Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Purpose Of Life

Over the years, my personal declaration of life purpose (or "life goal") has evolved:

"Be rich and famous" (childhood)
"Be a leader, serve the world" (teenage)
"Reach my full potential as a human being" (20s)
"Purify myself, develop spiritually" (30s)

Most recently, it has essentialized to:

"Take high quality breaths"

I'm really happy with this, it gets at the crux of the matter. This latest evolution was greatly influenced by a piece shared by Rushabh earlier this year on the occasion of Nipun's birthday. I found the piece profound and I have had it in my mind and heart since I read it 8 months ago. I've gone back to it several times. I hope you enjoy.

Life And Mind. A Conversation.

Mind: I wonder what the purpose of Life is.
Life: Hmm
Mind: I hear so many things: To realise your dreams. To improve yourself every day. To achieve wealth. To serve others. To make the world a better place etc..
Life: That's a whole lot of stuff to do!
Mind: Tell me about it! Now, they all do seem to be related to each other, but you know I can't achieve all of them...
Life: So who asks you to?
Mind: Er, you ask of me to, don't you?
Life: No.
Mind: Wait a minute! There are religions founded on it, self-help books doing raging business about it - they all say deep, important  sounding things about Life's purpose! And you are saying you don't ask any of those things?
Life: Nope. All those things seem to achieve the purpose of your, the mind's, life.
Mind: But you are my life. So my purpose is your purpose too, is it not?
Life: No. Your life, the Mind's life, is a story filled with events and feelings that you experienced or imagined. It extends on a timeline from the Past to the Future. It believes that all the events and feelings add up to some cumulative meaning. That is not like me at all.
Mind: Then what are you like?
Life: No story. No past, no future. Just alive. Right Now.
Mind: Right, and how exactly do you intend to stay truly alive without excitement, feelings, goals, and meaning?
Life: By breathing, of course.
Mind: That is it?
Life: That is it. Everything else is your story. And others people's mind-stories that get published for you to read. My purpose is to breathe. Deeply, slowly, in relaxation.
Mind: Then we can all just sit around doing nothing but breathe?
Life: Be my guest. But what happens if people do that?
Mind: The body wont survive if it does not hunt for food, or work for food.
Life: So you must work so you can eat, stay alive, so that Breathing, my purpose, can continue.
Mind: What about working for riches, creating jobs, or changing the world? To become brave, fair, kind, compassionate?
Life: Those pursuits and ends are of no interest to me.
Mind: If those ends don't matter then why would people dance, sing, plough land, serve, create, do scientific  experiments, read, write, meditate, exercise? If they began to believe that their purpose was only to eat and breathe, why would anyone do  anything?
Life: Ah, now these things you just said are important to do. Because you and the body have been so designed that it is in the process of focused activity that Breathing happens best.  Regardless of what action it is, when the mind is still or on focus then the body breathes the deepest. In this state, what psychologists call 'Flow', my purpose gets gloriously fulfilled. The same is the objective of Yoga asanas and Meditation.
Mind: So the desire for activity and ambition are just meant to develop focus and stillness in me?
Life: Right. To me it doesn't matter whether you dance or sing or read, or are a sportsperson or a traveler or an  accountant, whether you are rich or not, so long as you do what you do with a relaxed focus and breathing deeply.
Mind: What about the outcome of activity and ambition? That matters too!
Life: Why?
Mind: Here is why: Taking your point further, I have noticed that when  I accomplish a task, or get appreciation from others then the body feels happy, and takes in a deep breaths of satisfaction. That is a fulfillment of your purpose. Therefore to accomplish or get appreciation must also be important to achieve your purpose.
Life: Interesting point. First tell me, what do you feel in the moments after when you accomplish something?
Mind: I feel satisfied, contented, maybe happy.
Life: What does that mean? Peel one more layer further.
Mind: It means that in that moment, I feel I have what I wanted for that moment. That I don't want anything more.
Life: So after you got what you wanted, could it be said there is a  state of 'momentary desire-less-ness' in you?
Mind: Er, yes.
Life: It is not the achievement of your desires that makes the body and mind happy, it is the momentary state of desire-less-ness that does it.
Mind: But unless I achieve or get appreciated how will I feel that momentary state of desire-less-ness?
Life: But you dont accomplish great things in most events in your life.  Why wait for the state of desire-less-ness only in moments  after accomplishment and appreciation? Why not all the time, if you could?
Mind: How?
Life: By not expecting victory or appreciation at the end of your activity. To not really care what the ultimate outcome of your activity or ambition is. That way you also have more fun doing whatever you are doing.
Mind: Hold on, one sec, quick revision: There are two things I hear you saying - a relaxed,  focused activity in step with the body, and a state of desire-less-ness.  So in combination it means To Act, but with a state of Desire-less-ness. So is that the prescription for fulfilling Life's purpose?
Life: Sounds about right. There is a term for it too: Nishkaam Karma, coined by Lord Krishna in the Gita.
Mind: Ah! And I am also stiller when I focus only on my intention, instead of focusing on the outcome. So that works out well for both of us in the long run, ain't it?
Life: Karma is not a delayed payment system. It is instantaneous. The moment you act without focusing on the outcome, the mind, the body and the activity immediately align with each other and your breathing becomes calmer and deeper. That feeling is no different from what you would  feel in moments after a favorable outcome.
Mind: ...And if I already have that feeling during the activity, then I could treat victory or defeat after the activity just the same, right?
Life: That is correct. Now, does that remind you of Rudyard Kipling's poem 'If', or what Gautam Buddha wrote in the Lotus Sutra?
Mind: Hmm..so the psychology of Flow, the practice of Yoga and meditation, teachings of Krishna, the poem 'If', and the insight of Buddha..they are all  connected?
Life: Indeed..They converge to the same truth inside you - to keep the body moving and the mind still - to cause relaxed, deep breaths moment by moment. That is my only purpose.

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