Imagine that you know you’re in the last few weeks of your life. There is a point at which the dying pull within themselves to do the work of dying. Just before that, there is often a desire for deeper connection to loved ones, even those who are estranged. The examination of one’s life to uncover the meaning of it is almost universal among the dying. The arena where this search for meaning is carried out is in relationship, to one’s family, community, and humanity.
If the pursuit of ego-based desires dominated one’s life there is usually dissatisfaction, remorse, and even despair.
The accumulation of more, bigger, better, newer, higher status, or more exclusive possessions rarely brings satisfaction at the end of life. Neither does having been attractive based on physical appearance, money, power, or even knowledge or an education. The appeal of these external measures of worth and happiness falls away like the discarded skin of a snake. One is left naked to contemplate the question “Did it make a difference that I lived?”
There can be clarity during this time of life that is like no other. Provided that pain is controlled, there is nothing to obscure our awareness of what really matters to us. We have the opportunity to make the most of the time we have left.
You are unlikely to meet anyone who is entirely free of ego-driven behavior. The ego is who we think we are, after all. The operative word here is think. Who we truly are can be found in the spaces between our thoughts. Those individuals who are able to link themselves to a purpose apart from their own ego are in the realm of Being. If not all the time, then enough of the time to make a difference in the world.
One need not have achieved fame to make a positive difference.
It’s possible in your own family and community to name individuals who do not allow themselves to be derailed by the pursuit of ego-based desires. There are people whose intention is to sustain, nurture, or encourage humanity and connection. They hold these values above self-aggrandizement. Spiritual purpose supports life and growth. Some neighbors of my youth propagated a magnificent garden, with not only a grand variety of flowers but also a gazebo, a pond, a bridge, and a wishing well. This childless couple freely allowed neighborhood kids to unleash their imagination in this idyll. They may not have been able to articulate their purpose. They simply lived it, making an incalculable difference in my life and in the lives of uncounted others.
Why is desire so often confused with purpose? Obtaining what we desire requires us to have goals, plans, and vision – to have our “ducks in a row” so to speak. We are engaged in purposeful activity much of our lives.
There comes a time, however, when coming of age provides an opening to a larger vision of oneself. Why make a judgement about anyone’s purpose? To answer that question we need to ask another. On what does the world’s well-being depend? Seriousness of purpose implies caring beyond self. Cynicism and apathy are not compatible with commitment to the human community. They are the moral equivalent of letting weeds grow wild in the garden. When goals, plans, and visions are linked to caring beyond self, nobility is achieved. I define nobility as characterized by courage, generosity, and honor. Nobility is the natural outgrowth of of the marriage of spiritual purpose and uncompromising humanity.
Discerning a spirit-guided purpose for ourselves shapes choices in a way that’s in harmony with the environment and our fellow men. Our lifestyle, habits, and how we interact with others determine our chances for lasting fulfillment. The decisions individuals make in these areas also matter on a cosmic scale. We do well to take a look at why we are here while we still have time.