These days we’re bombarded with tips, techniques and ideas to help us “find our passion” or “pursue our purpose.” And while there are lots of great materials out there to help increase our sense of meaning and purpose, sometimes all of this searching can leave us feeling confused and dissatisfied.
It’s like we’re trying to find an elusive grain of sand that keeps slipping through our hands every time we get close to it. We strive, we push, and we try to force our passion and purpose into existence. We take the workshop, listen to the podcast, and read the book, yet still…nothing. Then we start comparing ourselves to others who seem to have found their purpose. We engage in an internal dialogue that goes something like this:
“Guru X really has her shit together! She’s so lucky that she found her passion/purpose. Her website is so polished, she has 500 million followers, she has 13 advanced degrees, she works 4 hours per week, she travels around the world, and she vacations in Hawaii. The only thing I feel passionate about these days is bingeing on Netflix. Why can’t I seem to find my passion or purpose? I’m such a loser.”
I often talk about my belief that we need to stop trying so hard, and I think that searching for our passion and purpose is no exception to this rule.
Because everything you’re searching for is right in front of you.
T.S. Eliot wrote,
“We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.”
I think this statement is so popular because it touches upon a deep knowing that we all have within us. On some level (usually not the intellectual level), we know that what we are really searching for is ourselves. We project this search outwards by reading books, soliciting advice, and looking to other people to define or complete us, when the only person who is actually capable of this feat is ourselves. Ben Howard put it perfectly in the song “Keep Your Head Up” when he said,
Looking out at this happiness
I searched for between the sheets
Feeling blind, I realize
All I was searching for, was me
From a larger perspective, what I believe we’re all searching for is the ultimate sense of oneness that connects us all. This might sound far out, but it’s not as woo-woo as you might think. Some quantum physicists (read this and this) and transpersonal psychologists suggest that there is some sort of ultimate force, energy or mind/consciousness that connects all of us together. Many researchers who study self-transcendent experiences (i.e., temporary or lasting states where people feel like they lose their sense of self/ego and experience a sense of interconnectedness) suggest that these experiences show similar features regardless of whether the person is spiritual or not, and regardless of whether they subscribe to any specific religion/faith.
From this perspective, I am you. And you are me. It’s just that we have a bit of amnesia that’s preventing us from remembering this. But sometimes, like when you see a beautiful scene in nature, or you experience a true, intimate physical connection with another person, or you hear an amazing piece of music…you remember. Even if it’s just for a moment, you remember.
And there’s research to back up this idea, too. A study that was recently published in a peer-reviewed journal from the American Psychological Association found that people who report a greater sense of oneness tend to experience higher life satisfaction. In other words, people who agree with the questions below tend to report being more satisfied with their lives:
I believe that everything in the world is based on a common principle
All things in the world have a common source
I believe that everything in the world is connected to each other
I believe in a divine principle underlying all being
Everything in the world is interdependent and influenced by each other
Importantly, the study found a positive association between oneness beliefs and life satisfaction regardless of whether or not participants belonged to a specific religion.
What does all of this have to do with your seemingly endless search for your passion or purpose?
Well, what you are searching for is you. And you are right in front of you. Plus, you are me, and I am you. So we’re all searching for the same thing.
It’s sometimes said that the best way to hide something is to put it in plain sight. This is exactly what the universe has done for us. We’re looking for something that we think is so elusive, so mysterious, that it will be difficult to find. But it is right under our noses.
In 2017 I wrote a blog called “What if The Purpose of Your Life is to Simply Be Human?” Since writing that blog, I seem to be coming closer and closer to the realization that the grand, overarching purpose of my life is to simply be a human being. I might do great things while re-discovering, remembering and embodying my humanity, but these “great things” are not actually the ultimate purpose of me being here. The real reason I’m here (and you’re here) is to remember our ultimate purpose, which is the oneness that we share with each other.
Another way of describing this oneness is to call it love. We are all embodiments of love, and it’s our job to remember this.
The whole thing is a beautiful paradox, because it’s ridiculously simple and infinitely complex at the exact same time.
Here’s a practical example to bring some of these ideas to life. As some of you know, over the past 2-3 years I’ve developed an increasing interest in transpersonal psychology. I was never formally trained in transpersonal psychology, mostly because I was educated at mainstream universities that didn’t offer courses on transpersonal topics because these topics were perceived as being “fluffy” and unscientific.
But as I started delving into the literature on transpersonal psychology, I realized that not only is it scientifically rigorous, but it is also inclusive of other forms of knowing that go beyond our rational, logical mind. But even beyond this, I noticed that reading about transpersonal topics sparked such a sense of joy in me. I found myself reading very intense theoretical papers, often in my free time, because I enjoyed doing so.
Then I came across a blog about the connections between positive psychology, transpersonal psychology and ecopsychology, and something clicked for me. I realized that the three main areas of psychology that I’m most interested in are the most interesting to me because they have been right under my nose the whole time (long before I started studying psychology).
Here’s what I mean. From a young age I had a keen interest in personal development and self-improvement (positive psychology). By age 4, I was already asking questions about the nature of the universe and our role within it (transpersonal psychology). And many of my happiest childhood memories are from time spent in nature, like fishing with my cousin at my grandfather’s trailer and going for walks in the woods with my brother and parents (ecopsychology).
I spent 10 years studying topics within psychology that I thought I “should” study, because they were fashionable or scientifically rigorous or practical in the real world. I initially wanted to study neuroscience as an undergraduate student because it seemed to be the most scientific option, but I couldn’t get my Bachelor of Science degree because I was short one math/science credit from high school. Then I decided I would study evolutionary psychology because it was gaining popularity at the time. Then I chose clinical psychology because it was practical. Then social psychology because it emphasized solid research methods.
Not once during my decade of university education did I consider studying psychological topics that were of deep intrinsic interest for me. I wasn’t even aware that these topics existed! Or, if I was aware, I took the mainstream approach of dismissing these topics because I thought they were unscientific.
I received my PhD in 2008, and I spent the next 10 years feeling disillusioned with academia. There are so many things wrong with the university system (you can read my opinions about this here and here) and I simply could not find where I fit within it. I couldn’t see how my childhood love of digging my feet into the muddy earth while I scooped up tadpoles from a pond, or my toddler-aged conversations with my aunt about where stars come from could possibly be related to a scientifically credible field within psychology.
My intrinsic interests were such a close and deep part of me that I was blind to them. I liken it to when you have a particular gift or talent that feels easy for you, but other people marvel at what you’re doing. To you, the talent is something you do with ease. It’s deep within you and it comes relatively naturally - so naturally that sometimes you’re incapable of seeing that it is indeed a gift.
After all these years, I now know that what I was looking for was deep within me the whole time.
This isn’t to say that my interests won’t change. They probably will. But for now I’m using this experience as a lesson in learning that when I have questions about my life, I need to always come back to myself (my deepest and truest self, which I often refer to as my soul). And when my soul doesn’t have the answers right away, I need to be patient. After all, it took 20 years of studying psychology for me to come to the realizations that I’m writing about today.
I’m even contemplating doing a second Masters degree in “Consciousness, Spirituality & Transpersonal Psychology” from a university in the UK. This idea doesn’t make a lot of logical or financial sense. But as my mentor Sera Beak often says, “The soul’s reality doesn’t make a lot of sense. But it makes a lot of love.”
My point? Love gives us clues in plain sight. And our reason for being here is often much more simple than we think it is.
So I ask, what are you searching for that’s right in front of you?
Thumbnail photo by a.canvas.of.light