The struggle and burden of purpose
This is my 247th installment of my “Inspiration Weekly” newsletter.
I’m writing it, as I usually do, late Sunday evening, the night before it gets published.
And I have confession: Many times, writing my newsletter is not a pleasure, but a chore, a burden.
So why do I do it?
The great German poet Rainer Maria Rilke, born in 1875, has the answer.
The inner imperative
One of the most popular and influential poets of all time, Rilke has been praised as “a master who can lead us to a more fulfilled and less anxious life.”
Many young people often wrote to Rilke seeking help and comfort. Between 1903 and 1908 he wrote a series of responses to one young aspiring poet in particular, Franz Xaver Kappus, a nineteen-year-old officer cadet at a German military academy.
Those responses were later published in a book entitled Letters to a Young Poet.
Kappus mailed several of his poems to Rilke and asked him to read them and tell him if they were any good.
“You’re looking outward. You’re asking me. That you must stop doing. You must ask yourself in the stillest hour of your darkest night, ‘Must I write poetry?’ And if the answer is a clear and simple ‘yes,’ you must base even your most unassuming hour on the inner imperative of this inner must.”
The “inner imperative of an inner must.” This is Authentic Purpose. This is the work for which you were born.
Authentic Purpose is the thing you can’t not do. The thing you will do whether or not you get paid, or whether or not anyone else cares.
It’s the thing that pulses in your veins and beats in your heart underneath all the fears and excuses.
It’s the thing you must do in order to keep your sanity and be able to live with yourself.
Living purpose isn’t always easy
This doesn’t even mean you like it all the time. In fact, many times it feels like a burden. It can even feel like a curse.
This is why, as Jonah ran from his call, we so often run from ours. Purpose is a great risk.
What if we can’t make money?
What if no one cares about what we do?
What if we are forced to toil in obscurity for years and never get recognized for our work?
What if it requires us to confront great danger?
What if we’re not up to the task?
What if our meager creations pale in comparison to our vision of the ideal?
What if, what if, what if…
The struggle of purpose is the struggle of ego — that part of you that craves comfort, security, fame, and fortune, with no regard to how you achieve them.
The ego screams “No!” and the heart whispers “Yes.”
The ego begs, “I want to be seen.” The heart smiles softly and answers, “That doesn’t matter.”
The ego whines, “But how will I make money?” The heart reminds, “Consider the lilies of the field…”
The ego whimpers, “But I don’t know how to do it.” The heart comforts, “You don’t need to know the ‘how’ when you have the ‘why.'”
The ego sighs, “But I’m too old.” The heart patiently points out, “The time will pass anyway.”
The ego moans, “But it’s too hard!” The heart agrees and says, “Yes, that’s the point.”
The ego, cowering timidly and quaking in its boots, looks outward for confirmation and affirmation. The heart declares, “I have all the answers you will ever need.”
Finding the deepest, truest bliss
The burden of purpose is that it’s not easy. In fact, the bigger the call you accept, the more opposition you can expect.
“Then what’s it all for? If purpose is a struggle and a burden, what’s the point? If it’s not all bliss, why even engage?”
Well, there is bliss, and there is bliss.
There’s the bliss of hanging out on a Saturday afternoon in front of the TV with a cold drink in your hands.
And there’s the bliss of pouring your heart and soul into meaningful work; ignoring the resistance of the ego; losing all track of time; putting your natural gifts, talents, skills, and passion to their highest and best use to make life better for others.
There’s the bliss of building worldly achievements, and the bliss of alleviating suffering.
There’s the superficial bliss of obeying the ego, and the bone-deep bliss of surrendering to soul.
There’s the temporary bliss that comes from external validation, and the lasting bliss of internal peace.
Living purpose is a petty struggle for the ego, but not living purpose is pure agony for the soul. What feels like a great burden to the ego is deep bliss for the soul.
What is your “inner must”?
I write because of an inner imperative of an inner must. Whether or not I feel like it. Whether or not I have anything to say when I sit down at my computer. Whether or not anyone will ever read it.
I learn and teach because I can’t not do so; I would be depressed and tormented if I tried to do anything else.
And how about you? What is your “inner imperative of an inner must”?
If you don’t yet know what that is, here’s a simple question for finding it:
What’s the thing, that if someone came and asked you to do, you couldn’t refuse but would instinctively leap to do it — regardless of pay or recognition?
For example, when anyone comes to me and asks for insights into healing, progression, and purpose, I’m immediately engaged. I must learn the truths of human nature, and I must teach them to anyone who will listen.
You were born for a purpose. That purpose is revealed in your “inner must.”
Following the call of that inner must isn’t always easy. But it is oh, so worth it.
The only thing I had to work with when I sat down to write this was that one quote from Rilke. I had no idea what I was going to say about it.
Do you see how this works? Follow the inner imperative of the inner must. Leap off the cliff into the abyss of the unknown, and purpose will always come to your rescue right when you need it. Always.