Is Life’s Purpose Acquiring or Letting Go?
For most people, who are not inclined to seek & experience the Ultimate Reality, the purpose of life often seems to be one of ‘acquiring.’
We live to acquire a good diploma or degree, then a lucrative career, abundant money and financial freedom, the perfect spouse, family, house, car etc. We live to acquire safety, security and assurance for ourselves and our families. We think that acquiring all these things is the very purpose of life, and if we succeed in acquiring most or all them, that’s the very definition of a life well lived…the ‘good life.’ Purpose accomplished.
Or, we may start to get an inkling that acquiring these things is not the real, underlying purpose of life. Perhaps because we’re more philosophical and naturally inclined to look for deeper meaning in life. Or perhaps, because we achieved all of those things, and discovered that we still felt discontent, kind of empty, and still missing the ‘bigger purpose’ of life. Or because we have a life that has beaten us down so much, so fraught with illness or other physical & emotional difficulties, that we conclude the obvious: even successfully acquiring all that stuff guarantees nothing, and in the end we have no control over how our life goes.
So we might say, “All that acquiring isn’t the real purpose of life, but I still don’t know what is.” So we default back to acquiring something, some money, a drug, or some situation that makes us feel, at least, more comfortable and pacified in the face of not knowing what is the purpose of life. Funny how, usually, even very discontented, searching souls rarely conclude that the purpose of life is actually the exact opposite of constant acquiring; that it is constant letting go.
So let’s look at this deeply, and see what we find.
At every station of our seemingly separate existence, life demands that we let go. We may start out as a carefree child, but over 75% of all carefree children’s lives get torn asunder by family upheavals: a death of a parent, an abusive parent, constant friction and eventual divorce between the parents, feeling outcast from desired friends, or uncontrollable outside forces such as growing up in a repressive or war-torn country. Every psych therapy session in later life always focuses on the terrible troubles you had foisted on you as a child, that screwed you up as an adult! Somewhere in our teens or twenties, we are forced to let go of our carefree ways to start focusing on how we will become responsible earners & householders. After many years of grueling, competitive schooling, if we succeed at nabbing a good career, we must move into decades of working hard & continuously, every weekday and sometimes even on weekends, and so let go of the desire to be free and do whatever we’d like with our days.
Throughout this ‘prime of our life” time, there will be many other letting go’s: Relationships that turn sour or end with someone passing away; job and financial changes that cause one to let go of their current lifestyle in a drastic downsizing; health issues or injuries that start to settle in, in our 40s, 50s or even earlier, that force us to let go of any dream we had of staying healthy and untroubled by our bodies until we were quite old. Truly, if we look at our lives with an unflinching, honest eye, we see that in spite of all our striving and acquiring, every week, every month, every year, life keeps asking us to let go. To let go of our plans, our ‘things,’ our non-existent ‘security,’ and our illusion that we are in control.
And yet it seems here we are, humans on earth, born, growing and living for as much as 100 years, and needing to do something to sustain our food-bodies. If we adopted a path of simply letting go and never planning, striving or acquiring anything, wouldn’t we quickly starve & die?
No. In the light of full awakening, we see that all that truly ‘exists’ is Pure Awareness, and that this dream-world and dream-life is only a temporary projection of that Awareness. An unreal illusion. If Awareness seems to be projecting something that seems real in ‘time’ & ‘space’ (which are also unreal,) we can be sure that It is also simultaneously calling it back into Itself, reabsorbing it back into just One. So anything we strive to do or control in this dream-life has no more reality or lasting value than any actions we would take in one of our sleeping dreams. We wake up and go, “Well that was interesting, but it’s morning, the dream is over, and it doesn’t matter.”
And yet, on our relative level, this illusory projection of ‘separate lives’ seems to be going on, and it seems we are predisposed to doing things in these lives, collecting experiences as well as working to sustain the body that is collecting these experiences. Exactly. We are impelled to do this, not by our own needs or agenda, but by the agenda of That which is projecting us. Consciousness and bodies exist at Awareness’ behest, and we are truly living out the life of Awareness or Spirit, not our lives. In ‘religious’ terms, this would be the same as “Not my will but thine Oh Lord;” we’re living out God’s plan, not our plan. And that’s why it is filled with so many calls to letting go. Awareness knows separate consciousness & life is unreal, and yet it is somehow ‘experiencing’ something it ‘wants’ to experience through us. So it impells us to have all these experiences…but also, if we are wise, to let go, simultaneously, of any personal outcome while we’re experiencing them. A wave rising up from the ocean is a temporary, separate experience from the rest of the ocean, yet that wave doesn’t try to acquire permanent independence from the ocean or hold on to any personal agenda of what it will achieve. It ‘knows’ it’s part of the full ocean’s experience, and, even as it reaches up and crests in its own unique expression, surrenders to falling back and being part of the ocean again.
From our seemingly-separate perspective, Awareness has given rise to a world and a set of beings that need food to stay alive and keep experiencing things (I love how the great sage Nisargadatta has therefore nicknamed it the ‘food-body.’) So we will naturally feel compelled to do all those activities in life – planning, striving, acquiring and believing we have some control – that will assure us a constant supply of food & water. Once we have acquired enough of that, it’s only natural that we would be inclined to acquire more experiences and ‘control’ beyond basic sustenance. From this perspective, there is certainly nothing wrong with making acquiring the main ‘purpose’ of life. But in the end at death (and often during life,) we must let go of everything we thought we were, accomplished or experienced – we have no choice. Oh, we spend much of our lives trying to ignore that we’re all dying. But it’s right around the corner, for every one of us.
And so there is a golden opportunity to, once and for all, shift our perspective from life’s purpose being to acquire as much as possible, to life’s purpose being letting go. To do this is actually quite simple, although you must be willing to give up holding onto all false & temporary things, including your body-mind-ego life, and align with the True Realty as it really Is. Just do all these things – grow, plan, strive, acquire, sustain our bodies, enjoy life and try to ‘keep it all together’ – while simultaneously maintaining a state of knowing detachment from all of it. We simply ‘know’ that we and all of this is temporary, an illusion, a passing dream that will all disappear when we wake up. We know it when it seems things are going ‘good,’ as a result of some good planning & striving we’ve done, giving us a temporary sense that we’re in control. And we know it when life is tough, and, in spite of all we’ve planned, done or acquired, our lives or bodies seem to be falling apart. We simply see it all as another chance – and another, and another – to let go. Then we throw open our arms wide, merge with our deeper knowing and connection with the infinite – which all of us have and can access at any moment – and allow ourselves to feel the infinite perfection & peace of everything, every moment of joy & sorrow, every ‘good’ and ‘bad’ life experience, every coming and passing. We let go into life, death and Awareness, because, obviously, that is life’s purpose, not acquiring or holding on.
And wouldn’t it feel amazing, wonderful and deeply peaceful, if every time another turn in our road materialized, especially the really hard, challenging ones that seem to divert us from our own planned agenda, instead of arguing with it and becoming all closed-down and gloomy, we opened wide and said, “Excellent, another opportunity for letting go, life’s true purpose! Obviously, I’m right on track.”