Desperately Seeking A Sense Of Purpose.
There is this quote by Marianne Williamson that comes back to me from time to time:
“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?
Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do.
We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.
As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”
When I first read it I thought to myself, “Yes! That’s it! This is the thing that each of us humans needs to realize.”
Now when it pops into my periphery — as the messages we need always do — I feel a sense of detached recognition. Oh yes, that… what a romantic notion. The profundity and truth of it is not lost on me. It is I who have become lost to it.
I am almost 34 years old. I find myself struggling more and more with the concept of myself. My sense of ambition — who I am supposed to be for the world. I have always considered myself a warrior; someone whose light was meant to shine bright and bold and honest.
When I was a little girl, and I was asked what I would be when I grew up, I would answer, “A writer or an Indian.”
I think I still want to be both.
To be someone who understands her place among her tribe, and is made secure and whole in the reflection of her work. Someone who uses language as a light; as a source of reason and inspiration for her fellow two-leggeds.
I have always wanted to be heard. Not to achieve some modicum of glory or fame (not that I haven’t fantasized about the limelight, of course I have), but to feel like I’ve given the world something of value through my work. And I mean work that is deeply personal, not just a function of survival.
I am smart, talented, capable. This is an awareness of myself that I am not afraid to hold. Whether it is from the way the world reflects me back to myself, or just the quiet voice that has so bravely always told me that I am enough. I at least know myself… or do I?
I have been shoved into the roles I embody by my own choices and the wizardry of circumstance, and I have occupied those roles with varying degrees of success.
Seeker, mother, student, social worker, lover, friend, daughter, survivor, hermit, wanderer, performer, adventurer, soothsayer.
Yet I am having trouble seeing the purpose in them — collectively or respectively. I am approaching an age where I told myself, “By the time I am 35, I will accomplish XYZ.” Once I became a single mother, my XYZs became less ambitious and more humble.
I’ll finish school, I’ll quit smoking, I’ll publish some writing, I’ll be able to travel more — and here I am, one year away from that looming, figurative deadline.
I’ve created a simple, happy life full of love and experience that I would be a fool to pick apart. I’ve accomplished most of those things, so I can’t complain.
Yet, still… I find myself approaching this mile-marker that has been carved into my consciousness, and I feel like it’s not enough; like I’m losing time to do that one great thing.
I struggle for purpose.
I fantasize about big leaps of chance; about taking risks that mean I am grabbing life by the balls and making my mark without fear of failure. And beyond those daydreams my mind wanders effortlessly into the land of doubt and fear.
Maybe I’m not as much of a badass as I thought.
Am I afraid of real success?
I can live my whole life expending half of the brilliance inside me, and it would be enough for the world.
That last thought is the most terrifying. I could half-ass it all the way, and it would be enough for everyone. I could be comfortable and stable until I die — boring.
And then it hits me: what this is all about? I am afraid that if I don’t do something foundation-shaking soon, I will lose my chance. I’ll lose the edge of youth that I am already at the tail-end of. That somehow I will lose the opportunity to be seen and heard as relevant.
And I know it’s absurd, and that the rest of my years hold just as many doors — if not more — as the last 20.
But I’m losing my hopeful idealism. It’s being replaced by experienced cynicism; by a kind of toxic realism. I’m losing that steadfast belief in love and passion conquering all.
I’m waking up each day to the awareness that work is more potent than chance; that duty is a requirement of achieving real meaningfulness.
But the loss of those youthful ideologies breeds a sort of philosophical mourning inside of me. And it’s insidious. It tinges every move I make, until I am clamoring to find the gag and ether for this new lens that I see the world through.
Day after day I keep grinding away, while greedily, selfishly planning my memoir-worthy escape — my daring act of living. You see, I crave an explosive act of creation that soothes me in its mania and fervent hunger to Do, Be, Make, Live.
And I’ve reached the place where I have to invite it in for small talk and coffee now, instead of it moving inside of me like some glorious puppet master.
I am desperately seeking purpose, but am I, really?
Because I know where it lives in me, and I make excuses to push it down because I have to keep everything stable — family, job, bills — and because there are no guarantees in gambling. And I wouldn’t just be gambling for me. Shove, shove, shove. Not yet.
Just let me get to this ambiguous place and then I’ll leap — finally.
And the voice inside me rises up, and she whispers, “You are wasting your time on insignificant things. There is more to life than this and it’s passing by without you.” And the wildness in me, the little girl who wanted to be an Indian, screams at me to do something, anything.
That’s the potency of this grief, of this desperation for something life-affirming. I believe that everyday I move robotically in the flow of just keep swimming, I am losing a vital muscle memory. I am letting the divine fire die; letting this philosophical organ atrophy and become obsolete.
I am afraid that one day I will wake up with a kind of creative amnesia, and I will have become fully assimilated; I will have lost the chance to be what I know I am.
But the fear and doubt and sense of absolute failure isn’t where the story ends. As lyrical as the loss of innocence and the grief of reckoning is, it’s just the meat of it, isn’t it? There’s another climax. And another.
That’s the beauty of being aware — of bingeing yourself on life-stuff until you have to wake up again and remember what you deserve, what you want, who you really are and why you’re really here.
It’s that desperation for purpose, that searching in the moonlit shadow-land that leads me — and any of us who find ourselves there — into a deepened awareness of my own capacities.
My capacity to remember and forget, to be dramatic and mundane, and to feel like all is lost, only to become my own hero again.
And I sit down in the beautiful, messy, ordinariness of my life and find myself back at a grateful remembrance. I look around and appreciate what is, and I’m edified to keep going.
And I remember that epiphany I had years ago about the value of small things; the seemingly quiet, boring, insignificant acts — how big they really are and how much they really mean.
And I remember that shiny, bright explosions burn out just as quick as they came, and that the real magic and purpose reveals itself when we stop desperately seeking and keep purposefully doing.
And in the almost tragic loss of self-concept — this crisis of identity — I remember to breathe, center, and say, “Get the fuck over yourself, and go do something amazing.”
Elizabeth McDonald is an Irish-Indian St. Louis native. She is a writing and creating, chicken-keeping, fire-breathing, river-pirate gypsy mama. She gets quieter as she ages because she realized there’s sense in silence. But she also gets more bold and unapologetic.