Photo credit to Afest.com
I'll never forget the moment 15 years ago, when I stood on the street in the heart of the financial district in Toronto, overcome with a feeling of deep sadness, as I felt the pain and numbness in the people racing by. As I watched the people buzzing around, I was surrounded by a sea of angry faces. Here were some of the wealthiest people in the country who spent their days moving money and power around, with big houses, cars, and anything money can buy and yet the predominant energy was one of anger, frustration, impatience and emptiness. It was a pivotal moment for me, as I felt like announcing, "You don't have to live like this! Life can be fun and easy, if you let it be!"
This experience was such a stark contrast to one I'd had in Thailand, just weeks before. I was paddling down a river in Bangkok, exploring the floating markets and observing the way that the Thai people live. We came upon a group of little boys, about 7 years old, wearing nothing but well-worn underwear. They were swinging on a rope from the riverbank, landing with huge splashes, laughing in delight the entire time. As I looked around, I saw the houses they lived in, no bigger than an average North American garage, home to entire extended families, people with almost no material goods to their names. Outside each of these homes they placed a beautiful offering of rice, tropical flowers and fruit each morning, as a sign of gratitude for what they have.
Flashback photo of me from that trip to Thailand, delighting in the Songkran (Thai New Year) water fights in the streets of Kho Phi Phi, April, 2001
I used to be one of the angry faces. I was on a fast-track path to wealth and prestige, with a top job in global management consulting and a bright future laid out before me. I was able to break free of the golden handcuffs and leap into a life filled with vitality and bliss. After 15 years of working with elite leaders and yogis, I've learned the secret: living life with purpose and passion.
Living on Purpose
"Life holds a potential meaning under any conditions, even the most miserable ones ... in some ways, suffering ceases to be suffering the moment it finds meaning. What man needs is not the discharge of tension at any cost, but the call of a potential meaning waiting to be fulfilled by him." Viktor Frankl
To live a life on purpose, answer the ultimate question: "Why?" Why am I here? If you have a clear answer to your "Why," you will create a limitless source of energy and engagement. There is growing body of positive psychology research on a purpose-driven life, or eudaimonic well-being, where one strives for growth and dedication to something larger than the individual. In yogic philosophy, the term "dharma" is used to describe the path to one's purpose, duties, calling, or the "right" way to live. Like the North Star on the horizon, having a clear sense of purpose can light the way and keep you focused on something much larger and more majestic than the minutia of our daily lives.
In order to be fully alive in your life, articulate a bigger purpose for what you're here to create and contribute in this lifetime. There is some classic work on purpose from James Collins and Jerry Porras' Harvard Business Review article, "Building Your Company's Vision," that you can use it as the CEO of your life. Ask yourself, "What am I here to share in my lifetime?" Then ask, "Why is that important?" Repeat this for a total of 5 times. By the 5th time you will likely get to a big-picture, universal need that you can contribute to fulfilling. Here are some ideas that may spark your creativity:
"I am here to spread love in the world."
"I am here to solve problems that nobody else can solve."
"I am here to spread maternal love."
"I am here to shine to light the way for others."
"I am here to create spaces for deep connection."
Once you have your compelling, "Why," you will find new energy, enthusiasm and commitment to whatever you're doing that is aligned with that purpose. If you are not aligned with that purpose, it may be time to course-correct.
"He who has a why to live can bear almost any how." Friedrich Nietzsche
While philosophers, psychologists and spiritual wisdom have advocated for a purpose-driven life, all work and no play can make life a little dull. The secret to a fulfilling life lies, I believe, in balancing "dharma" and responsibility with a good dose of hedonism and personal pleasure. Why not have some fun while you're saving the world? Western culture, rooted so deeply in the Protestant and Quaker Work ethics, if left unchecked, can lead to martyrdom, burnout and a lack of joy and wonder in the every day. To be fully alive and awake, find the bliss in each moment.
You may find joy by spending more time connecting with people, places and experiences that bring light to your life, but you may also find joy by cultivating greater appreciation for what you already have. A mindless commute to work could turn into a glorious morning walk in nature, connecting with the warm sunlight on your face and breezes on your skin, along with warm connection with the people at your local coffee shop or on your train. This is the yogic principle of "lila," or play. Lila describes the more feminine-encoded approach to life, one filled with pleasure, play, expression and enjoyment of the journey through life. To live in lila is to dance through life with no attachments to outcome, experiencing each moment as if it were a symphony being played simply for your enjoyment.
To tap into greater pleasure and joy in your every day, ask yourself regularly, "Where's the bliss in this moment?" See if you can find the bliss even in the more challenging times and watch as your life moves into a state of flow.
The secret to living a life filled with deep contentment and delight, it is to integrate both purpose and passion, eudaimism and hedonism, dharma and lila. As you dance along the spectrum between duty and pleasure, notice the impact of your choices and adjust your course accordingly. Connecting with pleasure and passion provides the juicy part of life that fuels you to get out into the world and make the impact you are called to make. Now go shine like the star that you are!