What’s the purpose of my life? It’s the most vexing question we earthlings face. Unfortunately, most people go from womb to grave never coming close to finding an answer. In fact, most of us just punt altogether, eventually saying to ourselves, “Look, there’s no way you can know your true purpose in life so stop whining about it and just make your way as best you can.”
To all of you out there still searching for your path in life, the purpose of this piece is to persuade you to NEVER punt on this question. Why? Because you don’t have to.
I should know. I was one of those punters…Until the last few years, when I did find my purpose…At age 54. What was the game changer for me? I’ll get to that, but first I want to talk about who does know your true purpose in life: The mysterious voice within you.
The voice within
The what? You know what I’m talking about. Some call it intuition. Some call it the voice of the soul. Others the voice of the supreme being. Maya Angelou called it the voice of God. I call it the voice of the Universe trying to express itself through us. Call it whatever you want, the voice is some all-knowing being deep inside all of us that knows the true path of our lives…if only we would listen to it.
But how do we listen to something we can’t hear? I don’t know about you, but when I was searching for my path in life in my twenties and thirties, countless “wise” people told me some version of, “Dave, don’t look out to the world for the answers. Look inside yourself. And listen.” Upon hearing that, I’d nod and say, “Great. Thanks. I’ll do that.”
And then I’d say to myself, “What the heck does that even mean? Go inside and listen?” Because when I would “go inside and listen” all I’d hear is a cacophony of voices swirling around like a tornado saying, “Go to a great college!” “Get a high-profile job!” “Be the best!” “Excel!”
Thought static blocks the cosmic signals
The voice within urging me to be myself, the voice that actually is myself, was drowned out. This is the case for the vast majority of people.
Why is this? I’ll answer with an analogy. Think of yourself as a car radio and the radio station you’re trying to listen to is God/Jesus/Allah/The Universe/Yahweh/The Supreme Being/The Genius of Nature…whoever or whatever you think is running the cosmic show. The “songs” that God/The Universe…is beaming out from this radio station are messages about our destiny, or Providence as others call it. And the reason that many of us, the “car radios,” can’t hear these “songs”/messages is that our racing minds create static.
What creates this ‘racing mind static?’ Well, as most of us develop into adults we incorporate the voices of our parents, siblings, friends, teachers, Instagram, Facebook, the covers of Cosmopolitan, and the rest of society into one big, noisy pot of stew. And unfortunately, if you were going to give that concoction a name, it would be Not Me Stew.
Growing up Type B in a Type A family
What caused my ‘static?’ In other words, what were the ingredients in my Not Me Stew? Mine came mostly from the Gerken Family section of our metaphorical grocery store.
I’m the youngest of six kids and all five of my siblings were go-getter type A’s. Worse, my dad was a Type A+ CEO of a big company.
Me? I was always a Type B. Growing up I was content with playing my sports, hanging out with my friends, watching my TV shows and studying a moderate amount, at best. The fact that I always felt like I should be a Type A like the rest of my family served as the foundation for a decades long struggle with depression and anxiety and a general feeling in my gut that I never quite measured up.
What’s your static?
What’s the static drowning out your ability to hear your destiny? You’ve never felt smart enough? Or thin enough? Or pretty enough? Or successful enough? Some of these? All of these?
My static followed me every step of the way in my adult life. First stop after college was Washington, DC, where I worked on Capitol Hill for a couple congressmen.
Then, after ten lucrative but soul-eroding years as a lobbyist, I decided to chuck it all and move to Hollywood to pursue my dream of being a writer. Soon thereafter, I got a job on the The West Wing where I was part of the writing staff that won the Emmy for Best Drama Series.
Did my static subside because I’d finally “made it?” No. Not at all. I was just as insecure as ever. The cosmic radio signals beamed my way still registered as loud static.
Hollywood kicks my butt
Then a really great thing happened to me. Hollywood kicked my butt. Badly. First, I got fired from The West Wing at the end of the season. This was followed by a couple gigs on lousy shows. Then, in a seven-year span, I got jobs on precisely two shows. Ouch.
Things got pretty dark. Here I was: 48 years old, with a wife, two kids under the age of four and a writing career that was circling the toilet. And to top it off, thanks to the 2008 financial crisis my mortgage was underwater. Bottom line: I was looking for something…anything, to keep my head above water. And I found it…
My sister was a regular meditator and had gotten me to try it a few times over the years, but it never took. This time I really went for it. And this time it took. I’ve been meditating regularly for over eight years now.
And what has it done for me? I’m less anxious, happier, a better dad, a better husband and a better human being.
But possibly the best thing meditation did for me? You guessed it. It calmed the crazy static inside my head. And what did that do? It allowed the wisdom of the all-knowing voice to make it through my car radio.
A direct result of that has been my decision to leave the Hollywood writing business to do what I’m doing now: spreading meditation as far and wide as I possibly can. Never in my life have I felt so in tune with what I feel I was put on Earth to do. I found my true purpose. What a gift.
So why is meditation so great?
End of story? No. Because if I’m you, I want to know how meditation calmed my static. What’s so magical about meditation?
The answer is simple. All meditation is is sitting quietly and placing your attention on something happening in the present moment, like your breathing. Then when your mind grabs your attention and throws you into thought, you simply notice that that has happened and bring attention back to your breathing.
And when you place attention on your breath going in and out, guess what you’re NOT doing? Thinking. So all meditation is doing is helping you, slowly and gradually, to quiet your mind. And when we do that, we open communication with that intelligent voice within.
By the way, this isn’t to say that thinking is bad. Of course not. What is bad is involuntary, obsessive thinking.
The voice is elusive
Now here’s the thing. Even with a completely still, quiet mind, that all-knowing voice inside is elusive. Because it’s subtle. And its messages aren’t typically delivered in the form of direct, hit-you-on-the-head epiphanies.
In my case, I’d been meditating for four years when it dawned on me that spreading meditation was my purpose. The point is, without meditation I’m convinced I wouldn’t have been able to “hear” my true purpose.
To sum it up: The voice within can be hard to hear under optimum circumstances, so that vast majority out there afflicted by near constant thought babble stands a slim chance of hearing it unless they calm their minds down.
Get quiet and start listening while you’re young!
Finally, hearing the voice is critical for anybody at any age, but it’s especially consequential for you millennials searching for your place in the world. I remember all the pressure and anxiety I felt in those years. If only I’d had meditation. So if you’re a twenty or thirty-something agonizing 24/7 about your future, please, please, please consider meditation!
If you’re looking for a place to start, go to davidgerken.net where I have a free meditation program. It’s simple, doable and designed to help regular people, like me, develop a regular practice.
And if meditation is not your cup of tea for whatever reason, pursue the silent stillness within another way. If you’re religious (Christian, Muslim, Jewish…), seek that inner quiet through prayer. Or do it by walking in nature. Or fishing. Or anything that keeps your attention on what you’re doing in the moment and not mired in your thought factory mind. That said, I know of no practice better than meditation at helping to still the mind in a more systematic, sustained way.
“Absolve you to yourself and you shall have the suffrage of the world.”
That was my yearbook quote as a 22 year-old senior at Princeton. It’s from Ralph Waldo Emerson’s Essay on Self-Reliance. I took it to mean: Listen to your insides and the world is yours. As it turned out, that was easier said than done as it took thirty years and meditation to finally allow me to ‘absolve me to myself.’
My point is this: Don’t make the same mistake I made. Start quieting your insides NOW. Then listen. And listen some more. And some more.
Sooner or later, if you’re patient enough, the best, most beautiful song you’ve ever heard will mysteriously make its way through that car radio of yours and into your awareness. When it does, you’ll feel more centered and at home in the world than you ever have.
It’s a gift that God/The Universe/Nature…wants to bestow on every one of us. To receive it, all we need to do is quiet down inside and listen…