Purpose and Will

Purpose and Will September 12, 2013

An old friend from college (who is not Pagan) read my last post and asked what made me think we’re here for a reason.  Here’s the part of my post he was referring to:

Beyond all of this, you can trust your true will.  You’re here for a reason.  Maybe you have to discover that reason or maybe you have to create it (that’s another one of those questions that are beyond the gods), but there is something in this life you need to accomplish, or learn, or facilitate.  You can do this great work not because the gods will make it easy for you but because your soul screams you must do it, no matter what.  Distractions can be eliminated, obstacles can be overcome, difficulties can be managed and failures can be turned into lessons because to do otherwise is to give up a piece of your soul.

My friend asked:

I find great comfort in believing that I am not here for a reason and therefore not under the pressure of constantly trying to do the right thing. I am curious how your Pagan beliefs lead you to a conclusion that we are here for a reason.

“Why are we here?” is one of the Big Questions of Life, the questions philosophers and theologians and ordinary folks have been wrestling with for at least as long as we’ve been human.  These questions have no clear, definitive answers.  That doesn’t mean people haven’t come up with answers, nor does it mean all those answers are equally valid.  Some are more likely than others.  More importantly, some are more meaningful and helpful – to ourselves, to our communities, and to the world at large.

My friend’s answer (“I’m not here for a reason”) is perfectly valid.  Atheists would say it’s the most reasonable answer, and I would agree (some atheists would say it’s the only reasonable answer – I would not agree with that).  There is comfort in having no pressure to perform or achieve and allowing yourself to simply be.  Though my knowledge of Buddhism is not extensive, that answer strikes me as a rather Buddhist approach.

But it doesn’t work for me.

My belief we’re here for a purpose doesn’t flow from my Pagan religion.  It comes from something before that, from some deep intuition.  It’s part of that “core being” I wrote about in the last post.  It’s the same core intuition that told me the fundamentalist religion of my childhood couldn’t be right.  It’s the same core intuition that clicked when someone first explained modern Paganism and clicked again when I discovered Druidry.  It whispers “there’s more” – more to Life than the apparent world.

I can hear the Religious Naturalists sighing – I’m sure to them I sound like the kid who opens his 27th Yule present and then cries “is that all?”  The natural world is beautiful and powerful and life-affirming and we are lucky to be here.  It is enough and more isn’t necessary.

But that core intuition keeps whispering “there’s more” – something more than what is measurable.   And part of that more is a reason for being here, a purpose for my life.

I admire people who live happy lives with no reason for being.  Actually, I’m a little jealous of them.  But when I attempt to “just be” I end up ignoring the big plans and projects that are lots of work but that create great meaning and even pleasure in the process.  A purpose, a reason for being, gives me a grand narrative for all those big plans and projects as well as for the day to day and moment to moment practices that support them.

What is that purpose?  In the last post I said you can trust your true will.  “True Will” is a Thelemic concept articulated by Aleister Crowley.  In Thelema (as I understand it – I’m not a Thelemite), true will is your destiny, your purpose in life, your reason for being here.  When you follow your true will, your individual will is in alignment with the will of the Divine or Nature or the Universe.  When you follow your true will, things fall into place because you’re working with the currents of Nature and not against them.

19th century ceremonial magician Eliphas Levi said “the will of a just man is the Will of God Himself and the Law of Nature.”

Your true will is what deep down you really want to do and be, when you strip away all the external influences that try to impose their will on you (societal expectations, advertising, religious dogma, political propaganda) and when you neither repress your animal instincts (for food, sex, etc) nor allow yourself to be controlled by them.

Following your true will doesn’t mean life is easy – it means you accomplish what you’re in this life to accomplish.

How do you find your purpose, your reason for being, your true will?  I’ve heard it described (by who I can’t remember) as the intersection of your great love and the world’s great need.  Beyond that, all I can recommend from my own experience is to search diligently, but not to wait till you have it all figured out before you start working.  For most of my life, all I’ve known is that I need to do this and do it now.  Over the years, the progression of this and that have become a destiny – the destiny of a Druid and a priest.

If you’re happy living for no reason, or if you’re convinced there can be no reason, then I’m happy for you.  Do good and love deeply.

But if, like me, something whispers to you “there’s more,” then the sooner you get busy the sooner you’ll find what more means for you.

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  • Aine Aldrich

    I’ve been feeling that for a long time too- it was also part of what moved me from the faith of my childhood. And it’s been a constant source of frustration for me. I’d been convinced for the longest time that there was a Right Thing for me to be doing and that if I couldn’t figure out what it was (or couldn’t accomplish it), I was a failure as a human being. And then I’d freeze and feel stuck.

    A deep part of me still thinks that way and I still struggle with feelings of stuckness. But I’ve also started to practice living more in the moment which has helped a lot- to focus not so much on the big picture but rather the Next Right Thing.

    The other thing that I’ve been practicing is having grace/compassion with myself, which has also been extremely helpful.

  • CBrachyrhynchos

    I think your statements about atheism and naturalism might be a bit overly general, but otherwise an interesting essay.

  • My thoughts have always been pretty complicated on this subject. While objectively and logically, I feel like I believe there is no purpose to life, I do on some level believe in true will. For me maybe it’s more about psychology, or finding what our true talents really are, or something, than about anything supernatural or even related to the divine. But this is an interesting topic for me, thanks for your thoughts!

  • AnantaAndroscoggin

    I’m surprised that the Atheists don’t cling to the “purpose of life is to create more life” line, the drive to pass one’s genes (whatever species one is) on to the next generation, unless one’s personal set of genes makes that individual unable to survive in one’s natural environmental niche long enough to do so.

    Sometimes, I find myself wishing that we could do something to eliminate “STUPID!!!!!” from the human gene pool, but Mother Nature does a pretty good job of it when She lets them eliminate themselves through the exercise of that stupidity. Just wish more of them would do so before breeding more stupids.

    • CBrachyrhynchos

      Because biology is not a moral philosophy, (or even a philosophy at all.)

      Also, atheism is a feature of multiple different philosophies, worldviews, religions, ways of life, etc., etc.. (Whatever you choose to name them.) Similar to theism, pacifism, and vegetarianism you can’t assume that because two people are __ist that they have much else in common.