Here is a selection of items from my main pages of ideas, stories and questions that relate to questions of purpose and meaning. I hope you find them of help.
In chaos theory the beating of a butterfly's wings in Africa can result in a tornado in Florida. In life a warm reaction can change the course of another person's life for the better, and a harsh word can do the opposite. Let's live as if everything we do has an effect, we will never know if it is the big things or the little things that have made the difference.
When we invest too much of the future with our detailed plans and expectations we reduce the chance of being surprised by joy. When we take things as they come we just have our reactions, good or bad, to the events of the moment, not the burden of our past investment. If you suffer before you need to, you suffer more than you need to.
Be certain only for yourself, not for others. Yes the world would probably be better if everyone believed the same as you but that is not because of what you believe but because it's the conflict between beliefs that causes suffering. Don't help create that suffering by believing things to be true for others.
This site is called "The Dance of Life" In a dance your aim is not to get to a particular point on the dance floor but to enjoy the experience of dancing.
Objectives are important but the process is just as important. If you think everything is going to be fine when you have "arrived" you are setting yourself up to be disappointed. While you are alive there is always another part of the journey.
"There is no way to happiness, happiness is the way." (Wayne Dyer)
It will overwhelm you and stop you from being effective in areas where you can make a difference. You can't do everything, there just isn't time, but there is a lot you can do so get on and do it and let go of the worry about the big things that aren't down to you.
It's the differences that make life interesting and we develop most not through people who agree with us but through people who challenge us.
Contact with different cultures, different opinions, different lifestyles, they all help us to grow.
So let's welcome what is different, it's there to teach us.
I'm not sure about the belief that there is a purpose in everything that happens to us. Some events are so devastating that to suggest they have purpose can seem cruel.
However I am clear we can learn from everything that happens, no matter how catastrophic the event. It does not mean it has to be part of a larger plan just that even the bad times can teach us something.
In general you can't fix both process and outcome but a lot of people, myself included, waste a lot of their life trying to do this.
If you want to fix the outcome e.g. an athletic achievement, a house purchase, a relationship goal, you will usually have to develop flexibility in your approach in order to get where you want to be.
If you want to fix a process e.g. the way you react to people, a set approach to business then you can expect to experience variable outcomes.
There is no "right answer" here, just a need to select an appropriate process or outcome and waste time trying to force the way things are into a mould of your making.
This is a quote from a Leonard Cohen song "There is a crack in everything, that's how the light gets in".
Leonard Cohen is a poet and so what he writes is open to a number of interpretations. But to me this quote is about how we deal with problems and difficulties of life. I don't hold the belief that everything has a purpose, that everything has a meaning, I just don't see life that way.
What I do believe is that all events, good or bad, have potential for growth and learning. I do believe that when things get broken, our relationships, our jobs, our health, along with the loss and sadness is the possibility of fresh light into the very core of our being.
Take a few minutes to look back on your life and see if you can identify some of your patterns in relationships, career, health. It's worth writing down a few sentences to capture elements that repeat themselves. Then ask yourself these questions:-
If these situations were trying to teach me something then what would it be?
What would my future the like if I had learnt the lessons that are presented?.
If you don't come up with anything move on, this may not be you. But if you do see a lesson to be learnt go back over some past events and think about how they might have turned out differently if you had already absorbed what you need to know.
From a distance a woman can be seen walking along a beach and regularly bending down to pick something up and throw it into the sea. As she gets nearer a passer-by sees she is throwing stranded starfish back into the water.
"That's pointless" he says, "there are so many starfish stranded on this beach you can't possibly make a difference." The woman bends down and throws another one into the sea, "Made a difference to that one." she says.
Sometimes the problems of the world together with our own more immediate issues can seem so overwhelming we just don't think we can make a difference to anything. But a kind word to a friend or stranger, a smile at the supermarket checkout does make a difference.
Can you remember when someone paid you a casual, sincere but unexpected compliment? Well others remember what you say just as you remember what they say and you do make a difference.
God and the devil are walking down a street when God suddenly bends down to pick something up.
"What's that?" asks the devil. "It's The Truth" replies God.
"Let me have it," says the devil "I'll organise it for you"
Keep your guard when dealing with organisations, however well intended. They can develop a life and an energy of their own, sometimes regardless of the attitudes of their members.
The gods met to decide where to hide the meaning of life so humankind would have to experience struggle to find it. They considered, and rejected, a number of locations before one of them suggested "Let's hide it inside each human being, they will never think to look there"
And they were right, most people look outside themselves, to career, relationships, posessions, success etc. All of these can be important but when it comes to finding true meaning the answers usually lie within us. Once we connect with this it is natural to seek an external expression of who we are but it is important to get the direction right, inside to outside, not outside to inside.
When the English comedienne, Joyce Grenfell first went to the USA she was asked by reporters what she thought about the ideals of Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness. She replied, "I'm not so interested in the pursuit of happiness as in the discovery of joy"
What a great distinction. Happiness often seems to be something we have to work hard to achieve. The discovery of joy suggests something that is already there, we only have to notice it.
A man is sitting fishing for his supper when he is approached by a visiting businessman. "If you had a boat and employed people you could catch more fish and sell them at a profit, you'd soon be rich" he said.
"And what would I do then?" asked the fisherman.
"Anything you want" said the businessman.
"I'm doing that now" he replied.
It's a very well known story and a good one. Let's make sure we recognise what we have now and enjoy it to the full. There is no greater waste than to work hard to get what is already in your possession.
A 12 year old wishes to become a teenager because "they have more fun" and in response to his wish a Wizard gives him a rope which, when he pulls it, makes him older. One pull and he's a teenager but sadly finds he also has spots. Wanting to avoid the comments of his peers he pulls again but a bit too hard and finds he is now in his early 20's, married and with a child.
They are struggling financially but he knows better times are ahead and pulls again. Late 20's he has promotion but is not happy with his new job so another pull takes him to being a Manager, a good career time and the money side is easier.
The problems of 2 teenage children, their friends and their loud late night music get to him and he looks forward to when he and his wife can enjoy their home together. Another pull but he is now struggling to keep his job and looks forward to his retirement.
He pulls again and finds he has retired but is now facing major heart surgery. Anxious to find out what happens he pulls one more time and finds himself in the dark and surrounded by a wooden box.
Let's just enjoy each stage of our life as it comes, it's over quickly enough.
There were about nine hundred of us in the room. It was air-conditioned but without any windows so when the lights were switched off the blackness was total. On the stage the course leader struck a match and lit a small candle, it was surprising how much light it gave. He used his candle to light those held by a couple of people in the front row and they, in turn, lit the candles of those behind them. Without any hurry and rush within a few minutes every candle in the room was lit as we all contributed to the powerful light that filled the whole area.
What struck me most was that nothing needed to be said to explain the metaphor.
This is a story that occurs in many cultures but I think it's time to change the sex of the main character.
A young woman decides to explore beyond the village in which she has spent all her childhood. Many wise people counsel against this venture but some encourage her and so she sets off along the mountain road pausing, at the top of the path for one last look back at her home and the safe place full of those she loves.
She has many adventures along her journey and after some years decides it is time to return to the village and share her new learning. She is welcomed back but some people view her and her ideas with suspicion.
As time goes by she has to resist reverting to the life she had there and with great determination holds firm to the understanding she gained while she was away. Her life and the life of the whole village is enhanced by the new learning she has brought with her.
There are many ways of viewing this story and you should let it mean whatever feels right for you. I will just ask one question:
"If the whole world followed you, would you be pleased with where you took it?" (Neale Donald Walsch)
This is not meant to be a "beat yourself up" type question but one that leads you, gently I hope, to a higher standard. It links well with the next question :-
Take yourself back to the views you had of yourself when you were a child. Perhaps you even speculated what sort of an adult you might be, perhaps what sort of a parent you might be. How does the reality compare? You may be pleasantly surprised about how far you have come, you may realise there are still some changes you need to make.
Two very different perspectives on life, both can be useful in creating the balance most of us need between the immediate and the long term.Consider this quote from Robert Fulghum:-
"Something which threatens your life is a problem, everything else is an inconvenience."
The first question is about clarity, both for ourselves and for others. Once we are clear on what we want, our chances of getting it are greatly increased and yet sometimes it is so hard to be specific.
We are usually more clear on what we don't want or find we just want to feel differently about something or somebody. It is good to recognise this is about our internal state and that therefore it makes more sense to seek internal change than to look outside for things to be different. (see Stories No 16)
The second question is a great one to ask others. It makes no suggestions, offers no solutions but simply states our willingness to be there and be of assistance. It is not an offer to be made lightly and sometimes the fact that we offered is enough in itself.
This can be seen as a pointless exercise or as the start of an interesting exploration.
Go back to early childhood and imagine your life if circumstances had been different.
You may find:-
How the difficult times shaped who you are and that you don't wish to change them.
Areas of you life not fully expressed and realise you can do something about that.
Feelings that have trapped you which you could choose now to release.
Who knows what may turn up? There is only one way to find out!
Here is a simple answer:-
"The purpose of my life is to enjoy the experience of being alive."
If that's not definite enough then try below.
Write down your three best qualities, eg intelligence, compassion, determination.
Write down your three best skills, eg organisation, writing, typing.
Write down three ways you want the world to be, eg loving, friendly, peaceful.
Now write the following:-
"The purpose of my life is to use my (three qualities) and my (three skills), to help create a world which is (three ways)."
You may want to refine your purpose and add detail but you do have a starting point on what you want your life to be about.
Everyone will have their own answer, about being a good partner, parent, employee, boss, artist, contributing to society, etc, we all have our dreams.
Here is one tombstone inscription you might consider, whatever it is you want to have achieved before you die:-
Best Before....followed by your date of death.
In the long term few people are going to remember what you did, even less people will remember what you said. Everyone will remember how you made them feel.
So in a world of plans and objectives, in a world of financial and business achievements, in a world of competitive education, in whatever world you inhabit, just notice first how people feel when they are with you, that's your real legacy.