Last summer I was putting a lot of pressure on myself to find a sense of purpose. After leaving my job and the town I was living in, and knowing I was headed to an ashram in the fall, I gave myself permission to take a couple of months to figure out what I would do next.
I didn’t get very far. I was wrestling every day with where I should go, what job I should get, how I should live? What am I here to do? played on repeat in my head.
I looked into teaching requirements in Hawaii, massage therapy school in British Columbia, au pairing in Italy, and I all but bought my plane ticket to become a Buddhist nun in France. It’s possible I was having a slight identity crisis.
It wasn’t until I went to Yasodhara Ashram that I stopped being harassed with that question. For the first time in years, I woke up in the morning feeling that I was exactly where I was supposed to be, doing exactly what I was supposed to be doing. It was partly because my schedule was already laid out for me, but partly because I’d dreamed of visiting a spiritual community for years and it was one of the few things I was sure of. I seriously considered taking vows and staying there forever.
Then I asked for a sign. I was walking down for dinner when a flock of birds burst out of the treetops with a unified cry. They circled directly overhead twice, three times, then flew down the path, out and away from the ashram. It confirmed what I knew in my heart: I had to leave, to face the uncertainty of the outside world again.
I came back home and I was drowned again in the questions: What is my purpose? What am I here for? What do I do now?
So as I’ve done my whole life when I’m struggling, I started writing. And I kept writing. And I started a blog and wrote there. Somewhere along the line I realized I wasn’t being beaten over the head with those questions anymore.
There were no fireworks, no shift in the earth, no internal cry of “Aha! This is what I was born for!” I just didn’t feel bombarded by the questions. I didn’t know if it was because I’d found my purpose, or rather because I’d shifted my focus away from finding one at all. Something as huge as a life purpose doesn’t seem like a problem the mind can solve. It’s one that has to be surrendered.
It would be easy for me to say now I’m not being plagued by these questions that I’ve found my purpose. I’m destined to be a writer, that is the goal for the rest of my days. Problem solved!
But I know myself well enough not to go down that road. I can’t pin my identity to anything external anymore, not even something I love as much as writing or that feels as right. Because I might wake up tomorrow and not feel like writing ever again. Or I might feel like devoting my time to something else for a while. And I don’t want to be limited to one thing.
I think it’s more likely that I’m not bugging myself about what I’m meant to do because I’m not expecting myself to work it out anymore. I’m giving it up to God, and showing up with my hands ready to work. My purpose isn’t about finding one career or volunteer position or relationship or role, and defining myself by it. It’s about asking every day how I can be of service, and accepting and allowing what that day brings. It’s about being humble to how things turn out. It’s about not trying to control things to get myself wealthy or well-liked. It’s about living in a spirit of faith and joy, and choosing to believe I am being guided to what I need. The universe guides me, I serve it. When I’m in that space, I don’t feel like I’m bulldozing against life, but in partnership with it, helping it out wherever I can.
And for today, maybe how I can best serve God is writing, and dedicating it all to the highest good. It’s not for me; I release all outcomes. I finally feel like I’ve found my purpose, by ceasing to look for one.
My days bend like rubber trees,
I trust in the wind that lurches.
Every drift and twist grows me stronger and thicker,
straightening back upwards to light.
When the sun is filling me
I trust rain will return
and so bask in the rays.
Under endless storms
I sink heartfully into dirt.
The Beloved is in the mud,
and is the will upholding
each tired leaf,