In recent weeks I’ve had a few people ask me the same question which seems to somehow be in the air so to speak and so I thought I would write about it this weekend.
‘What should I do with my life’ or ‘what is the purpose of life’
I reflected a little to when such questions plagued me immensely too. There was always that nagging feeling inside that something was not right or had to be fixed or settled. Always a little battle with ‘what Is’. This is compounded by watching ‘other people’ and their achievements or subtle fears and self-consciousness about oneself in society and what others will think of us. This battle between wanting to be perceived favourably on the one hand and doing what one would truly like independent of any opinions, compulsions or responsibilities is something that can feel almost suffocating.
I contemplated on how to really address this. On the one hand, the answer might be different for each person depending on their openness and willingness to explore deeply into themselves. On the other hand, there are some universal themes that I can perhaps draw attention to that might help some along on their journey.
There’s no rush
Don’t be in a hurry. I think it’s a good idea for everyone to take some time out (even if just some minutes in a day) to allow themselves to stop and step out of their conditioned ways. A time when you can allow the mind to be quiet and at rest without feeling like you’re missing out on anything. Maybe meditation, chanting, yoga or breathing works for you to allow this quiet time. It is like allowing the mud to settle so that clearer waters can emerge. This emerging clarity washes out the anxieties and neurosis of the mind and then whatever action is required, can be taken with much more joy and calmness.
Turn the mind inward
In yoga, the practice of ‘pratyahara’ means a withdrawing of energy or attention from the senses. The mind is boggled by the sense impressions it gathers all day. The problematic psychological functioning that then arises, revolves around what other people are doing and what one should be doing. This outward turned mind can be a tormentor. If the mind is not checked, it runs away with stories and emotions, causing rampant suffering. By sitting in meditation, following yogic practices or through contemplation, the mind can come to rest and again allow smoother functioning with less friction.
In my own journey, I spent intensive time in the practice of Hatha yoga, pranayama, chanting and practices offered by Isha Foundation (Inner Engineering, Surya kriya and meditations (some of which are available for free online)). The aim of all such practices is to rid the body-mind of the denser energies which are associated with strong identification. In the tradition, the three evolutionary states of mind and matter are described in terms of the 3 gunas: tamas (heaviness, lethargy, depressive energy, ignorance), rajas (activity, passion, drive for acquiring and progressing) and sattva (lightness of being, refined sensibilities and higher and more harmonious traits). The aim of practices is to move from gross energies and tendencies of the body-mind, to the subtle. A subtle body-mind is needed to absorb higher understandings about life.
Accept, then act
‘Meditation is a universal ‘yes’ to everything’
– Francis Lucille
We have to understand that meditation is really the absence of conflict in the mind. When we are unhappy with a situation, it is conflict. Solutions cannot emerge from a mind in conflict. Transcending the conflicted mind and seeing from the place of consciousness, gives us a clearer perspective. For instance we may just realise that we don’t want to change our external situation because working on the internal attitude was more what was required and when we are feeling joyful and peaceful we are also at peace with whatever we may have to do in the world on the practical level.
Your happiness does not lie in objects
Sri Ramana Maharshi gave a good description of the mechanics of desire and happiness. He explained that when we desire an object, we are in a state of anguish at not having it and when we acquire it, we feel happy. We then erroneously think that the object has given us happiness whereas the object is in fact inert and neutral except for what our minds make it out to be (for instance some people may think that having children is desirable while others not; the ability to give happiness is not in the object/outcome). The happiness as Sri Ramana Maharshi explained was simply veiled while we were in a state of desire and once the desire dropped off, we were back to our natural state of happiness that existed before we took on the desire. This doesn’t mean to avoid all desire but to understand that our happiness does not lie in the fulfilment of any desire. With this understanding, we can act without enduring suffering at failures and without unnatural seeking after things and so can have a more free and natural movement. The suffering that comes when we attach our sense of self to objects then begins to drop off.
What you are really looking for is to be in a state of allowance, unity, flow, acceptance of what’s happening or appearing in life.
Be a light unto yourself
At the end of the day, no-one knows you better than you. I may not have the answers for you but I know that you have your answers. How deeply we may wish to explore the nature of our life depends on each one’s maturity and urge. Ask the questions of yourself, seek for wisdom and follow what resonates with your heart and intuition.
It is possible to stay right where you are and find peace and perhaps not everyone’s situations or responsibilities would allow a ‘walking out’ of their life situation. But we can often be afraid of other people’s judgment about ourselves and our lives and then it is helpful to remember that what other people say about you is a reflection of them, not you and in the end we are each all alone.
Best wishes on your journey…
I’m happy to help guide you through different spiritual practices or share from my experience with yoga, meditation or self-inquiry and contemplation. You are welcome to reach out on firstname.lastname@example.org
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