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On The Purpose Of Life
Finding a purpose in life is a difficult journey. Is the journey itself the purpose of life? Or is it something else? Well, I continued searching for why we exist or at least, why I exist.
These days, whoever I talk to splits into two sides. One group has no idea what to do with their lives, and the other group is busy with their kids, so they have no time or energy to think about what to do with their lives. I'm in the former group, even though I want to join an invisible third group—a group full of people who found their purpose in life. Maybe even there is a fourth one that consists of people living in peace without a purpose while life takes them wherever it wants.
Let's stop here for a second. I don't aim to explain those groups (as I wrote about them before), but I want to discuss the fundamentals of belonging to any of these groups. I probably won't arrive at any conclusion, but I will leave you with something to think about.
The problem is in the dichotomy between having a good life and not knowing what to do with it (which, in turn, makes life feel meaningless). Take me as an example. I have a good life (I think). I know I am very privileged and have a good income and comfort. I have a happy marriage, good health, and social life. Yet, I still don't know what to do with all of these. It feels like I should do something with it. I tried various things like helping others (which mostly made me happier), sharing what I learned, and a few more things that there is no need to mention here. But none was sticky enough to form a new road in my life. The only thing I can shape my life around is work, which takes more than eight hours a day. And that's sad.
I work to have a good life, but this good living is not fully satisfying and doesn't give my life meaning. I know I'm not alone in this. We're all stuck, looking for something. Something we don't know. The search is killing us.
But I wonder, is the life that search itself? Is this quest the goal, the purpose of life? Are we going to spend our whole life in search? Or is it better to have a kid and simply ignore the search?
Or should we sit under a tree as Buddha did and wait for days until we find enlightenment? In his enlightenment, he explains how suffering in life comes from cravings (for a better feeling). For example, if we want to be successful, we won't be happy until we can feel successful (which is not easy). He teaches us how to get rid of these cravings to eliminate suffering.
Accepting that suffering is part of life and walking life's road without craving looks like the way. Or is it?
I want to follow my own path instead of Buddha's. But I look for what others say.
In one of his talks, Krishnamurti says:
When the mind is free from all conditioning, then you will find that there comes the creativity of reality, of God, or what you will, and it is only such a mind, a mind which is constantly experiencing this creativity, that can bring about a different outlook, different values, a different world.
Krishnamurti tells us to eliminate all conditioning we put ourselves in. Do we want something because someone else has it and we don't? Do we judge ourselves because we simply want to become better than who we are now? Do we not like ourselves as we are? If we want to know ourselves, we must go deep, he says, remove all conditions we created around our minds and hearts and look at ourselves without judgment, conditioning, evaluation, comparison, or condemnation.
It looks like the cravings that Buddha talked about comes from conditioning in our minds. Is getting rid of all these conditioning the way to find purpose in life? Will removing conditioning also remove the confusion of what to do with our lives?
In his other talk, Krishnamurti says:
Can you and I be free of all this turmoil and confusion? What is confusion? ... Confusion exists only when there is the fact plus what I think about the fact: my opinion about the fact, my disregard of the fact, my evasion of the fact, my evaluation of the fact, and so on. If I can look at the fact without the additive quality, then there is no confusion. ... Confusion arises only when I think or insist that the road leads somewhere else—and that is actually the state that most of us are in. Our opinions, our beliefs, our desires, ambitions, are so strong, we are so weighed down by them, that we are incapable of looking at the fact. ... Being confused, to acknowledge to oneself that one is confused requires, not courage, but a certain clarity of thought, clarity of perception. ... When a confused mind acts, it can only produce further confusion; but a mind that is aware that it is confused and understands this whole process of confusion need not act because that very clarity is its own action.
How can we see the fact that shows where our lives are going without our opinion about the fact? If the confusion arises only when we insist that the road leads somewhere else—other than where our lives would go—then how do those with purposes in their lives know that their road leads to a place (but not somewhere else)?
I want to learn from one of those people who had a purpose in their lives—the third group. Let's take Wangari Maathai, the first African woman and environmentalist, to win the Nobel Peace Prize.
Wangari Maathai fought against a colonial culture that exploited agriculture and destroyed the ecosystem in Kenya. Colonial forces planted the most profitable plants that didn't belong to the habitat. She sought to resurrect the ecosystem and culture by planting local trees and training local communities that voluntarily worked in plantations. She knew that Kenyans must follow their own journey, not a dictated one. She dedicated her life to this purpose.
In her memoir, she wrote:
What I have learned over the years is that we must be patient, persistent, and committed. When we are planting trees, sometimes people will say to me, "I don't want to plant this tree because it will not grow fast enough." I have to keep reminding them that the trees they are cutting today were not planted by them but by those who came before. So they must plan the trees that will benefit communities in the future. I remind them that like a seedling, with the sun, good soil, and abundant rain, the roots of our future will bury themselves in the ground, and a canopy of hope will reach into the sky.
Should we persistently and patiently remove all the conditioning from our lives and expect a road to be visible over time? Maybe.
Is the tree we're planting today actually the action of thinking about it? Possibly.
And how long could this road be? Maathai answered in the same memoir:
I have always believed that, no matter how dark the cloud, there is always a thin, silver lining, and that is what we must look for.
It looks like dark clouds are our conditionings, cravings, and confusions that result in suffering. We need to learn how to find that silver lining.
When Maathai said, "We need to honor the past but look to the future," she perhaps meant honoring the past is observing it but not creating conditions from it. If we have a good life now, maybe we shouldn't condition ourselves that life needs to lead somewhere. Perhaps stopping the search is actually looking to the future.
In his novel Castle, Kafka said, "If a man has his eyes bound, you can encourage him as much as you like to stare through the bandage, but he'll never see anything." Perhaps, our search for meaning is our bandages. Maybe, we'll see our future when we stop looking for it.
Maybe Krishnamurti is right.
Maybe Kafka is right too.
Maybe the journey itself is part of the experience.
Maybe the solution is stopping the search of why we're on this road and looking around to see where the road leads.
Maybe looking back at the road we took so far and honoring it but opening ourselves for a brand new step without any conditioning we built from our previous steps will help us to new journeys.
Maybe one of those journeys will be the one. The one that is not created around cravings. The one we didn't expect, search, and want.
Perhaps, we have to live this through to reach what we seek. Not to search for it, not to have a goal for finding it but to simply pass the stage in our lives at least to see where it leads.
I didn't expect to find something when I began writing this. These thoughts were already inside me. There are a lot of maybes and perhaps above. But I have more clarity than before. Perhaps these ambiguities will slowly fade away.
I hope I somehow take you on this journey as well and give you something to think about.