POP QUIZ! (It’s not hard. I promise.) Question: You have two people…
One person: a fabulously “successful” businessman; makes tons of money, has two degrees, is handsome, and has a family that loves him. Yet, he feels unsatisfied. Every accomplishment feels like he needs another to fill a void.
Other person: a college student, taking a year off. His passion is in painting, but his family makes it seem like that isn’t good enough. He feels like he hasn’t accomplished anything and nothing he does seems to fill that void.
What do these two people have in common?
Answer: Both people are looking fulfillment EXTERNALLY.
“Fulfillment” means to fill the void INTERNALLY. This emptiness that both the businessman and the college student have, regardless of their position in life, will only be filled by INTERNAL practice–not external things, i.e. titles, jobs, weight loss, wedding bands, money.
This past weekend I graduated from law school. I sincerely appreciate(d) all the love and congratulations for this accomplishment. Nevertheless, through this whole experience, something felt empty. Yes–law school was a giant accomplishment for my mental, physical, and emotional endurance. So where does this urge for more come from–like something doesn’t feel complete?
For so many years, before and during law school, I’d say “When I finish law school, then…” I hear people say some form of this frequently, “when I lose weight, then…”; “when I make more money, then…”; “when I get married, then…”; “when I retire, then…”
Here is what I know, despite western society’s masks… there is never an endpoint. There is never going to be an external accomplishment that fills this void inside of you.
Accomplishments like giving love, taking a walk instead of watching TV, loving ourselves, cooking a healthy meal, complete forgiveness, biking to work–those feel satisfying! Why? Because they fulfill the mind, body, soul elements INTERNALLY through presence.
We must live fully NOW. We must find our fulfillment through being awake–the love of life.
I’m not saying we shouldn’t strive for our accomplishments. (Don’t worry–I am already studying for the bar.) I’m saying that if we don’t find our purpose through being awake and loving NOW, then no amount of accomplishment will feel satisfying.
“I have lived enough in the world to know by now that this is how our ambitions often evolve. We first find ourselves alone in the joy of what we’re doing, But somehow, there are suddenly others along the way, and we lapse into the breathless race of comparison, and then we are hopelessly running to avoid being termed a failure.
From here, we often latch onto the nearest goal as a purpose; if we can’t find one nearby, we are thought to be adrift. But our lasting sense of purpose is in our breathing, in our being. As the humanitarian Carol Hegedus reminds us, ‘Our purpose is that which we must passionately are when we pay attention to our deepest selves.’
So underneath all our worries about careers and jobs and retirements, our purpose really comes down to living fully, to being alight with who we are beneath all the names and titles we are given or aspire to.
Imagine Buddha in his moment of enlightenment, of being lighted from within. I doubt if he knew he was aglow. In fact, when Buddha rose from under the Bodhi tree, it is said a monk approached him in utter amazement at his luminosity and asked,
‘Oh Holy One, what are you? You must be a God.’ Buddha, not thinking of himself as anything but present, answered, ‘No…not a God,’ and kept walking.
…The monk, confused, implored, “Then what are you–tell me, please–what are you?!’
Buddha could not repress his joy and replied, ‘I am awake.’
Can it be that our purpose, no matter whom we run into, no matter what we are told, is simply to be awake?”
-Mark Nepo, “To Be Awake,” The Book of Awakening