Often we come across these questions aimed to help us reflect on our life meaning and purpose, propelling us onto the path to human awakening to infinite happiness. Can happiness really be found through purpose or is this merely an illusion to cover up the notion that our lives might not be better through a purpose?
In my work as an executive coach I sometimes pause to contemplate if this quest for meaning always serves us. Indeed, opening up to something greater than ourselves that makes us find our inner grace is a compelling and energising thought full of hope. One the other hand, do these names and questions demand fearlessness of us or does it actually achieve the opposite, a smaller state ensnared by a fear of failing this purpose?
My hypothesis would be that rather than setting us free, answering the question on purpose can sometimes trap us more. For a long time I saw my purpose as serving my clients on their journey of transcending to the next level of consciousness. I became so immersed in this question that everything I did that did not contribute to this purpose felt meaningless and painfully unimportant. Instead of liberating myself, I had become attached to another desire, another goal, that made me tense and even more scared of failure. What if I would not to achieve my purpose? Would I then simply exist in a field of void and mediocrity?
What if purpose is the wrong way to go about happiness?
If we recognise that we can also become attached to a purpose, then how can we find a way of living that keeps us open, keeps us free and creative yet motivated?
Where do we gain energy if we don’t know that we’re going to be successful? How can we do our work without becoming attached to this notion that a certain purpose is going to save us? Where do we then find hope?
The thing about hope is that it is strongly connected to fear. Any time we are hopeful, we don’t know it necessarily, but we also bring in fear. Fear is the constant, unavoidable companion of hope. As I was clinging on to my perceived purpose, I was so afraid I would not get it. I hoped for a certain outcome and I was fearful it would not happen and therefore, everything would be meaningless. This is the way that hope and fear are wedded together.
How can we then go beyond hope and fear to find a place where we can be? It might be that the road to fearlessness is only found by giving up hope. Perhaps are these larger-than-life goals not serving us in the way we might have hoped?
I find this to be an intriguing paradox. If we do not have hope, you might say, where will we find our motivation? If we don’t have hope, who will save the world?
Thomas Merton, a great writer, said, “Do not depend on the hope of results. You may have to face the fact that your work will be apparently worthless and even achieve no result at all, if not, perhaps, results opposite to what you expect.”
As you get used to this idea of your work achieving nothing, you let go of clinging on to a great purposeful vision to focus on the value and the truth of the work itself.
For those of you who have walked this path, you might recognise that you stop struggling less and less for an idea and more and more for individual people. As you focus more and more on the single individuals of your influence, it gets much more real. In the end, it is the reality of personal relationships that makes everything meaningful.
Would those relationships to be enough? For us to feel we would have made a significant contribution, and led a good life, just because we cared for, loved and touched some people? This is quite a frightening thought; to shift from find your life purpose to simply loving people?
I’m finding this to be a very provocative exploration of hope, not comfortable at all. However, as I start to focus on the vivacity in each coaching session, the preciousness of every moment that I spend with another person, I find myself enter into a space where hope and fear are less prevalent and replaced by love. This is a different sense of meaning, far way from the attachment to a grandiose picture of life purpose and achievement.
Can we work beyond hope and fear?
Can we find a way to be motivated, to be energetic, to be happy; to find the joy in our work that is not based on needing to see a particular result? Is that even available?
What if we could offer our work as a gift so lightly, and with so much love, that that is really the source of fearlessness? We don’t need it to create any certain outcome or find the great purpose somewhere out there. We don’t need it to be any one thing.
It is in the way we offer our, that the work transforms us. It is in the way we offer our work as a gift to those we love, to those we care about, to the issues we care about. It is in the way we offer the work that we find fearlessness.
Beyond hope and fear, I think, is the possibility of love. Love, free from attachment, from hope, from fear. Finally we can then be free.