Finding Purpose

One’s Purpose: An Intrinsic Part of Being Human
Our need for purpose goes beyond our innate need to satisfy basic biological needs.  Though we strive towards safety, belonging, self-worth and connection, we also want and need our lives to be meaningful.  

Purpose vs Career Choices
But what is purpose exactly? Ask a Westerner this question and they might provide a response akin to their career choice.  However, sometimes this is a reflection of not having a purpose.  It’s quite common to dissociate amid busyness to remove oneself from the profound and disturbing sense that one has no purpose. 

Certainly, one can be fortunate to have a career that reflects one’s purpose, but this is not always the case if the choice has been made without any connection to one’s Self.

An Embodied Perspective
Many of us have goals, but that doesn’t seem to satisfy our need for sustained meaning.  One’s purpose cannot be truly attained by only looking from the outside in.  Even worse, it cannot be attained if it is merely imposed upon from without by forces that are not connected to our inner experience.  That just doesn’t hit the mark.

From an embodied perspective, one’s purpose is inextricably linked to one’s sense of Self, identity, values and the sensation of feeling grounded.  This embodied point of view includes one’s thinking, as it is impossible not to include some reflection in one’s purpose, but it is thinking informed through one’s sense of inner experience. 

 In other words, one can’t just think their way to a purpose. One needs to feel it also.

Purpose in the Relational Field
Our inner experience serves as a reliable guide towards our establishing purpose.  One’s purpose should resonate in our being as true.  It provides a feeling of being in touch with one’s authentic Self.  However,  one’s purpose cannot simply reside inside of us.  It requires manifestation.  It needs to be “out there” in the world in our interactions.

What Gets in the Way
Certain mood states such as depression can decrease our motivation and challenge our ability to feel grounded. The sensation of being rooted in one’s Self is an aspect that informs one’s purpose.  Depression can numb our sense of Self as we feel adrift in a state of disconnection.  Sometimes depression can act as a catalyst to as well as an outcome of losing one’s purpose.

Part of the process of discovering your purpose, is to let go of controlling the process so that you may enter that journey with curiosity and openness.  One is seldom starting from scratch.  When we allow ourselves to sit with our inner experience, we are in a better position to sense what has resonated with us amid all of our experiences.  This is what makes our purpose unique. 

When you sit with yourself, what do you notice?  Where are you drawn? What resonates?

How Trauma Can Hinder Finding Purpose
Of course, this process is not easy for one adept at numbing and avoidance.  It is something you can learn to do in therapy or as part of an informed meditative practice.  For those experiencing trauma, uninformed meditative practice can actually be distressful as it magnifies certain symptoms and defensive mechanisms. “Going inside” for reflection or simply sitting in silence can be a terrifying experience for some.  This is particularly so if certain traumas have exposed a person to an invasive experience that leaves them feeling vulnerable in their bodies. 

Therapy can help one identify and break through numbing and dissociative symptoms that are commonly associated with trauma.
Finding purpose using inner experience as a guide

Some Tips For Finding Purpose
If this is too difficult, a starting point might be to engage in the following.  Pursue these activities with intention and presence as you create new embodied experiences:

  • Find ways to contribute in your community by volunteering.  Generosity creates expansive energy and can fuel our sense of connectedness and capability.
  • Develop a discipline for gratitude. It can decrease anxiety and depression and facilitate attaining goals.
  • Ask those you know for feedback on your traits, strengths and interests. What abilities do others see in you that you might overlook? 
  • Find a mentor. We can always grow from those wiser than ourselves and discover hidden potential.
  • Keep company with those you find inspirational and purpose driven. Evaluate those who drain your creative energy and motivation.
  • Accept your limitations. Notice critical and abusive self-judgment.  Practice self-compassion.  Are your expectations of your abilities reasonable and grounded in reality? It’s one thing to have high standards and quite another to set yourself up with the unattainable.
  • Maintain consistent self-care. Exhaustion and fatigue will hinder your ability to think clearly and maintain perspective.  Notice that your best ideas flow when you are relaxed.  Purpose is more likely to find you when you are not overly preoccupied about finding it.

Below are some links to information to help you get a deeper understanding of embodied experience from a  trauma perspective:

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