brilliant and contemplative philosopher, Jacob Needleman, sums it up perfectly when he says, “We human beings are in search of meaning, in search of our selves. Very little of what we already are and already have brings us deeper meaning or happiness. We are born for meaning, not pleasure, unless it is pleasure that is steeped in meaning. And we are born as well for sufferings, not the suffering that leads to madness but the suffering that leads to joy: the struggle with ourselves and our illusions. We are born to overcome ourselves, and through that overcoming to find great harmony and being. We are born for that . . . We are searchers: that is the essence of our present humanness.”
Maybe we have failed to learn one basic truth that would have illuminated our paths from the beginning had we been cognizant of it. We find true meaning not in lives of pleasure and contentment but rather in overcoming, in struggling, in surviving, and not merely in living. For in order to be part of the collective journey—the journey that is not just about us but rather about humanity—we must experience these things.
When we do not expand our minds to see beyond the now, the pursuit of pleasure may remain a permanent quest. In turning our backs upon Truth, we can convince ourselves that our own gratification is all that really matters. Why should we work harder for that which is evanescent, and, in many ways, seemingly indefinable? Unlike money, sex, food, and material possessions, Truth remains elusive . . . always slightly outside our grasp. And yet, until we are courageous enough to let go of the superficial, the only self we will ever discover will be rooted in subjective reality instead of truth and freedom.
What will you choose? The fairy tale that will never be anything more than a dream or a reality that is rich with meaning, purpose, and significance?
Love and blessings,
Alexis, your SuccessDiva
(dedicated to Armina Evangelista, with much love)
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This page and all written material at the SuccessDiva pages is written by Alexis Wingate. (C) Copyright 2010 by Alexis Wingate, the SuccessDiva. All Rights Reserved