I am fascinated by how people find purpose. Not in a new age self-helpy kind of way but that deep, quiet stuff that drives you forward. That makes you lose yourself in an activity or event so that time stands still and nothing else matters. (Very funny……I was lost in writing this and I didn’t hear Mel yelling to be let in the flat through the open window right next to me….)
I am interested in how that purpose filters into your day to day life and helps you maintain energy. It’s impossible to be inspired and moved all the time – that would be exhausting – but I firmly believe that the times I operate well over sustained periods of time are when the activity has purpose and meaning. Often when I am undertaking a large task or project – like crossing the world from one side to the other.
A large part of that energy is looking forward. Seeing what is ahead and moving towards some end state. I once read a great study on happiness that did this fantastic meta analysis of all these other research studies on happiness. They distilled it down to three elements – and found that people with sustained higher reported levels of happiness have:
- Someone to love
- Something to do (a task they enjoy), and
- Something (meaningful) to look forward to
Pretty logical really in summary – but it ticks all the deep human needs. The need for intimacy and acceptance, utilising the mind (and body) and the need for something that occupies the higher cognitive function (the whole “Why do I exist?/purpose” thing…..which doesn’t trouble us as much when we are moving towards some goal because there is inherent purpose in the task of moving.)
Our extensive intelligence is a double edged sword. It allows us to build iPhones – but it also allows us to do what other animals don’t seem to be able to do. Think about ourselves thinking. Or to step outside our heads and look in at who we are. Which is all nice and lovely except that as soon as you can do this you also have to face the nasty bit…..that you can also see yourself NOT existing. Dead. Kaput. Finished.
And of course our primitive cerebrums don’t like that idea very much so we spend lots of mental energy filling that dark space with stuff that distracts us. Like shopping, working, Facebook, plans, busyness or elaborate ideas about how we just keep on going after we die so dying isn’t really that bad after all. Better step back there a little……
But back to purpose. Looking forward to something – a goal, an objective, another state – is a deeply human thing. It helps us make sense of the past, eases the present and enhances the future. It helps us flow through life so we are not constantly dogged by the annoying question of what this all means or what happens at the end. With a deeper purpose those hard scary questions seem to ease off a little.
For as long as I can remember I have had a dream of travelling overland from Australia to London. Decades of pondering and dreaming led onto 5 years of serious discussion followed by 2 years of actual planning all capped off by several strange, surreal minutes when we actually put the car into first gear and drove down the street in Melbourne headed for London. With half the car crying.
For 10 months getting to London has been this simmering motivator. A deep underlying goal that needed no question or consideration. We hadn’t really thought past London in terms of purpose and meaning. We thought it would just all flow on. But it hasn’t. The next phase of the trip has emerged as this weird ill defined blob of time. We underestimated the power of having had a physical end point. Journey towards something is a critical differentiator from holidays – where you go TO somewhere quickly and stop moving. Journey is a beautiful human experience because it provides those key elements of something to do (planning, moving, packing, moving again) and something to look forward to (the destination). When you do that with people you love it starts to look scarily like the list of “happiness factors”. Its no wonder it is so rewarding.
But we are about to arrive in London. Tomorrow. We plan to head to Piccadilly Circus and dump our packs. Take a photo and give each other a high five. By tomorrow afternoon we will have crossed the world from Australia to London. We will have completed something I have spent decades thinking about. We will have arrived.
After the high five I have no freakin idea what we will do next. Probably stand there with funny looks on our faces and smile at passers-by who will give us wary glances back. Maybe take another photo to prolong the moment – then pick up our packs again and walk off.
We have vague plans – see some friends, see some of the UK…..then we are not sure. We can’t go wrong obviously. This time together is a gift of a lifetime that may never happen again. But in some strange, inexplicable way it feels like the journey has ended. And journey means so much to Mel and me that I am not sure how we will go without it.
When I was young my sister gave me Jack Kerouac’s On The Road – and it enthralled me. I couldn’t put it down and after reading it – when I would head out into the city – everything seemed alive and different. But On The Road was it. Kerouac never wrote anything celebrated after that. He never penned a beat poet epic called Adventures Back at Home. Once the journey was over he was done and dusted. I can’t begin to imagine his personal hell as he sat in front of his typewriter back at home. That fear is nagging me right now. That big uncertain step from one journey to the next.
I just need to shut my eyes and move – and as they say in London town….”mind the gap”.
Here’s hoping I am a little more Thoreau and a little less Kerouac.