"Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?"
These words by poet Mary Oliver represent the timeless and quintessential quest of human beings: To deeply understand and awaken our inner purpose and deliver its gift to the world.
The transforming effects of a deep sense of purpose on our lives and work have been well-researched for decades. Studies have found that people are more content, are more satisfied and engaged in their work, and live an average of 7 years longer when they live in alignment with their purpose.
Yet we live in a world where a staggering 87% of people don't like what they do on a daily basis, almost 20% of the U.S. population struggles with depression and anxiety, and mind-numbing opioid drug use and addiction is on the rise.
Clearly our modern world has constructed innumerable artificial barriers to discovering and living our authentic purpose. Socioeconomic pressures, the media's portrayal of success, and the societal and educational pressures to conform to "approved" paths all make awakening our true purpose difficult.
How can we overcome these barriers and truly connect with and discover our inner purpose?
To find out I was able to spend time with Jonathan Gustin, a licensed psychotherapist, integral mentor, spiritual teacher, purpose guide and expert, and founder of the Purpose Guides Institute -- a center that offers cutting-edge purpose guidance for those in search of their soul's calling and world-class training programs for those who seek to guide others.
Are You Living a "Default" Purpose?
Many people are living a default purpose.
"It's actually the case that if we don't consciously arrive at a deep understanding of our own soul's purpose, we will by default take on the purposes that society or our family of origin offers us," says Gustin.
A default purpose is one that someone else prescribes for us. And because purpose-seeking isn't at the forefront of our modern society's educational system, many end up living a default purpose only to find out years later that it was never their purpose to begin with. Hence, the prevalence of the mid-life crisis phenomenon in the American and Western culture.
We consciously begin to suppress our own inner calling to mimic the paths of others for the illusion of comfort, security, and success. And according to Gustin, we are perhaps the only entities on Earth that actively refuse on our own authentic purpose.
"Because of our cerebral cortex, we appear to be the one entity on planet Earth that can refuse its own flowering. A human being can essentially top out at age 18 or 21 and essentially stop inquiring."
The Triple Purpose of Life
Gustin has found that there are three primary components of living an authentically purpose-driven life: Waking up, growing up, and showing up.
Waking up begins to answer the question, "Outside of our ego and others' expectations, what is our true nature?" Waking up is traditionally associated with the enlightenment of the Buddha, the experience of the essence or Mystery of us that is undivided and timeless.
Growing up means becoming "emotional adults" who are continually questioning, inquiring, and answering the question: How can I simply become a happier human being and enjoy the peace and wonder of life?
"Many of us have a hard time simply metabolizing joy, or giving and receiving love," says Gustin. He teaches that this is the second of the triple purpose of life: waking up to enlightenment is the first purpose and growing into emotional adulthood is the second.
Showing up is the third of the triple purpose of life and answers the question "What do I do?" Or, as Gustin says, "What is the Vision, Task and Delivery System of my purpose ... what gift is truly mine so that I may give it away freely to my people?"
Too often, people try to start to show up without ever diving deeply enough into the center of their own being. This leads to default purpose living.
When we wake up, grow up, and show up, Gustin says we can wake up every day and answer the question: "Am I showing up with my life's purpose as a gift to the people whom I'm meant to serve?"
4 Ways to Start Discovering Your Soul's Calling
There are countless pieces of modern and popular advice that implores us to "find our purpose." This implies that your purpose is somewhere "out there." However, awakening purpose requires a deep and personal journey right here, right now.
Gustin equates the journey of purpose-discovery to the traditional stories of heroes and heroines in which the hero goes out to find the treasure that was under their bed the whole time. They have to come home to finish their journey.
"We're longing for what's already there," says Gustin.
This is why Gustin says that we have to awaken and discover our purpose from within ourselves. He offered these four ways of starting the journey.
1. Find your inner wildness. Every day we are constrained by routines, agendas, details, and prescribed behaviors. To start awakening your purpose, moving beyond the ordinary can be life-giving.
"Let yourself go wild," says Gustin. "Get outside of the routines and boundaries of your life."
Simply by starting to make choices to be uncomfortable and let your inner "wildness" flourish, we can begin to allow our true selves to emerge.
2. Constantly contemplate: "What is my purpose?" Every day, spend time contemplating this critical question: "What is my purpose?"
Reflect on this question in wild places. Take time to get outside and go into nature.
For centuries, "...wild nature has been one of the finest mirrors of your soul," says Gustin. Go off the beaten path, try new things, explore the world around you.
Become comfortable on a pathless path.
Set aside contemplation time for yourself every day and devote time that you will spend outside of your conventional life.
3. Hang out with "wild" people. Whatever "wild" means to you, find interesting and thought-provoking people that are outside of your own niche. Find people who have actively refused the living of a default purpose and seek out new ways of thinking about and knowing the world.
"If you just hang out with people in your own niche they will unknowingly support your status quo, thus helping you rigidify your present way of being," says Gustin.
Find wild writers, authors, poets, and musicians who write about soul-awakening and the deep philosophical questions about life.
4. Seek expert guidance. "When you're moving into undiscovered territory, it is helpful to have a guide who has traversed much of that territory already," says Gustin.
There is no substitute for mentorship. Find an expert to help guide you through this process - someone who has asked the same questions of themselves that you are asking of yourself.
For more information on purpose-guiding or training to become a Purpose Guide yourself, visit www.PurposeGuides.org.
It may help you answer our most critical question: "What is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?"
This story originally appeared on PurposeSpeaks.com