In part 1 of this article, we saw that our sense of purpose stems from deeply held beliefs and impulsions. These essentially are twofold. There’s the opaque yet innately intelligent impulse we have to reach psychological well-being by resting contentedly with life’s circumstances. There’s also the erroneous belief that only through pursuing self-interested desires is this same contentment reached.
“Sometimes I feel conflicted about what I want so get side-tracked”
So this impulsion to attain a psychological and emotional well-being is corrupted by self-interested measures that seek gratification of the senses in intermittent spells of pleasure and happiness. Although our innate intelligence is directing us to a more fundamental and enduring contentment, we find it all but impossible to resist the allure of short-term gains. Because of this, we think happiness is what we seek in life.
This false assumption seems perfectly reasonable to us, and as we may experience degrees of happiness frequently, then we appear to be guiding ourselves wisely. So there’s a conflict of interests going on here. On the one hand, deep down we know that only by ending all desire are we able to feel contented. On the other hand, we find pleasure and happiness irresistible and so pursue them by means of our desires.
“Why do I always feel there’s more that I must accomplish?”
We strive after the objects of our desires in an endless succession of objectives. We strive towards fulfilment in family life or relationships; we strive towards attaining prestige in our career or personal interests; we strive towards security in material wealth or physical health. All of this ceaseless striving issues from a misguided self-conception which subverts and acts contrary to the interests of our innate intelligence.
Maybe it’s time to step back from all the striving, to look at the historical evidence and see if it all stacks up; to evaluate if it’s really working. In doing so, what we may find is that at best we can claim a partial success. We have spells of happiness, and experience many pleasures and gratifications; but to what extent do we feel any enduring sense of contentment which itself is the fundamental purpose of the striving?
“I’m sometimes happy, but quite often feel dissatisfied . . .”
If it’s the case that our experiences of contentedness are less frequent than those of happiness or gratification, then things are out of balance. We’re settling for these fleeting and hard to quantify states, which in any case are subjectively dubious: ‘Am I happy? Well, sort of; reasonably so; can’t complain’. This is often all our conception of happiness amounts to; it’s far removed from any condition of resting contentedly with life.
So all of this desire with its attendant striving isn’t producing what we need. It’s not giving us what our innate intelligence is attempting to guide us towards. And this is because the self-entity – the narrative conception that we wrongly believe represents ‘me’ in actuality – is controlling matters from its own false perspective. It’s this false belief that initiates self-interested desires and which fails to bring contentment.
“I have a sense of purpose, yet can still feel untrue to myself”
The solution to this predicament rests in a deconstruction of the narrative that comprises the self-entity. In so doing, we progressively move towards connecting authentically with our being. This means the overlay of selfhood is gradually whittled away; the narrative is no longer threaded together; it’s no longer believed to correlate to the actuality of our being. We see the whole edifice was always duplicitous.
We’ve no need to give up on working purposefully towards any goal. What’s given up is the heated, self-interested striving which merely hinders matters such that we end up exhausted, stressed and anxious. Taking the self-entity out of the picture, if only by degree at first, allows us to work more efficiently. This is because the attachment to any outcome dissolves and we’re able to progress free of draining concerns.
“I wish life went more smoothly and was less stressful!”
In deconstructing the narrative of self-entity through contemplative living, our sense of purpose is finally able to extend to us the psychological and emotional well-being our innate intelligence sought. Along the way, we find that life progresses more smoothly and that the stress and anxiety produced through our former heated egoical striving simply evaporates. Our sense of purpose is now free to meet its true ends.