A Purposeful Life
People have been making New Year’s resolutions for thousands of years. The practice is older than our Julian calendar. These days, so many resolutions concern mundane matters, like losing weight or washing one’s hands every time one goes to the bathroom. The more ambitious ones involve a self-improvement project, maybe learning a new skill, or kicking a bad habit. There is a sliding scale of New Year’s resolutions, after all. As we get to the higher end of the scale, the goals become grander and progressively more difficult and unsure. At the highest end we find what many consider to be the singular apex and mother of all New Year’s resolutions: discovering their purpose in life. It’s the one aspiration worthy to claim the title of New Year’s Resolutions par excellence. Only those with courage have their sights set on it. Yet, at some point, many will find the drive within themselves to at least try. Factually, success is uncertain, but it’s widely considered the ultimate, crème de la crème of undertakings – a truly commendable commitment.
As we might anticipate, there is an entire industry of life purpose gurus out there waiting to help. They hold so-called spiritual retreats and journeys that promise to show seekers how to “align role and soul,” “find purpose and reset your mind,” and even experience “shamanic life purpose rebirth.” A simple internet search yields dozens upon dozens of offerings like this. They’re located pretty much everywhere on earth but tend to be clustered around scenic locations. One can attend retreats nestled among Sedona’s monoliths and spires, Spain’s snow-capped mountains, or Peru’s Andean slopes, for example. Each location boasts otherworldly touches in keeping with the gravity of the mission. Sedona, we are told, has balanced energy vortices. In Spain the journey happens among the Basque people whose language and origins are forgotten by time. And in Peru there are the mysterious Nazca Lines and adorable alpacas. The whole idea here is that both the geographic and cultural settings must be in keeping with the importance of the lofty undertaking. When one is searching for their raison d’etre, a Motel 6 conference room won’t do. Moreover, for those who need extra help, most of these retreats promise “psychedelic plants” to facilitate the pilgrims’ spiritual journeys. All of these getaways basically share two things in common: big promises, and big price tags. You want to spend 5 days with the alpacas searching for the ultimate meaning of life? $8,000 reserves your place.
We at CORE sympathize with everyone wanting to find meaning and purpose. The longing appears to be universal and not caused by an addiction or other misfortune. We initially came from all walks of life and nearly every economic strata imaginable. At one time many of us bragged about spouses, children, and lucrative careers and businesses. Even with all of that, there still seemed a hole in our lives that couldn’t be filled. Something vital was missing. Importantly, things dramatically changed once we recovered. We enjoyed peace of mind and discovered we could face life serenely, successfully, and purposefully. It’s no exaggeration to say that every recovered alcoholic and addict knows their true purpose in life. Therefore, we believe here that we can offer practical direction about this topic.
As the reader may surmise, we have difficulty taking the spiritual retreats seriously. Many of us at CORE, before arriving here, actually went on our own retreats involving psychedelic plants, among other things. Our retreats, minus incarcerations and hospitalizations, often lasted years. We didn’t find what we were looking for until we worked the 12 Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous and found God.
Too many people today sink into what philosophers and mental health experts call existential crisis. They think that finding purpose in life means always moving towards some significant goal that aligns with their personal values and passions. Their efforts may be rewarded with victories. Yet the sweetness of these victories isn’t what they hoped for and doesn’t last long. In quieter moments, they wonder what all the fuss was about and, over time, they begin asking themselves, is this all there is? This line of thinking inevitably leads them to question what life is about. They may even ask if life has any real purpose and wonder why they’re even here. Such existential moments happen even though they adore their families and outwardly appear successful to everybody around them (remember – it takes a lot of money to go on a pilgrimage to Peru.)
Such persons find themselves wrestling with the same dilemma as King Solomon while writing the Book of Ecclesiastes. Been there, seen that, done that – that was Solomon. He had the moxie and the means to accomplish all of life’s dreams and become wildly successful. He saw and did, in his own words, “all things that are done under the sun.” Ecclesiastes 1:4. From education to entertainment, romance, and successful business ventures, Solomon had it all. Living almost three millennia ago, Solomon checked off all of the categories and achieved everything that people today pursue in search of meaning and purpose.
Despite success after success Solomon was stricken with the same recurrent thought. “Meaningless, meaningless,” he said, “everything is meaningless.” Ecclesiastes 1:2. We believe that Solomon’s conclusion is the natural collision course awaiting everybody who hasn’t accepted God. The English philosopher Bertrand Russell famously said, “Unless you assume a God, the question of life’s purpose is meaningless.” On this matter, Russell may well be right.
The alternative to God is a random universe without purpose, with our lives running solely on self-will. When this is our paradigm, it doesn’t matter how many successes we achieve or how much property we acquire. Even the significance we may derive from our families, careers, or diversions may become overshadowed if we think that ultimately, in some cosmic sense, existence isn’t really about anything. The fact that something might be personally important to us in the moment doesn’t sustain us. If the universe really is random, and if nothing in our transitory existence matters, then it’s easy to see how one might question and ask what’s the point of it all anyway. There may be some who claim that living in a pointless universe is comforting, or even liberating, but we think they are few in number.
The Big Book teaches a simple prayer: “How can I best serve Thee – Thy will (not mine) be done.” Id., at 85. All manner of ills are settled by the singular change in focus brought about when we acknowledge God and dedicate ourselves to live in accordance with His will. We remember the old days, the disarray brought upon by trying to find purpose in our own self-will. We had chosen “to believe that our human intelligence was the last word, the alpha and the omega, the beginning and end of all.” Big Book, at 49. Where did that leave us? More often than not pursuing vague plans that lacked true focus, passion, and fulfillment. We often were paralyzed by doubtfulness and indecision. The universe rarely lined up with our intentions. All of that changed in Step Three when we asked God to be our Director.
As the Big Book relates:
Here are thousands of men and women [who] flatly declare that since they have come to believe in a Power greater than themselves, to take a certain attitude toward that Power, and to do certain simple things, there has been a revolutionary change in their way of living and thinking. …[T]hey found that a new power, peace, happiness, and sense of direction flowed into them. …Once confused and baffled by the seeming futility of existence, they show the underlying reasons why they were making heavy going of life.
Id., at 50-51.
The search for the purpose of life has challenged people for thousands of years. Too often we begin at the wrong starting point – ourselves. We ask self-centered questions like, what do I want it to be? What are my goals, my ambitions, my dreams for my future? By focusing on ourselves we never reach our life’s purpose which, as Solomon concludes, is to “fear God and obey his commands, for this is the duty of all mankind.” Ecclesiastes 12:13. Practically speaking, every purposeful life carries the “vision of God’s will into all of our activities.” Big Book, at 85.
We say these things because this is our experience and our perspective looking at the world and people around us. We do not want to be seen as fire and brimstone preachers pounding the pulpit. At CORE, we are a testament to the fact that consciousness of the presence of God is today the most important fact of our lives. It is in God that we find happiness and freedom, empowerment and self-worth, and the heart-felt desire to be of service to others. Our hope and fervent prayer is that everyone will find the One whom we have so happily discovered: God – our true purpose in life!