If the purpose of life is individuation and the pursuit of one’s own vision of the truth, when our true nature is realised, our purpose manifests through our behaviours and actions.
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- No other sentient being needs to ask what its purpose is. They’re too busy getting on with the business of surviving.
- If the purpose of life (according to Jung), is individuation, then the journey to purpose is first and foremost an inward journey.
- The seeds of our purpose have always been there, but it often takes years for us to become aware of them.
- Little purposes lead to Big Purpose.
About Anne Tannam
Born, bred, and buttered in Dublin, my time is spent coaching, writing poetry, reading, watching films, listening to podcasts, avoiding housework, and lepping about the place to stop from seizing up.
Contacting Anne Tannam
By Anne Tannam
We humans have made things very complicated for ourselves. With our oversized brains and endless overthinking, we tie ourselves in knots. What is our purpose, we ask over and over again, what are we here for?
All other sentient beings get on with the business of staying alive and propagating, unencumbered by late-night tossing and turning. Dogs are busy being dogs. Elephants are busy being elephants. Whales are wonderfully adept at being whales. Not us. We’re hardwired to seek a sense of purpose beyond our biological programming. When we’re lucky enough to find it, it gives our lives depth and meaning that is profound and enriching.
Where to Find our Purpose?
Carl Jung, the famous psychoanalyst, believed that the purpose of life was individuation, which is the pursuit of one’s own vision of the truth, and in doing so, realise our full potential as human beings. In his last days he wrote in a letter ‘As far as we can discern, the sole purpose of human existence is to kindle a light in the darkness of mere being’.
If we take Jung’s view, then this purpose we seek is already within us, waiting to be realised. It’s not about seeking an answer out in the world; rather it’s about giving ourselves time and space to look inwards, to notice, as we live our lives day by day, what brings us joy and satisfaction. Our purpose is not something imposed from without; rather it’s an intimate calling from deep within, insistent we listen and take action.
It took me until my forties to tune into that inner voice and to manifest in the world what it was directing me to do; to speak my truth and make space for others to speak theirs. Nothing earth-shattering about that. But in defining my purpose clearly, I came to realise that the seeds were always there: a respect for and sensitivity to language, a desire for authentic connection, a love of shared wisdom, and a willingness to stay open to vulnerability. My purpose drives how I choose to turn up in the world, personally and professionally.
Little Purposes lead to Big Purpose
Often clients come to coaching searching for a sense of purpose and meaning in their lives. They use language like ‘aimless’ or ‘lost’ or ‘stranded’, their energy often low, their vitality dimmed. They have a sense of a parallel life to their current one, a parallel life that’s filled with purpose, lived by a version of themselves that is brimming with confidence and focus. They want to know how to get from where they are to where they want to be. In looking for purpose with a capital ‘P’, they often miss what’s already there, all those little ‘p’s quietly manifesting just under the radar. Some questions that can help us raise those ‘p’s up are:
- Growing up, what did you love doing?
- Was there ever a period of time when you felt you had a sense of purpose? What was happening to give you that sense of purpose?
- What is currently bringing you joy/satisfaction in your life? What’s giving you energy?
- When are you in flow, totally focused on something, unaware of time passing by?
- Where is your curiosity taking you these days?
- When do you feel most like your true self? Describe what it feels like to be your true self.
- What positive difference are you currently making in the lives of others? (think home, work, hobbies, etc)
And suddenly we realise that there are lots of little and not-so-little purposes in there. We’re already quite good at being ourselves and that, according to Jung, is what we’re here for. Our innate purpose is organically realised when we’re true to our own nature and joyfully manifest it through our behaviours and actions.
And finally, some words of inspiration from Mary Oliver, a poet who lived her own purpose with a clarity and focus that allowed her to move from the darkness of unspeakable childhood abuse and trauma into the light of her true self.
The Summer Day
Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean–
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down —
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
With your one wild and precious life?