Good questions arise out of silence. Granddaughter Edith (11 years-old) walked briskly next to me without talking—highly unusual. While visiting, when not talking, she’s playing the piano (aka my piano keyboard) and singing Kacey Muskgraves’ songs, Biscuits, for one:
So hoe your own row and raise your own babies
Smoke your own smoke and grow your own daisies
Mend your own fences and own your own crazy
Mind your own biscuits and life will be gravy
Mind your own biscuits and life will be gravy
But on our walk, she had a question that required me to think deeply. “Do you belief there is a god?” Conscious of her other grandmother’s firm religious beliefs, I wanted to answer authentically while not leaving my granddaughter conflicted and confused.
“Edith,” she looked up at me, “I don’t believe in a judgmental entity that favors some people over others. I believe that there is god-ness in all of us. We feel its essence when we show kindness to others.”
Other questions that deserve contemplation are “who am I” and “what is my purpose in life?” It’s what Kacey Muskgraves hints at in her song, Biscuits. The answer to these questions are more meaningful than any thing we acquire in life. The answers guide us through life. Living without knowing ourselves or purpose we are a ship at sea without a rudder. Life without purpose is a soul without substance.
The way we ask what our purpose is depends. In a roundabout way, it’s an offshoot of does my life make a difference? And the prerequisite for asking our purpose is a desire to grow and be a better person.
How we discover who we are is to see and accept everything about ourselves. Why do we act and behave in certain ways? Is how we live increasing or decreasing our general contentment? What do we focus on, harmony or conflict, love or hate?
We take the time to recognize thoughts and feelings that hook us. How does a sunny morning turn into a cloudy afternoon? Our brain is a library of stories with plots of anxiety and worries. The narrative we house in our head determines our emotions. Emotions are visitors. They come and go. Greeting them with open arms or sorting through which ones bring joy and which ones increase our anxiety is our decision to make. While it can be challenging to keep the unwelcome out, it’s not impossible.
The most difficult thing in life is to know yourself. But, the better we know ourselves, the more often we are in the driver’s seat. We decide what to focus on among the thoughts and memories that populate any given moment. Knowing ourselves takes vigilance and persistence. That’s not a bad thing. On the contrary. I’ve learned about myself that while awards and praise puff me up, the feelings are short-lived. On the other hand, determination and endurance bring positive changes with staying power. From Laozi, a Chinese philosopher: “When I let go of what I am, I become what I might be.”
Knowing myself means I can predict with great certainty how I will react to issues that pop up every now and then. Policies that undermine children’s welfare up my pulse. But, I don’t have to be a victim of my emotions. Those moments when I feel frustration, fear, or insecurity are my heart’s attempt to push unpleasant emotions away. If I want to be free of unwelcome thoughts, I must stop fighting these human feelings.
Troublesome feelings are invisible energy passing through my heart. When the student is ready the teacher appears. And so it is with unhappiness. This familiar feeling reminds me to stay open and relax into the uncomfortableness. What I resist persists. Understanding that down in the dumps and over the moon are emotions, and figuring out how you can deal with them is about knowing yourself. The cause of both are your thoughts.
Finding our purpose requires thinking clearly about what matters and what doesn’t matter. That’s an old story. The words of ancient philosophers are alive today because they speak to something inside us that takes us closer to the answer. The answers exist for us to find.
To find our way in a complex world means to explore ideas and beliefs. But ideas alone are not the answer. For that takes introspection and deep thinking. Most everything worth doing in life is a long-term endeavor. Selecting to wander aimlessly through life is choosing short-term pleasures and conveniences over growth and purpose. Knowing ourselves and finding our purpose is a life-long practice.
Our life’s purpose is like our DNA, different for each person. We are tiny entities on a planet spinning around, floating in empty space, in a universe that goes on forever. We are here to learn from our experiences and find joy. We are not put on Earth to suffer. Being miserable doesn’t help you or others. We are born and we die. The time between our arrival and departure is allocated for us to grow and serve— or not. Events and other people don’t determine our contentment. Creating melodrama binds us to unhappiness. When negative things happen to you, don’t surrender your peace of mind. Ask yourself, what good can come from letting them ruin your day? It’s the path we walk and the values we carry that give meaning and purpose. Find and follow your arrow.