ear Miracles: As we spiral into the center of the solar year and prepare to celebrate the halfway mark of Summer Solstice, one question stands out more prominently than any other in my encounters with people. It is a question both timeless and timely, and, to my mind, the most ancient of questions, the very first question, the one from which all others spring, and the one to which all other questions point.
The question is: Why am I here?
There are many ways we ask the question. What is my life purpose? How do I find my life purpose? What am I really meant to do/be/create/contribute to the world? And most poignant of all: Who am I?
The question about the purpose or meaning of life is hard to ask for any sustained length of time, because it is rather vague, and easily lands us in a realm of endless speculation and pointless navel gazing. When so much of our time is spent immersed in particulars of the business of life, answering the question in some abstract and general way seems hardly satisfactory.
And yet, having the courage to ask this question, refusing to run away or hide from it, makes a tremendous difference in our lives. All genuine questions are a heart yearning, reaching out, for knowing, for deep connection. The question about purpose is a heart calling and a heart questing too; looking for an orientation with respect to the ultimate reality, to the things that really and truly matter. In much the same way that a sailor lost at sea, looks off into the sky seeking out the north star.
Every holy book of scripture, every miracle, every sacred chant and dance, every temple and holy sanctuary space is an implicit answer to the question Why am I here. Great religions and philosophical movements have been built around some of the answers. Other answers found themselves woven into the fabric of a single individual, or an entire community’s daily life. In the work that I have dedicated myself to – teaching the sacred arts and providing spiritual counseling – I have discovered the answer that I have found is best and most true. This answer lives behind an old, old, door, the kind we find nestled in the roots of an ancient tree or magically appearing in a brick wall, the kind that, once opened, leaves us profoundly changed, forever. And like all doors, this one requires a key, or three. So here we are, asking why we are here in the first place, and here is the door. Now we shall find the keys to unlock it.
Asking the question, truly living the question, being responsible to that questioning, is itself the first and most indispensable key. It takes great heart, great courage, great innocence and wisdom to ask why we are here, to ponder what it is really that we are meant to do and be in this life. To ask is the first key.
The second key to this oldest of old questions is found in considering what life purpose is not, and where we cannot and will not find it.
From an early age, children are routinely asked “What do you want to be when you grow up?” (Or what college do you want to go to?) This is to confuse life purpose with career, with our function in society, with what we do professionally. We ask children to tell us not who they are right here and now but rather what, not who but what, they will become. The expected answers are known by rote: astronaut, doctor, lawyer, investment banker, teacher but never a kind person, faithful lover, patient gardener, gifted creator.
The customary, habitual identification between life purpose and career is a huge mistake. It is understandable one, since as members of our modern political-economies we must make a living in a world in which social and economic roles are defined functionally. It is a habit to think this way, but not the only, and not the best way.
Habits are tricky. They hide themselves in daylight as second nature. But like most problematic habits, this one relies on our willingness, yours and mine, to ignore what we see and experience every single day. What our actual experience tells us is the opposite of our conventional way of thinking. What we do in the world by means of our “job”, our “work” is only a part, a very small sliver, of the entire story of who we are, where we come from, and what we are capable of creating. The panic we feel when when we misplace our wallets or our phones may betray the degree to which we easily identify ourselves with these symbols. But we know the truth, when the wallet is lost, when the phone is damaged, life still goes on. We breathe in and out, babies are born, our lives continue on, we deal.
So why persist in deceiving ourselves, by thinking if only I have this job, or this degree, only then will I be happy when everything in our actual living experience tells us the opposite?
And so here is the second key: pay fresh attention to what you actually experience, as opposed to what habit says you experience.
When we begin to pay attention, and to honor what we find in that process, something amazing occurs. More opportunities and choices appear than we otherwise thought were possible. We learn to show up and offer our gifts and talents to others. We begin to grow and deepen not only in our jobs but in our lives. To see that our work does not and cannot define our greater purpose in life is to experience greater freedom in that very work than we might ever know otherwise. The Wheel of Fortune card in the Tarot shows us this explicitly: fortune and fame, reputation and honor – they come and they go, they wax and wane like the moon, and what remains constant? The deepest, most alive, most essential part of you.
And it is in this we find the third key, the one that ultimately unlocks the magic door and reveals the treasure inside: We are here for all that is good. Good to our selves. Good to one another. The word good, coming to us from Old English, Proto-Germanic, and Old Norse, has a root sense that means complete. That principle of completion, of goodness? I call it soul. You are here and I am here to live our most soulful life.
And though we may be burned and bruised and battered in thousands of ways that deepest part of us remains always free, whole, healthy, holy, and alive, blessedly alive.
Listen to this Lunar Letter here.