Purposeful living is living a life guided by principle and driven by value. If it were easy to live such a life, everyone would. But in reality, doing so requires much mindfulness. (For more on this see: Self-Mastery Requires Mindfulness.) Unfortunately, most of us let our appetites and aversions govern our lives. We see things we like and move toward them. We encounter things we don’t like and we run from them. And some of us lead undisciplined lives. We let our impulses run the show. An urge grabs hold of us, and we act on it, often without much thinking.
So much is available to us these days. And much of that is available instantaneously. Ours is an age of instant gratification. So, it’s easy to let our likes, dislikes, and urges, rule. We can even become robotic in a way, a slave to our desires, aversions, and impulses. This is the exact opposite of mindful living.
The Cost of Robotic Living
Letting our appetites, aversions, and impulses drive us actually costs us plenty. We can feel pretty good in moments. But low points inevitably follow. Moreover, in the process of riding that roller coaster, our soul begins to die. To live mindfully and purposefully, we must subordinate our appetites, aversions. Also, we must have mastery over our impulses.
The third step in most 12-step programs addresses this challenge. It involves turning both our lives and our wills over to a higher power or authority. Now, most of us have difficulty doing this. And some of us have greater than average difficulty. Still others find the whole idea anathema.
The founders of A.A. cited one thing as pivotal to “recovery.” And that one thing is willingness. But coming by the willingness to turn ourselves over to something bigger usually happens by grace. (However, we don’t see it as a grace at the time.) It can happen in dramatic fashion, too. Sometimes, we suffer total defeat. (12-step group adherents call this “hitting bottom.”) Other times, great love sweeps us away. It makes us forget ourselves. It invites us to surrender. But in either case, it’s usually not of our doing. It’s a true intervention. (Stories about this can be found in The Judas Syndrome.)
Coming by the willingness to lead a purpose and value-driven life is hard. But it’s easier when you possess a sound conscience. (A well-developed, properly formed conscience is the hallmark of good character.) Unfortunately, ours is the age of character disturbance and dysfunction. Accordingly, all too many among us have underdeveloped consciences. Conscience-impaired folks lack appropriate care and concern (i.e. empathy). So, they often behave in a hedonistic fashion. And they often act on impulse, too. For these and other reasons, they easily use and abuse in relationships.
I worked with character-impaired individuals for many years. And I consistently focused on helping them develop greater conscientiousness. To do that, I had to benignly confront and help them correct their thinking errors. I also had to benignly confront and help them correct some pretty nasty habits. (I’m speaking here of the habitual responsibility-avoidance behaviors I outline in In Sheep’s Clothing.) Slowly, they began to see things differently. Consequently, they began to think and act differently. Not all of them had a true change of heart (i.e. experienced metanoia) as a result. But some did. And whenever that happens, the results can be most impressive. (For more on this topic see: How to Spot a Converted Heart.)
The Mindfulness Key
Mindfulness is key to purposeful living. At any given moment we have a choice. We can allow baser inclinations to rule. Or, we can put ourselves squarely at the service of a higher cause. However, it’s no good if we do this reluctantly or resentfully. We have to do it both knowingly and freely. Fully and freely turning ourselves over to something bigger is liberating. It’s the way we free ourselves from the slavery of what usually drives our actions. Serving something higher, we begin to live purposefully, abundantly.
I’ll have more to say on this in the coming weeks.