We want our lives to count for something. We want our actions to impact the world in profound ways. Yet that notion can undermine our ability to even get out of bed in the morning. Unless we feel we have some ambition or some person to devote our actions to, we often feel incapable of doing anything.
I have been on all sides of that coin (including the edges). There was a time when I felt hopeless and useless, like a target in need of an arrow. Other times I have felt inspired but ineffective, like an arrow in need of a target. It seemed like this unsolvable riddle. I didn’t know what to do, so I wouldn’t do anything, hoping instead to be found: by some person or some ambition.
Then one day, quite unintentionally, the riddle was solved. I was in the midst of a crisis in the summer of 2009. The debilitating quandary at that precise moment: “I don’t know what to do. What can I do?”
The question arose from a place of utter futility. Those words were the last of everything I had. Once spoken, even though it was just to myself, those words emptied me of any hope of finding an answer.
In the pristine stillness that followed, a steady, rather nonchalant question met mine: “Well, what can you do right now?”
I looked around: I was standing in the midst of a kitchen overflowing with dishes and papers and spills and chaos. I answered emptily: “I can clean the kitchen”.
A disinterested reply followed: “Then do that.”
Heaving a sigh at the pointlessness of it all, I resigned myself to the task at hand. As I started hurrying through the dishes, awareness shifted away from the task and onto the rich warmth of the sun on my face. My pace slowed, igniting a spark of curiosity. What other richness was I overlooking?
My actions slowed even more, and I began to notice the wonderful play of energy within and around me. All of life had led me to this one epic moment. The miracle of it all unfolded before me. This was no dish I was washing: this was a pinnacle result of a rather extensive and daunting chain of events.
I felt humbled. My actions slowed even more as I created space to take in the magnitude of it all. As I moved through the kitchen, each area revealed a deeper sense of wonder. Each area served as an opportunity for me to experience and express humility for my prior arrogance of discounting these every day activities as burdensome.
Somewhere along the way I realized: I wasn’t cleaning the mess in the kitchen, I was cleaning the mess within myself. By the time I was done, I felt cleansed and alive. I was inspired: I was an arrow that had found its target. This was something tangible that I could share with the world.
The answer to the riddle: Purpose is not a question of what profound thing we can do, but simply a matter of doing what we can do in a profound way.
So let me ask you: What is one thing you resist doing because it seems burdensome? Is it possible that this task can become a gateway to inspiration? Perhaps our purpose is not a matter of what we do, but a matter of how we do what we do. A far more empowering question than “what can I do?” is the question: “What can I do right now?”