Purposeless on Purpose

There are a lot of things we “know” but don’t know.Sometimes,thoughts have to be framed just the right way to start making perfect sense and for us to experience that ‘Aha’ moment.A thought-provoking article from Brain Pickings helped crystallize a lot of my loosely framed thoughts.

Alan Watts, the British philosopher stated –

“Money is a way of measuring wealth but is not wealth in itself. A chest of gold coins or a fat wallet of bills is of no use whatsoever to a wrecked sailor alone on a raft. He needs real wealth, in the form of a fishing rod, a compass, an outboard motor with gas, and a female companion. But this ingrained and archaic confusion of  money with wealth is now the main reason we are not going ahead full tilt with the development of our technological genius for the production of more than adequate food, clothing, housing, and utilities for every person on earth.”

When we become willing slaves to the money-making machinery and devote every moment of our lives to the blinkered pursuit of money, every voice that detracts us sounds irritating.As we run our race, all we can think of is reaching the finish line. At times we are at a loss to remember why we started running in the first place or why we were still running and what would we do when we reached the finish line, if there was one. We shudder to lose that one goal that threatens to leave us rudderless in the world, without a sense of purpose.

“Wealth” as Watts defines,is anything which enables us to live a fuller life.Going strictly by that definition, the meaning of wealth could vary vastly for different individuals.However, it would be reasonable to assume that some things might more or less be broad enough to be considered as contributors to a fuller life ; for instance spending quality time with loved ones, bringing up a child to be responsible and a confident adult, savoring good food etc. Wealth could imply enriching one’s own personality in terms of creating works of art, beauty, literature etc and could also be inferred as enriching one’s life by supporting other lives.”Some” wealth could be enabled by money.

When we disassociate ourselves from a money-based evaluation system and wait for the haze to settle down, we find new roles which hitherto didn’t figure anywhere in the leaderboard. Many homemakers who have had to struggle with a sense of purposelessness or have had to ward off uncomfortable questions, suddenly find themselves well-placed in a wealth-based system. It all starts making perfect sense, when you view that each homemaker is creating wealth for the family by supporting other members in differing capacities and roles. Many people in their pursuits of art, literature, theater, academic research etc are creating wealth, though they sometimes might not be making too much money.

The importance of viewing money as just an enabler and not an end-goal marks an important step,in how we perceive others and evaluate our own self-worth.

Whether it’s creation of wealth or money, we are inclined to look at both as fulfilling a sense of purpose – the reason we were born and what we were meant to do. Some of us keep looking for that elusive purpose all our lives. Some of us get dispirited when it doesn’t turn up in an all-encompassing magnificent vision and tragically spiral downwards in an existential crisis.

Considering the bigger scheme of things, we are an infinitesimally minute part of the cosmos. Nothing we do today, is going to live after a 1000 years or 10000 years.For all we know, humans might have long vanished off the face of the earth. What is the purpose of life of an ant or a bee ? It lives and it dies. Was it’s living and dying purposeless. And would we as humans, be able to live with that sense of purposelessness or the apparent randomness of the whole thing. Wouldn’t life come to a grinding halt ? So we indulge ourselves by our prescribed sense of purpose, that which will enable us to live a fuller life.

Now let’s change that logic to see things in a radically opposite manner.What if, right from the day we were born, to the day we die, we have fulfilled all our purposes. All that was ever destined for us. No life was,is or will , ever be purposeless. No bee or ant died a purposeless life.Every life is meaningful and is being lived the way it was always meant to be. So when one’s life is over, one should always be able to look back at it,as having done exactly what one was supposed to do, fulfilled everything that one had been born for. Does that mean that we don’t look for and try to pursue things that makes us happy or increase our self-worth or our wealth. Of course not, because that too is a part of living but that doesn’t change the intrinsic value or the bigger purpose of our life.

So, either our lives are completely purposeless or each and every one of our lives has a very deep sense of purpose. Whichever way we choose to look at it, we are all, definitely, in the same boat and if there’s really a race, we are either all winning or all losing. I would prefer to think we are all winning  🙂

28 thoughts on “Purposeless on Purpose

  1. What a profound reflection on the meaning of wealth, life and everything! And I used to think the answer to all that was 42! You have truly dished out a feast for thought unto your readers. Being the incorrigible narcissist that I am, I am inclined to think I have created wealth by scribbling on my blog. 🙂

    In the larger scheme of things, I remember the writers, painters, sculptors of yore who died on the roadsides and in decrepit asylums penniless to the core. I remember the unnamed soldiers who died in putrefying trenches, and the spies whose nails were pulled out one by one and fingers chopped in centimetres and eyes gouged. I remember Mother Teresa. I can’t think of greater wealth being created.

    1. Thanks so much Uma for such a generous appreciation ! Yes, you have created wealth on your blog not just for yourself but others like me who read you too. And if a day were to ever come, when nobody read your posts, you would have still created wealth for yourself.

      And like the examples you quoted, truly remarkable wealth has been created by so many people, who have all had their own purposes to fulfill.

  2. Your post makes us all delve into the larger purpose of life. Another dimension is when you compare yourself to the vastness of the Universe, you feel minuscule and sobered. Sometimes, l wonder if there is really any purpose to a being. I’d it just a cycle of birth and death and we have complicated things by creating goals.

  3. Very profound thoughts – something I keep pondering over and agonizing about. I guess one will never find a definitive answer. One can just try to live in the present trying to balance between pleasure and purpose.

    1. Thanks for your comment Carthick. Thoughts like these keep coming back, especially when confronted with a continuous barrage of what we should be doing with our lives and being evaluated on purely material terms.

  4. I enjoyed this reflection on the search for meaning and purpose of life. It is indeed a sad state of affairs when only the pursuit of material wealth is seen as the end-goal of all life. But I don’t blame those who end up getting caught in this rat race, there is a whole lot of money and mental energy invested in selling this dream of a materially rich life-style to the young and impressionable minds. So it is understandable when people end up buying into this as the only goal or purpose of life. The whole modern commercial lifestyle is all about giving this same message – overtly and covertly. I wish we would rediscover the old ideal of four-fold pursuit – the four purusharthas – artha, kama, dharma and moksha. So much more integrally united and holistic this scheme of things was!

    1. Thanks so much for your thoughtful comment Beloo. Yes, the rat race is something we created and for those who continue to keep running because they have started enjoying the running, it is not a problem anymore. The problem is more for the people, who have inadvertently stopped and questioned where they are headed. Senseless materialism has never helped anyone and there will come a time, when we have to go back and start all over again.

  5. Beautiful post,, asha
    Just what I needed today coz only today morning we were discussing hikes, jobs , and is happiness really proportional to CTC 🙂

    This is like a wake up call for many of us and ya,,,,, I think Blogging is a wealth too for ppl like us
    Have a grt time !

  6. But if all start believing we are leading meaningful lives, we’d stop feeling restless, questioning ourselves and in a blinding moment of clarity, realize what we are meant to be.

    1. You have a point Purba. Yes, restlessness definitely leads to introspection. However, I would think restlessness needn’t really mean we might be leading meaningless lives, only that we might not be contented..At any given point of time, there are meaningful ways with which we enrich our lives or others around us,and sometimes it is only one dimension that bothers us.And therefore we strive to become happier/wealthier by doing something we find more meaningful, which is entirely subjective. Also, interesting that you used the word “meaningful”, I actually would choose to distance the word meaningful and purpose. From that point of view, Hitler’s life had a purpose, even if it wasnt meaningful. He taught us and millions of people some important lessons.My point of view of therefore using the word “purpose” was to include the entire gamut from good to bad on the humanity scale.

  7. jaishvats

    I loved the final conclusion you arrived at….. All the world’s a stage and we merely actors…. We will play our parts the way we were supposed to play and yes we all win…. Lovely article

  8. I do agree with most of the thoughts there.. but I also feel that even is money is taken away, it may get replaced with power, fame or some other surfacial mementos of ‘wealth’ or ‘success’. Humans seem to evolving into a very unconscious species..

    1. Thanks for your thoughtful comment Astha. Very true that. The mementos as you rightly mentioned will keep evolving and the need to be one up above others is probably a part of being “human”. But the only good thing is that not everything is as quantifiable as money is. Probably the metrics being subjective is a good thing that way.

  9. It is all a matter of perspective! I’ve mused on this often and find myself sitting quite comfortably on the fence. There really is no answer to the question of whether money can buy you happiness. I’d say yes, depending on what constituted happiness. Love the quote from Alan Watts. I like to be restless. 🙂

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