Contentedness and having a sense of purpose – Part 1

Children Having Fun in Havana. By Jorge Royan, Argentina.

Photography: Jorge Royan, Argentina

“Where am I headed in life, and what’s my life about?”

One of the most effective ways of feeling positive about life is through having a strong sense of purpose. This feeling of directing our activities in some broadly positive or constructive way enhances our optimism and energises us both mentally and physically. It brings a sense of our personal evolution, development, progression, betterment or productivity. It makes us feel if we’re going somewhere in life.

In the absence of this sense of purpose, we feel somewhat stuck; we may even feel a loss of self-esteem. It seems we need constantly to have a sense of momentum in our lives, to be directing ourselves purposefully. Unless we’re experiencing this, we may feel it’s valid to question the worth of our very existence. It’s quite clear that this compulsion to advancement or betterment is very deeply ingrained in our psyche.

“I want my kids to be successful and really achieve something in life”

Quite often as parents, we transfer the onus of progression onto our offspring, hoping to feel fulfilled and contented through a vicarious possession of their achievements. Many middle class parents seem to have this great fear that their own offspring may slide back into the labouring classes unless driven mercilessly toward a perceived success. So this need for progression transfers or extends across generations.

What then, is the cause of this phenomenon? We can say that at a fundamental level, it’s the desire to finally rest content with our state of affairs. This is the same as saying it’s the desire to be free from all striving, to remain restfully satisfied with how we perceive the world and our relation to it. At this most fundamental level of analysis, we see that what we seek in life is a reposeful state of contentedness itself.

“Working towards goals rarely ends in contentedness for very long”

Whilst many assert that what they seek from life is to be happy, the evidence tends not to support this claim. What results from those same peoples’ outlook on life is not a predominance of activities which may possibly conduce to happiness. What we see primarily is a purposeful striving towards resting content via an endless stream of worldly objectives. We see striving used as a means to overcome striving.

This is madness. It’s to believe that life is a finite series of objectives or questions that once met, or answered, a door opens to a vista of perfect simplicity. And it’s madness because there is no evidence that this is the case. When did life ever seem perfectly simple to our striving self? No matter how many questions we answered or how many objectives we met, there was always one more thing we had to do, then another . . .

“I think I’m going somewhere, yet I usually end up where I started!”

This endless process feeds into our having a strong sense of purpose. It’s this that energises and motivates the self. It feeds the narrative of our lives such that we can look back at the story and claim to be progressing. Of course, we never quite arrive at our destination – in any enduring sense of contentedness – but the narrative tells us we’re getting there. In fact, we’re going around in circles. The scenery changes, but that’s all.

So we can say that the fundamental cause of this insanely irrational activity is the desire to be desireless. This itself is perfectly intelligent, certainly much more so than striving to overcome striving. Being desireless is not being lifeless or disinterested in life. It’s a realistic acceptance of conditions and circumstances as they are in actuality. Only in accordance with reality do we ever find the contentedness we seek.

“Why can’t this compulsion for progression ever be satisfied?”

Okay, so the fundamental driver behind the need for, and our obsession with, having a sense of purpose, is the desire to rest content with life. This desire itself however, has its own cause, which is our personal self-construct. It’s this personal entity which seeks to attach to, and possess, the desired contentment. Yet this self-entity is nothing more than the narrative just spoken of; it has no existence beyond ideas and belief.

Unless and until this is seen, we’re completely unable to accept that we’re without self-nature. Of course ‘I’, as an appearance, exists in actuality – as a body and mind – but not as any enduring entity of selfhood. This means we have no autonomous, independent existence as agents of control and destiny. We believe we do, being deceived both by narrative and appearances, but we don’t. This isn’t a fanciful philosophical idea.


Continue reading in Part 2



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