I have been reflecting on the concept of purpose, how it is translated in an embodied way into everything we do and how it manifests into the world, for each person, in a different way.
I am aware that there are many tools that help people reflect about their purpose in life. One of them I especially like is the Ikigai, a Japanese concept that means "a reason for being."
The word refers to having a meaningful direction or purpose in life, constituting the sense of one's life being made worthwhile, with actions (spontaneous and willing) taken toward achieving one's Ikigai and resulting in deep satisfaction.
To discover our Ikigai, we must first find what we are most passionate about. Then, we find the medium through which we can express that passion. Ikigai is the union point of four fundamental components of life: passion, vocation, profession and mission.
From the union point of our Ikigai, life flows… like cruising on calm waters going exactly where we are supposed to go to, and enjoying each moment of the effortless journey.
I can’t imagine people not feeling excited about finding their Ikigai. The question is…what about when we are so keen to find it, but can’t seem to know the answer? We can sometimes feel a great deal of confusion, pressure and overwhelm in this process, as noble as it may be.
So what I would like to suggest is to re-orient our search for our life purpose from a mindfulness perspective.
What I have found in the practice of mindfulness and meditation is that it is possible to feel profound joy by learning to give ourselves over to the present moment. In this moment, there is an opening of perspectives and abundance that have always been there, but because I am present and alert, I am open to notice it all.
From this place, it feels to me that there is the possibility of an unfolding of life’s true purpose, where different life’s goals can converge and unify, guiding our every decision, from the most mundane to the most complex.
One analogy I think of is from the time when our family used to sail together. I was learning the art of sailing as an adult. I remember being very alert to all that was happening, immersed in an unfamiliar experience. One of the times I used to cherish the most was the moment of transition when we were just out of the sea channel, finally getting close to open sea. It’s the very moment when we could finally turn off the engines and put the sails up. There was so much excitement involved in having the family working together in that moment, the relief of turning off the noise of the engine, and the joy of feeling the wind and the currents taking over. All of a sudden, we were one with nature and an extension of the boat, very alert to how to respond to the new elements and working together towards harmony.
Those moments of my sailing education (which is very limited, by the way), have taught me enormously about a basic life principle for finding direction.
First, the overall purpose of these sailing experiments was to have fun, joy, as a family, which is always a unifying guiding principle.
Second, there was a letting go of the engine and, literally and symbolically, of our sense of control in a very embodied way, giving place to an openness to respond to everything we could perceive we were connected to.
Third, and especially if we didn’t have a destination set on our GPS, there was a recognition that our next decision would be a result of our goal to seek joy, responding intuitively to what we perceived through our senses, and in connection with each other.
The only thing required from us was a relaxed alertness and a basic orientation towards joy and collective well being, wherever the direction was more suitable for that.
This seems to me like a useful metaphor in the search of purpose:
What if the overall guiding principle that can inform all decisions, even if we don’t know the destination, is joy? True joy that springs from the heart and comes from a deep-rooted, inspired happiness, affirming our connection to a larger, infinite source of well being and with each other.
What if the only thing required of us is to let go of our sense of control and anxiety about not knowing where to go next? This can be such a liberating mindset, because it will propel movement in the right direction even if we don’t know exactly where it will lead us. There is a certain amount of trust required here, a conviction that our heart knows how to respond to each situation because it simply is oriented towards joy. We just have to ask ourselves within our hearts, which direction leads towards joy, and it will answer. We are equipped – we just have to follow our inner stars to navigate the world.
The waiting to find a complete map before setting sail is a debilitating option. As Roberto Crema, a Brazilian anthropologist, and founder of UNIPAZ, says: “the worst type of wreck is to never have left the port”.
When the joy in our hearts is the current we navigate in, the Universe blows on our sail, and like coming out of the fog, we finally see more clearly and realize the direction was right all along, even when the outer stars were invisible by a cloudy night.