Bill Plotkin’s Soulcraft Musings 10/11/17 – Purpose, Pt1.

Purpose, Part 1 (reproduced from Animas Valley Institute
This is the first part of a fourteen part Musing (one per week)

Friday, November 10, 2017

…There is only one life
you can call your own
and a thousand others
you can call by any name you want.
Hold to the truth you make
every day with your own body,
don’t turn your face away.
Hold to your own truth
at the center of the image
you were born with.
Those who do not understand
their destiny will never understand
the friends they have made
nor the work they have chosen
nor the one life that waits
beyond all the others….
~ David Whyte[1]

Everyone yearns for — and needs — a purpose that can be embodied, a meaning that can be lived. Our mortality demands it of us. Our love for our own life, for all living things, and for community pours itself into the world, like a prayer, through our deepest purpose. But what we mean by and experience as “purpose” depends on our stage of life and our depth of psychospiritual development. In the contemporary Western world, when people speak about personal life purpose, most everyone means a mix of social, vocational, political, and/or religious goals or intentions. A much smaller group means a desire to awaken to the divine, nondual, or the universal.

But there’s a third variety of purpose that is very rarely considered, that has no place or presence in mainstream Western consciousness, that is completely absent from contemporary maps of human life, even the maps of specialists in human development, including those who write about and guide “integral” development. And yet this is the single most essential realm of purpose, especially in our current critical and liminal moment in the unfolding of the world’s story.

The near absence of attention to this most essential realm of purpose is not a coincidence or an oversight. For millennia, Western civilization, among others, has shaped itself in ways that suppress access to this realm. Today this realm of purpose is rarely experienced — or even consciously recognized as a possibility. Our educational, media, and religious systems and our mainstream parenting practices are shaped in ways that divert us from this vital domain of human experience. This suppression of human development has become a necessity for Western civilization in its current form; it would simply not be sustainable otherwise. Conversely, widespread access to this realm of purpose would be the single most potent factor in the termination of Western society in its present life-destroying iteration — and in the creation of a just, life-enhancing, and deeply imaginative culture with its roots in the genuine achievements of the Western tradition.

The lack of access to this particular realm of purpose is our most significant human deficit at this time. The diversity of life on Earth is now being extensively diminished precisely because of this deficit — and has been for hundreds if not thousands of years. Additionally, as beat poet Diane di Prima writes, “men die everyday for the lack of it.”[2]

It is also not a coincidence that most societies and traditions that have treasured and preserved this now-rare realm of purpose have been wiped out or culturally disrupted over the past few millennia. This realm of purpose is the single greatest threat to the consumer-conformist-imperial-dominator mind, to its business as usual, as manifested not only in the contemporary West but in all egocentric societies now prevalent across the globe. If we are to survive the twenty-first century — if robust life on Earth of any sort is to survive — there are many things we must do in the short-term (like save from extinction as many species and habitats as we can, reverse global warming, create true and universally just democracies and biocracies, and abolish nuclear weapons) but, in the long term, the single most important measure is the reshaping of all human cultures so as to support every child to grow in a way that enables the uncovering and embodiment of this particular, now exceedingly rare, realm of purpose.

The central fact that explains why this sphere of purpose is so seldom attained is this: In order to access it, what is required is a level or stage of human development rarely achieved in contemporary cultures — again, not a coincidence — despite the fact that this stage of development, in a healthy and mature Western culture, would be commonplace among 15-year-olds. No special training or preparation would be necessary. More on this below.

I hesitate to name this realm of purpose due to the likelihood you’ll think I’m referring to something I’m not. I have often called it “soul purpose” but this misleads most everyone because I mean something by “soul” that almost no one else does in the contemporary Western world, including those writing about purpose and soul. Better phrases would be “mythopoetic identity” or “unique psycho-ecological niche” but, to be coherent, these phrases require careful unpacking and elaboration.

But before I do that, I’ll review, in next week’s Musings, some of the other, more commonly addressed and accessed realms of purpose.

To read past Musings, click here


[1] From David Whyte, “All the True Vows,” in The House of Belonging (Langley, WA: Many Rivers Press, 1996), p. 24.

[2] Diane di Prima, from “Rant,” in Pieces of a Song: Selected Poems, (San Francisco: City Lights, 1990).

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