Readings on Purpose

The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.  Frederick Buechner

Do not be too moral. You may cheat yourself out of too much life. Aim above morality. Be not simply good; be good for something.  Henry David Thoreau

What do we live for, if it is not to make life less difficult for each other? George Eliot

“What interests me is the way that a person’s work does or does not sustain that person’s sense of purpose. My guess is that many people work at jobs that are too small for them. While the world deeply needs people who will punch cash registers, enter data, empty bedpans, and take household garbage to the dump, these purposes are too small for most human beings. People know when their gifts are being wasted, and this knowledge can eat away at the soul like a cancer. Call me a romantic, but I think most people want to be good for something. I think they want to do something that matters, to be part of something bigger than themselves, to give themselves to something that is meaningful instead of meaningless.
And yet meaningful work is hard to come by. Not everyone can teach school or cure illness. Plenty of us do not get the kind of work we want, and plenty more can find it difficult to stay focused on the meaning of what we are doing. A parent who spends his or her day changing diapers and scraping applesauce off a toddler’s chin can have a hard time remembering that this unpaid work serves the purpose of forming a human being. A laborer for the department of transportation who spends hours pushing hot asphalt into potholes can have a hard time remembering that this work serves the purpose of keeping cars out of ditches on rainy nights.
In Buddhist teaching, right livelihood is one of the flagstones on the Noble Eightfold Path. Along with right speech, right intention, right action, and right effort, right livelihood is a key step in waking up to the true nature of reality, which includes the true nature of you. The inherited wisdom is that certain kinds of work are bad for you. Being a hired killer is not so good, for instance. Neither is selling drugs, arms, or sex. The basic principle is to do no harm. Beyond that, you are free to do quite a lot of things for a living, but they are not all going to come with their own evident purposes. Supplying that purpose is going to be up to you.”  Barbara Brown Taylor from An Altar in the World

Before you tell your life what you intend to do with it, listen for what it intends to do with you. Before you tell your life what truths and values you have decided to live up to, let your life tell you what truths you embody, what values you represent.
Parker J. Palmer, Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation

“Douglas Steere, a Quaker teacher, says that the ancient question, “Who am I?” inevitably leads to a deeper one, “Whose am I?” – because there is no identity outside of relationship. You can’t be a person by yourself. To ask “Whose am I?” is to extend the question far beyond the little self-absorbed self, and wonder, Who needs you? Who loves you? To whom are you accountable? To whom do you answer? Whose life is altered by your choices? With whose life, whose lives, is your own all bound up, inextricably, in obvious or invisible ways?”  Rev. Victoria Safford

Your life purpose has an inner purpose and an outer purpose. Inner purpose concerns Being and is primary. Outer purpose concerns doing and is secondary. … Inner and outer, however, are so intertwined that it is almost impossible to speak of one without referring to the other. Your inner purpose is to awaken. It is as simple as that. You share that purpose with every other person on the planet – because it is the purpose of humanity. Your inner purpose is an essential part of the purpose of the whole, the universe and its emerging intelligence. Your outer purpose can change over time. It varies greatly from person to person. Finding and living in alignment with the inner purpose is the foundation for fulfilling your outer purpose. It is the basis for true success. Without that alignment, you can still achieve certain things through effort, struggle, determination, and sheer hard work or cunning. But there is no joy in such endeavour, and it invariably ends in some form of suffering.” Eckhart Tolle, A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose

A universe without purpose should neither depress us nor suggest that our lives are purposeless. Through an awe-inspiring cosmic history we find ourselves on this remote planet in a remote corner of the universe, endowed with intelligence and self-awareness. We should not despair, but should humbly rejoice in making the most of these gifts, and celebrate our brief moment in the sun.” Lawrence Krauss

Happiness is not attained through self-gratification, but through fidelity to a worthy purpose.  Helen Keller

For a more in-depth discussion of purpose, check out What You Need to Live a Life of Purpose. or 7 Ways to Live Life with Purpose.


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