Thursday, February 27, 2014

The Need for Purpose

Cross-posted from LiveJournal

Before my darling became seriously ill, but when I thought he needed to slow down for his health's sake, I used to say to him, 'Why don't you relax? You've already achieved so much in your life. Now's the time to take it easy — read all those books you've been wanting to catch up with, see all those movies. It's OK to just sit in the sun sometimes.' But no, he couldn't. Well, he could and did, but unalloyed leisure wasn't enough for him, and he kept seeking for projects: new things to study, new books to write, new ways to help others, new causes to embrace. I came to realise that he needed his sense of purpose.

Now he's gone and I have adjusted somewhat to living on my own. Not only that, but I retired last year from the writers' group I've been facilitating for the last seven years. I recognised that it had run its course for me and I was no longer motivated to keep doing it. Now I have far fewer responsibilities than I'd had for a long time. For the most part I'm not tied to times and schedules. And I'm 74; life won't last forever. I could spend my days reading all the books, seeing the movies, sitting in the sun. I do, don't worry! I'm into enjoyment. But for me, in my turn, it's not quite enough. I too need that sense of purpose.

I'm in some kind of transitional phase, I perceive. I don't know what is coming in to fill the spaces left by the responsibilities I no longer have, but I trust the Universe that it will all happen in the right time in the right way. Only I get impatient. At times I want it to hurry up and get sorted. It's hard to sit and watch DVDs on my own, as I've just done, then sit on my verandah on a pleasant afternoon, writing my journal, as I'm doing now, without feeling a bit aimless. Doing it on my own is part of the reason for that, but not the whole explanation. I don't actually mind my own company. Of course I long for him to be here with me, but I don't crave anyone else's company. I don't particularly want that for its own sake — and if I did, I have plenty of pals I can and do socialise with. No, it's that purpose thing.

Many years ago I heard a psychotherapist opine that human beings need work. I think that's true, and I don't think it matters whether it's paid or volunteer work, so long as one is making a real, observable contribution. I write poetry, and people often like it. It is in fact my vocation. Yet that doesn't seem to do it for me. It does during the moments of writing, when the world and my self go away, but later I don't easily see that it has given sufficient value to the world. Well of course, it's not like a novel. With any writing, you have to keep doing it — but poems are so short, even the long ones, that the need to do new ones happens very frequently. They don't feel substantial, solid.

You'd think I could take a day off, or a week, or even a year. Perhaps there's an underlying fear that the time off might stretch out for the rest of my life! We need to reassure ourselves that we matter, that we count, that we — in Werner Erhard's well-known words, which have passed into common currency now — make a difference. And putting that in the past doesn't work. No resting on our laurels; we want it to go on, to be happening NOW.

Comments from LiveJournal:

Date: 2014-02-27 05:16 pm (UTC)
From: mount-oregano
It took me a while to realize ... that I like to work. I prefer working to not working. So if I don't have work, I find work.

Date: 2014-02-27 08:45 pm (UTC)
From: snakypoet
I suppose, for all of us, it is about finding the right balance. Leisure and holidays are lovely in contrast to work, but work has its own rewards, not all of them monetary.
I guess the thing I have left out of the above post is working at things one enjoys. I've always been fortunate enough to be able to choose only work I love (which has sometimes meant less income). The same applied to my husband. To be forced to work long hours at something one hated might well invalidate everything I've said.

Date: 2014-02-28 02:17 pm (UTC)

From: danceswithwaves
Purpose is very interesting. Like, right now I'm doing a lot -- I'm getting a master's degree. But I was feeling, for the past month or so, that a lot of the classes I'm going to are pointless for what I want to do, and I'm not learning what I want. (And then I had a relationship explosion and didn't even want to do the things I normally wish I had time for.) So even though I'm busy, I feel purposeless, which is an annoying state because I don't really have time to add something else in. Since the degree is short, there's been a combination of figuring that out and surviving the annoying bits until I get to the good bits. But purpose is such an elusive thing sometimes, even if you think it wouldn't be.

Date: 2014-02-28 09:10 pm (UTC)
From: snakypoet 
You had a relationship explosion; I've been bereaved. Maybe what we are experiencing is a symptom of depression? (Besides being an illness in its own right, depression can be one of the stages of grief.) Hard to summon up purposefulness in that case! Ah, which comes first, the chicken or the egg?

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