Realms of Purpose through the Lifespan (reproduced from the Animas Valley Institute www.animas.org)
This is the second part of a fourteen part Musing (one per week)
Friday, November 17, 2017
As a child, I didn’t think much about purpose. You probably didn’t either. It’s not what children should be thinking about. But if you had asked me what I most wanted, I probably would have said I wanted to please my parents, play with my friends, do well in school, ride my bike, and mess around outside, especially in the forests that surrounded my New England hometown.
As a heterosexual teenager, girls and sex became my foremost interest, although sports, fast cars, and playing the electric organ in rock bands became primary purposes, too. Doing well in school and being liked by my peers remained vital.
In college, much of this was still true, but by then my conscious purpose leaned more toward the exploration of nonordinary consciousness (through experiential as well as scholarly channels) and, more generally, spirituality as accessed by Buddhism, yoga, and other non-Western practices; the co-creation of a primary romantic relationship; martial arts; political activism and cultural change; the exploration of the western half of the US especially by motorcycle (road trips!) and of wilderness anywhere I could find it; and the need and opportunity to choose a career.
During graduate school (psychology at CU Boulder), followed by my first university research and teaching position, and then a post-doctoral internship, my earlier strands of purpose continued (the common developmental pattern of “transcend and include”), but my primary conscious trajectory was to develop the skills of a research and clinical psychologist, establish a body of work of my own, make a living, and contribute something of value to society.
Although the specifics vary from one person to the next, the underlying pattern in my life into early “adulthood” is common in contemporary societies: We derive our primary meaning and purpose — if we experience them at all — through our social, vocational, political, and spiritual (or religious) pursuits. Most of these realms of experience are what I think of as “middleworld” purposes, namely those rooted in our everyday social and cultural life. A smaller subset consists of “upperworld” purposes, the desire to ascend or transcend, to experience “enlightenment” or “bliss,” or to “awaken” to divine, nondual, or unity consciousness. All my examples above, from childhood through early professional life, are instances of middleworld or upperworld purposes.
But there’s another realm of meaning and purpose that awaits beyond these, a deeper realm that, as human participants in the Earth community, we long for, whether or not we have a conscious connection to it, a spiritual realm entirely neglected by the mainstream world as well as by virtually all spiritual and psychotherapeutic traditions, but a realm essential to growing whole, becoming fully human, and experiencing fulfillment.
Despite my extensive early explorations in psychology and spirituality, which began in college, it wasn’t until my late twenties that I had a first conscious clue that this realm of purpose even existed. It was entirely overlooked in the psychologies I studied, despite my focus on the humanistic and transpersonal. It was never considered in any of the eastern spiritualities I read about and practiced, including Zen and Tibetan Buddhism, Kundalini Yoga, Sufism, and Taoism. There was hardly an allusion to it during the six-week summer 1973 program I attended in Berkeley on “Human Consciousness: Exploration, Maps, and Models” (co-sponsored by Esalen Institute and the Association of Transpersonal Psychology), nor during my three summers, 1974 – 1976, as a student at the spiritually oriented, Buddhist inclined Naropa University, in Boulder, Colorado.
Most every spiritual teacher with whom I studied in those years (and since) used the word “soul” at least occasionally and often extensively — and, among them, they meant quite a wide variety of things — but not one was referring to the realm of psyche I have since associated with soul nor of the deeper realm of purpose I am addressing here.
In the next Musing, I’ll tell you what led to my first experience of the spiritual underworld, the realm of soul — and its consequences, including what I discovered about purpose.
To read part one, click here.