In western society, obsessed as we are with tangible achievements, it can be easy to look back over our lives with a critical eye, seeing the glass half empty when it comes to thinking about what we’ve accomplished. Still so much left to do!
Yet we also have to remind ourselves of the importance of just being, as opposed to doing. I am still here, still standing, still offering myself in service to…. And therein lies the question. In service to what? Why am I here, and who am I serving with my gifts and talents? If we can understand that, we will be able to put a finger on our purpose, at least right here and now, in this moment.
I have to admit that for most of my life I did not ask myself these questions. I did not plan ahead very far, or with much overall rational calculation. I followed my heart, which prompted me to find a life partner, have two children, settle in for several busy decades of focusing on raising and supporting my little family. I followed my gut into my career path of literary academia, plunging into editing several anthologies of women’s personal and political narratives before I found myself on the road to aligning the personal, political and planetary as I wrote my own memoir.
When I look back on it now, I can see the patterns, and how each step along the way prepared me for what came next. It makes sense. But as I lived it, it was just one step at a time; I didn’t have a clear goal or sense of purpose.
Writing my memoir helped me clarify the purpose that was, without a doubt, carrying me along like a powerful subterranean river, the currents pushing me onward, sweeping me out of whirlpools and away from stagnant backwaters. It was the same purpose that animated my first short story, about saving the forest; put most simply and broadly, it was about using my gifts and talents to make the world a better, safer, more vital and loving place for all—human and more-than-human. Perhaps this is a purpose many of us share. Don’t we all hope that the world will be a better place because we were here?
At midlife, as I completed my memoir, I took stock of my gifts and talents. What did I have to offer others? What were my passions? How could I find the courage to stand up for my beliefs and be of service to the greater good?
My particular gift has been in the area of communication—writing, speaking, and to some extent photography. I wanted to put these talents in the service of my passion for defending the health and well-being of the natural world and the more-than-humans with whom we share our planet. I wanted to wake others up to the unfolding environmental crisis and the urgent need to work together to find a regenerative way forward into a thriving future for all.
I have discovered that the process of purposeful memoir is a powerful tool that can help us understand ourselves more fully, and realize that our personal well-being is intimately connected to the health and well-being of the communities around us, including the larger Earth community. We are all connected to the Gaian web of life, and in a deep way, our purpose is to add another gleaming thread to that web, strengthening the whole as we create our own individual lives.
In my Seeking Purpose memoir workshop, I invite you to think about how your understanding of your life purpose has evolved as you’ve aged—or has it stayed constant since you were a child? Has your drive to accomplish your purpose ebbed and flowed over the years, or remained constant? Or perhaps are you one of the many who is still trying to figure out what you’re here to do? If so, the practice of purposeful memoir can be a powerful entry point to a deeper sense of how your life can function as a pebble thrown into the lake of existence, setting off ripples that touch everyone.