Finding your purpose may be the most meaningful endeavour you ever undertake in your life. Simply asking the question “Why am I here?” is not a crisis, although it can feel like one. It’s a wake-up call to discover the essence of who you are. Often, this question arises from feelings of frustration, anguish, and emptiness with how your life is now. Be curious rather than afraid. You’re embarking on a hero’s journey. You can’t know the destination just yet. It has to reveal itself. Take a moment to read Constantine Cavafy’s poem, Ithaka.
“As you set out for Ithaka
hope the voyage is a long one,
full of adventure, full of discovery.
Laistrygonians and Cyclops,
angry Poseidon- don’t be afraid of them:
you’ll never find things like that on your way
as long as you keep your thoughts raised high,
as long as a rare excitement
stirs your spirit and your body.
Laistrygonians and Cyclops,
wild Poseidon- you won’t encounter them
unless you bring them along inside your soul,
unless your soul sets them up in front of you.
May there be many a summer morning when,
with what pleasure, what joy,
you come into harbors seen for the first time;
may you stop at Phoenician trading stations
to buy fine things,
mother of pearl and coral, amber and ebony,
the sensual perfume of every kind-
as many sensual perfumes as you can;
and may you visit many Egyptian cities
to gather stores of knowledge from their scholars.
Keep Ithaka always in your mind.
Arriving there is what you are destined for.
But do not hurry the journey at all.
Better if it lasts for years,
so you are old by the time you reach the island,
wealthy with all you have gained on the way,
not expecting Ithaka to make you rich.
Ithaka gave you the marvelous journey.
Without her, you would not have set out.
She has nothing left to give you now.
And if you find her poor, Ithaka won’t have fooled you.
Wise as you will have become, so full of experience,
you will have understood by then what these Ithakas mean.”
Translated by Edmund Keeley/ Phillip Sherrard
Some are born knowing their purpose, their Ithaka, some discover it along the way, still, others journey their entire lives and know they have lived their purpose only as they lay dying. The saddest of all are people who live their final moments feeling like they never really lived – they never asked the question or heeded the call. This is why it’s important to embark on the hero’s journey towards Ithaka.
How I Found My Purpose
I was probably like many when I first received my wake up call. In my late 30’s, my beloved mother was diagnosed with end-stage breast cancer. Two years later, she died and I was left reeling with grief. I grieved over losing her, but inside my grief was fear that I wasn’t being true to myself and living a fulfilling life. When my mother died, I woke up to the emptiness in my soul. It felt like a crisis.
My hero’s journey had begun. My first foray into the unknown took me to a guide. Discovering Integrative Body Psychotherapy (IBP) and my IBP therapist was pure luck. When I asked my therapist “What is wrong with me?”, she answered, “you’ve fallen out of your core self”. I remember feeling relief that I wasn’t broken, rather, I’d simply fallen out of my core. Although I wasn’t quite sure what that meant, the very idea filled me with curiosity and hope. I was hooked.
Discovering My Core Self
Having a guide on the journey to my core, authentic self was profound. Every session took me deeper into self-awareness and understanding. It was like swimming in beautiful warm waters. I was coming home to myself, my Ithaka. I didn’t know at the time that I’d embarked on a whole new life trajectory. It just felt good and right for me to be there learning about myself on a deeper level. I’d found a space in which I could explore what I valued and my therapist had the depth and ability to reflect my values and desires so that I could feel them as a very real part of me. This resonance between my therapist and me was critical for my growth.
As I look back now, I see that I was being guided to discover my volition, to trust it and to act upon it. The Collins English Dictionary defines “volition”: “Your volition is the power you have to decide something for yourself.” Taking the meaning deeper, volition is the authentic energy within you, your will, that tells you what you want and desire. Those with a healthy awareness of themselves are able to feel their volition and express it in a relational way so that they feel empowered and purposeful.
Discovering my Self inside led me to become an Integrative Body Psychotherapist. I realize now that psychology had always been a powerful interest of mine, but it had not been supported by the people I knew and loved, hence I kept it on the backburner. My therapist encouraged me to explore my interest by taking some training in Integrative Body Psychotherapy (IBP). In that training, I experienced what it would be like to work as an IBP therapist, and again, it was like swimming in warm waters. I’d found my tribe and my authentic calling.
How To Look For Purpose in Your Own Life
Most people stumble into adult life without a clear direction. Even selecting a college major is difficult when you don’t know who you are or what you want. Could it be that you desire the “rare excitement that stirs your spirit and your body” as Cavafy suggests? If you have a choice, wouldn’t you choose an endeavour that fuels you with “rare excitement” over the humdrum of getting through each day? I believe that’s what you long for after your basic survival needs are met. You want to live a life that makes you excited to get out of bed in the morning.
Find a Guide
If you’re struggling to find the something that gives you “rare excitement”, you may need a guide. Often there are Laistrygonians, Cyclops and angry Poseidons stopping you from feeling fully alive. Usually, they’re the well-intentioned voices of the people who know and love you and want the very best for you. Now those voices live inside you, and they can be confusing. Unless the people who’ve guided you up until now have done their own deep work and are living authentic lives, they can’t know you at your core. It becomes your work to know yourself. This is your journey, not theirs.
Get To Know Yourself
Slow down, and find time for reflection. Your life is a journey, not a weekend getaway. Become aware of the sensations in your spirit and your body and what it feels like to be curious and excited about something. Notice the books you are interested in reading, and the people and activities you enjoy. Is there something you’d like to learn? Focus upon what gives you energy and piques your interest.
If you feel empty and frustrated inside, you may be experiencing a wake up call to live a life that is more authentically yours. There is nothing selfish or wrong about wanting to experience the rare excitement that inspires you and lifts your spirit. Don’t let the fear inside you be an obstacle in your path. Fear is often excitement without the breath. Breathe into it and support your spirit of adventure with your breath. Move towards the things in your life that interest you and make you come alive. Take small steps forward, find a guide, listen to that small, quiet voice within, and fashion a life of authenticity and purpose.