I grew up on the fully processed and prepackaged diet of the American 1980s. I consumed Saturday morning cartoons right along with heaping bowls of sugar cookie cereal, bags of bright orange cheese curls, tubes of Cheese Whiz, boxes of Little Debbie snacks, and cans of Spaghetti-O’s. If it was edible and came in a package, I ate it. My mother is from Sicily, which is a food centric culture. She complained about these awful American foods and provided plenty of home cooked dinners. But as a busy mom, the convenience of those packaged delectables and the constant advertisements on TV were hard to resist.
I’m vegan now, so obviously I started questioning my actions and choices. Most people today accept that Cheese Whiz and cake snacks are not the best food choices, and that watching TV all day is not healthy. But what if we applied this thinking towards other aspects of our lives? You see, I believe that blind consumption applies to everything. Consumption without the ability to discern, reflect, and question is harmful at best, and violent at worst.
Luckily for me, as a child of the 1980s I was also given loads of free time to wander around outside, to invent, to play, and to create. During long school vacations, my mother would send me and my younger brother outside for the whole day in rain, sun, or snow (now I see she needed that quiet mom time!). We only came back in to grab a canned meal or a bag of food, and then we were outside again until dinner. This “unplugging” provided another kind of nourishment that continues to feed me to this day. My inner creative muse was constantly enchanted by the elements and the natural world. I never lost this love of creativity, and when it came time to “making a living,” I continued to choose creativity over a prepackaged life (well, most of the time…).
It’s easy to purchase and consume the contemporary, commercial, capitalist diet of Western culture. But the purpose of life isn’t to acquire masses of wealth; own a home (or two); a car (or three); multiple credit cards; luxury cruises; online shopping; and to have our eyes glued to the news all night.
No, I am not a Luddite. I am not shunning owning a house, a car, a credit card, vacations, or shopping. In fact, I have done all these things too, and yes, I have over-consumed the news while trying to process our tumultuous world events. What I am saying is that these things are not the foundation of what makes us happy and content. The drain and discord we feel in life is directly proportional to our relationship with these superficial pursuits. They do not provide our sense of purpose and meaning.
I believe that we are here to embrace the enchantment and mystery of our own unique voice, vision, and life path. I believe we have a responsibility to remember our unique and creative soul purpose.
According to ancient Greek philosophy, our souls choose a life purpose before birth. You can read in depth about this belief in the Myth of Er told by Socrates. In this tale, the hero Er dies in battle but is revived nine days later and shares what he’s seen in afterlife. Er explains that after one dies, the soul goes to an interim space, passing through different gates. Each soul has complete freedom to choose its next life path. Often, this choice is based on the experience of the previous life. After a soul chooses its path, it swallows the water of forgetfulness and is reborn, remembering nothing of the world in between or the choices that were made. Accompanied by a guardian spirit, each soul is given the chance to learn and to explore this life purpose.
In Er’s story, those souls who lived a mediocre life, with no particular trials or tribulations, chose to repeat the same life path out of habit and fear of risk. This ancient tale reminds us that though we bring a unique vision into the world, we sometimes fall into complacency, conformity, peer pressure, and habit. We fear taking risks, we fear discomfort, and we fear the unknown. Often, we are told by someone else to “get the reliable job,” to have that “failsafe plan,” and the most harmful tale, “creativity and creative pursuits are selfish and won’t support you.”
Our soul purpose is a kind of contract with ourselves and with the World Soul. Following our purpose isn’t about serving our own selfish needs, it is about asking how our unique gifts can help serve others and contribute to a more peaceful and passionate world. We might think we are avoiding risks by consuming a prepackaged and “failsafe” life plan. But the truth is we never know exactly what is going to happen, and there is never a fail-safe plan. The year 2020 and the violent insurrection on the capitol building on January 6 should have made that very clear.
According to an article in The Guardian, the top regret of the dying is the wish to have lived a life true to one’s self, not the life expected by others. It is time to step up and resist a prepackaged life and embrace your innate creative impulse. Haven’t you known it all along? Haven’t you felt your heart tug at some secret longing? There is no single way to embrace your soul purpose, and that is the beauty of it. In fact, in this process you are very likely to make mistakes and some very big messes. Embracing your soul purpose takes courage, humility, passion, and persistence. The only guarantee is knowing that the world is waiting for you to commit to this contract with yourself.
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Photo: Sebastian Staines on Unsplash