The Logic of Life Purposes
Book X. The Logic of Life Purposes
1. No one can explain consciousness, not what it is or why we have it. But here we are. We are conscious and that defines us. From consciousness flows everything: our thinking, our imagining, our comprehending, our deciding, and so on.
2. Consciousness produces everything that we are, which is much more than just a creature with senses and some limited awareness. We are not just aware, as in, “Oh, there’s a butterfly!” We are astute, as in, “Oh, that is a rare butterfly!”
3. Consciousness produces the mind and the experience of in-dwelling, that subjective experience of “being somewhere inside.” That is where we muse, pester ourselves, daydream, write poetry, and feel sad about the state of the world.
4. One of the things that we do as we in-dwell is wonder about our importance or unimportance, cosmically, to others, and to ourselves. Likewise, we wonder about the importance or unimportance of the things that we are doing or intend to do.
5. Bound up with these conversations are two culture-driven ideas: “the meaning of life” and “the purpose of life.” Kirists understand that these two phrases are powerful traps that have confused and tormented humans for the longest time.
6. These two phrases have come to be for a variety of reasons, some having to do with how language works, some with our desire not to feel unimportant, some with the needs of authoritarian institutions to sustain and promote themselves.
7. First, the very shape of those phrases makes it seem as if there is or must be some singular meaning to life and some singular purpose to life. By creating those phrases, we create the idea, and with the idea all sorts of unnecessary longings.
8. Without language creating those ideas, along with what for many people is lifelong confusion, you might just peel a potato, fight for justice, hold your child’s hand, and get on with life. You would find life itself real and already important.
9. Second, those phrases have built into them the idea of a universe run by someone or something that has created a grand pageant where we get to play our part, as if we’d won a leading role in a play. If, that is, we only knew our part.
10. Third, our religious, spiritual, political and other authoritarian leaders promote these phrases, because these phrases set you up to believe that there is exactly “one true thing” in life, say the demand to serve God, to defend your race, and so on.
11. People have long been seduced, transfixed and pestered by these phrases and that has led to a very large, very negative outcome. When they can’t envision or discern “the purpose of life” or “the meaning of life,” they feel bereft and lost.
12. Life got much darker because people have been hunting for something that doesn’t exist. If you suppose that there is “a purpose to life” and “a meaning to life” and you can’t figure out what they are, how are you going to feel? Miserable.
13. You’re going to feel confused, upset at yourself for what looks to be your failure at discernment, and maybe angry at the universe for playing what looks to be a sadistic game. You are not going to feel at all well, emotionally or existentially.
14. Part of the power of this trap is that it feels frightening to think the reverse, that “there is no meaning to life” or “there is no purpose to life.” To billions, these rejections of millennia of dogma sound too terrible to countenance.
15. Kirists reject those false phrases and also the false negative constructions of those phrases. Both “there is a meaning to life” and “there is no meaning to life” are wrong-headed responses to reality. Exactly the same with “purpose.”
16. Those twin phrases, “the meaning of life” and “the purpose of life,” have never pointed to anything real or true. Rather, they are constructed concoctions. They function to confuse and to disempower and kirists deconstruct and reject them.
17. Kirists say a different thing instead. First, they say, “There is no singular purpose to life. Rather there are our individual life purpose choices. I decide what is important enough for me to organize my life around and then I live exactly that life.”
18. With regard to meaning, kirists say, “Of course, there is something that ought to be called ‘meaning.’ It is a certain sort of psychological experience and a certain sort of idea. Human beings really do have those experiences and those ideas.”
19. Kirists add, “There are an abundant number of psychological experiences of meaning. Yes, the sensation of meaning does come and go, like any other feeling. But that doesn’t make meaning unreal. It just makes it quixotic and transitory.”
20. Meaning doesn’t come down from on high. It is just another artifact of human consciousness. We are built to think about meaning, to love its presence and to be upset by its absence, and to sometimes (and only sometimes) experience it.
21. Therefore, meaning is a wellspring. There is always the possibility that in the next moment we may experience it. We can train ourselves to coax it into existence, to not miss it so much when it is absent, and to understand its place in life.
22. Meaning isn’t as important as we’ve talked ourselves into believing it is. It is ‘just’ a certain sort of psychological experience. A good and worthy life can go on (and must go on) even if we aren’t having enough of those experiences.
23. If I am doing the next right thing, then that is the next right thing to be doing, whether or not it happens to feel meaningful. If it feels meaningful, that is wonderful. If it doesn’t, we maturely just get on living our life purposes.
24. When a kirist says, “Nothing is inherently meaningful,” doesn’t that seem to fly in the face of reality? Aren’t some things just clearly “meaningful,” like, say, walking in nature, looking at gorgeous art, or spending time with the grandkids?
25. No. Nothing is universally meaningful by virtue of it feeling meaningful to lots of people lots of the time. Maybe you experience meaning playing with your grandkids. Or maybe you experience boredom and the desire to be elsewhere.
26. There is nothing “intrinsically meaningful” about playing with the grandkids, walking in nature, looking at art, or anything else. Yes, these may provoke the experience of meaning, as we are built to experience them as meaningful. But that’s all.
27. There is a huge difference between the idea that certain aspects of existence are intrinsically meaningful versus the idea that something may sometimes (or even often) provoke the experience of meaning. All the difference in the world!
28. The first is a fiction and a trap. The second is the exact truth. Consciousness craves meaning and human beings are in the position to make meaning investments, to seize meaning opportunities, and to try to coax the experience they crave.
29. We crave meaning and, if we are lucky, we can coax it into existence. Likewise, we crave a sense of purpose; and here our task is to identify what we deem important and to choose exactly those as our purposes. We make life purpose choices.
30. How will you make your life purpose choices? How will you decide which are the activities and the states of being you deem most important to you? Well, first of all, they must be important to you. You arbitrate your life purposes.
31. Your culture may say, “Turn over your life to taking care of your aging parents.” You get to decide if you agree. Your government may say, “Fight in this all-important war.” You get to decide if you agree. You may; or you may not.
32. Similarly, you may be told that this is not something you ought to concern yourself with or that this is something that you really must not do. Do not be gay. Do not be altruistic. Do not be a whistleblower. You get to decide if you agree.
33. Whatever is maximized or minimized by others, validated or stigmatized by others, all of that is for you to step aside from, taking that vital kirist step to the side, that crucial sidestep to awareness, and to ponder, consider, and decide about.
34. You are necessarily deciding only for now, making provisional, full-throated, whole-hearted commitments. It must only be for now, as you do not know how life will play itself out. At the same time, these must be full-throated commitments.
35. And what if nothing seems important enough to elevate to the “high place” of life purpose choice? Well, that probably means that you’re in crisis and maybe have been in crisis for a long time. It’s hard to live when nothing feels very important.
36. If you find yourself in that unfortunate position, you must start doing some anointing. This sounds like, “My novel, the world, love, nothing feels very important. But I am going to make the decision to consider them important. I’d better!”
37. To summarize: we make our life purpose choices and then we live them. We stop making a fuss about meaning and at the same time we try to coax the experience of meaning into existence. We live our life purposes and we coax meaning.
38. We shift from pestering ourselves about “the purpose of life” and we make our idiosyncratic life purpose choices. Maybe we encapsulate those purposes in a single phrase, like “I do the next right thing,” or maybe we create a list or a menu.
39. You may never have done this work before. You may have insights into your nature, an excellent sense of your strengths and weaknesses, possess strong feelings about how the world operates, but have never previously done this precise work.
40. Kirists do this work. They ask themselves, “What should my life purposes be?” or “What do I consider really important?” They know that any answer they arrive at must be provisional but that doesn’t stop them from making those vital decisions.
41. You may find yourself reluctant to make this effort. Why? Because by naming your life purposes, you set the bar very high. If, say, you assert that your primary life purpose is to do the next right thing, then you have to do the next right thing.
42. And you must keep at it, next right thing after next right thing, forever. How much work you just made for yourself! Isn’t it easier to keep “seeking” meaning and purpose, even though there is nothing to find? But kirists know better.
43. If you say that one of your life purposes is to write fiction in your most passionate and powerful voice, well, you have to sit there, day in and day out, on the many bad days as well as on the good ones, and struggle to write that powerful fiction.
44. If you announce that you want to love and be loved, you have to actually love and you actually have to be loveable. This may necessitate a huge personality upgrade and some real movement away from grandiosity, arrogance, and narcissism.
45. These are not easy things. Making life purpose choices sets us up for real work. You decide to be a parent—and then you have kids. You decide to be an activist—and you put your body on the line. No wonder that we may be reluctant!
46. We may also feel undermined by some core doubt, a doubt that sounds like the following: “Coming up with my life purposes feels so artificial and so arbitrary. Maybe life really wants something completely different from me!”
47. Or it may sound like the following: “What I want and what I believe in seems to shift all the time. Maybe there really isn’t any such thing as life purposes? Maybe there are only whims, desires, cravings, and nothing more substantial than air!”
48. Or it may sound like: “Human beings are such disposable, self-centered, trivial creatures—what a lot of silly arrogance to talk about life purposes when most people seem closer to the insect world!”
49. Or it may sound like: “I am such a slave to my appetites—what a joke to think about life purposes! I can hardly stop myself from eating peanuts or shopping online day and night. Life purposes! I’m nothing but a walking addiction!”
50. These doubts take on countless forms. And our inclination to doubt isn’t helped by the fact that the people who promote the idea of a singular life purpose present the picture that “the purpose of life” must be sought out and chased after.
51. Naturally you may doubt that you know your life purposes if everyone is telling you that they are out there somewhere and that you need to keep seeking them. Find, find, find—that is the life purpose mantra. Life as an Easter egg hunt!
52. Kirists learn to navigate their way through this language maze and to stand firm in their determination not to seek what doesn’t exist but instead to name their life purposes and to live their life purposes. They opt for living over seeking.
53. You might name your life purposes in a list sort of way: for example, “I want to create, be of service, be an activist in support of certain causes, cultivate strong, meaningful relationships, and live calmly and also passionately.”
54. What might your list look like? Maybe: to make use of your talents, to have some successes, to love and be loved, to feel alive and connected, to not fail yourself, to do the right thing, to stay healthy, and a few more. Something like that?
55. Your list might be shorter, longer, or completely different from the above. Yours might include concrete items, like “Spend five hours a day on my home business.” Or it might include beautiful, fanciful, lofty items like, “Save the world.”
56. How many life purposes do you require? Is there some ideal or magic number, like five or seven or nine? Can there be too many? Can there be too few? Probably “yes” is the answer to the last two: there likely can be too many and also too few!
57. For instance, will it work to have just a single life purpose? Fighting injustice or being of service are lovely life purpose choices. But would it work to hold one of those as the only thing you deem important? Can a life be organized that way?
58. Kirists come to doubt that organizing a life around just one life purpose, even one as profound as battling injustice or being of service, will quite work. In reality, we deem many things important, not just this one thing or that one thing.
59. A solid kirist life seems to require something more like: “I will make use of my talents every single day in the service of truth-telling and my other important values, while getting satisfaction out of life through love and righteous work.”
60. You might also condense your several life purpose choices into a simple phrase, for instance “I do the next right thing.” Kirists discover that having both, both a menu of life purposes and a life purpose statement, is an excellent idea.
61. And so, doing this work and living this way, the anxiety of seeking and not finding may end. The despair of living without purpose may end. Panic around meaninglessness may end. Your battle to feel motivated may resolve itself.
62. We identify our life purposes, we commit to living them, we see this identifying and this committing as centerpiece activities of self-obligation, self- authorship, and absurd rebellion. We do this … and then all sorts of shifts occur.
63. Our life purposes can and will shift. Maybe parenting is not important to us in our twenties and very important to us in our thirties. Maybe foreign travel is very important to us in our thirties and not important to us in our eighties.
64. Because of these shifts, we can come to the wrong conclusion that we have only transitory desires, not anything like life purposes. But a change in particulars doesn’t mean that our life purpose choices weren’t real at the time we made them.
65. The compact car you owned was real. So was the minivan you needed when the kids came. The minivan didn’t make a lie out of the compact. You didn’t “not know your own mind.” Life changed and with it came new life purpose decisions.
66. You might try something, because it feels interesting and right. Maybe it’s a certain graduate program. Three weeks in, you sense that it is much less interesting and right than you hoped it would be. Of course, this is a dreadful experience.
67. But does that outcome imply that you hadn’t made a strong life purpose choice? No. It only means that you made an investment in something that appears not to be paying dividends. You bit into something and it came with a worm.
68. This is a dreadful experience. Plus, now you have another hard choice to make: to wait out developments and recommit to the program or to leave the program, even though that may make you look flighty, undependable, and self- indulgent.
69. Like everyone, kirists hate this. They hate it that their life purpose choices may not pan out or pay off. They hate it that life can let them down. They hate it that life comes with such an opaque, distorting crystal ball. Who wouldn’t hate this?
70. But they also know not to bash themselves for the thoughtful choices they make. If you step to the side before you make your choices, if you apply awareness to life, if you try your best to do the next right thing, why then bash yourself?
71. Our emotional health depends on us standing up for the idea of personally- designated life purpose choices; and accepting the results of the actual choices that we make, all subsequent shifting and all subsequent misadventures notwithstanding.
72. Maybe you’re still inclined to reject this whole project. Your reasoning might go something like this: “If all I’m doing is nominating this and that as my life purposes, how valid or important is that? That’s just me playing a pointless game.”
73. “All I’m doing is saying that nothing really matters and trying to plug a leak in a sea of genuine nothingness. This is a game that I can see right through and I want no part of it. Better to be lazy or mean or anything than to play this childish game!”
74. “No, who cares about my life purposes—me included. Why bother with these phony life purposes that I’ve elevated to some high-and-mighty place? Life is too hard, intractable and pointless for that and acting like I have purpose is pathetic.”
75. There are many variations on this rejection. Some are angrier, some more despairing, some more anxious, some more ironic. We understand their power, logic, and, looked at one way, their validity. Kirists understand what is going on here.
76. Each variation amounts to the person announcing that if “life purpose” is only something that she herself gets to name, something without cosmic significance, just an idle claim that she makes, then it amounts to too little or even nothing at all.
77. But kirists recognize that this rejection is a hangover from the belief that life should be meaningful in some other deeper, more important sense, from the belief that it shouldn’t just occasionally feel meaningful but actually be meaningful.
78. Life shouldn’t just be organized around some purposes that I get to name, it should have purpose. If it is just this, then it is pathetic. Kirists understand the pull to reject the exact truth of the matter, that we’re obliged to decide what’s important.
79. Kirists learn to watch out for that quite reasonable, quite natural, and quite disturbing feeling, that their life purpose choices are only and just their life purpose choices and not something more important than that or cosmically ordained.
80. Yes, a kirist will still sometimes see through this operation and remember that it is just he himself who has done the choosing. And yes, he will need strong, practiced rejoinders to the painful realization that life is exactly like this.
81. You can and must learn to accept that you intend to live a life based on your own calculations and that the universe doesn’t care one way or the other. Likewise, you can and must learn how to respond to the truth that life is exactly like this.
82. What will your rejoinder be? “I don’t need the cosmos to care. I care!” Or: “I may just be excited matter but I quite enjoy mattering, because I have plenty of good to do!” Or: “Every one of my life purposes makes perfect sense to me!”
83. Kirists even revel in the enterprise of naming and living their life purposes. Which of my life purposes shall I live today? Ah, what excellent choices! To love, to create, to serve, to right a wrong, to gain some mastery, to explore: what a lovely day!
84. You reject that pair of impertinent questions, “What is the meaning of life?” and “What is the purpose of life?” and you strive to answer the only really pertinent question, “How do I intend to live?” You shift the paradigm, all by yourself.
85. You make your list of your life purpose choices and you create your complementary life purpose statement. Then you use them. You hold the intention to live your life purposes and you actually live them on a daily basis. That is kirist living.