|The Purpose of Life
By Robert Mantell, C.M.C., C.M.Ht.
©2006 All Rights Reserved.
Are you one of the millions of people who have taken the time to ponder "the meaning of life"? I'm not talking about your own life, by the way... I'm pretty sure most of us have yet to discover the true meaning of our individual existence here on earth. And chances are, there's no way to quite know the complete answer to why we each have been given the gift of life until the moment comes wherein the light bulb seems to turns on, and we just seem to "get it".
No, I'm talking about the Purpose of Life itself. Why are we here? What is the purpose for our existence?
If you're like me, you've probably asked yourself that question, at least casually, more than once. And yet, even the question itself seems to beg yet greater questions, does it not?
For example, how do we know there even is a purpose to life? What if there is no purpose after all? And how could we truly ever know for sure?
NO, BELIEVE IT OR NOT, I'M NOT THE FIRST PERSON TO EXAMINE THIS QUESTION...
Great thinkers, scientists and philosophers have pondered the purpose of life for hundreds, even thousands of years. Many compelling quotes on the subject are attributed to well-known cultural luminaries including Ralph Waldo Emerson ("If you cannot find the truth right where you are, where else can you find it?"), Mother Theresa ("Life is a promise; fulfill it."), Richard Leider ("The purpose of life is to live a life of purpose.") and Martin Luther King ("Everyone can be great, because everyone can serve.").
Religious figures have been only too happy to share their view of the purpose of life: "We are created in God's image for relationship with him. Being in that relationship is the only thing that will ultimately satisfy our souls."
I certainly do not claim to know the absolute, universal truth of the Purpose of Life. And I'll be the first to admit that I have not, in all likelihood, thought it through to the extent other people have.
But in my role as a professional life skills coach, I find myself often presented with such questions during the course of working with some fairly challenged folks.
For example, some of the people who come to see us do so because they've been suffering terribly with panic attacks, having come on either suddenly and recently, or perhaps having developed over the course of many years.
Invariably, the first experience of a panic attack had been precipitated by overwhelming levels of stress present in our client's life. This stress had usually been present in the person's life for some extended period of time - often unconsciously - before it began to manifest itself to the person's conscious awareness in emotional and/or behavioral symptoms.
But many people aren’t actually aware that they are under all this stress because they’re too busy keeping busy. Some of these people have fallen into a pattern of what we call “The Energizer Bunny” way of life without even being aware of it. This person “just keeps going, and going, and going...” without realizing that the physical and emotional stress of the all-work-and-no-play lifestyle is GOING to catch up with them eventually - it must. And when it does, it typically shows up at a totally unexpected time, in a totally unexpected place, as a panic attack.
Yet, how does it ever get to this point? Well, the exact route is different for different people, but the destination is always the same.
BELIEFS AND VALUES - THE POWER TO CREATE, AND THE POWER TO DESTROY
Some people have developed an overly idealistic work ethic, usually built around long-standing family-of-origin beliefs about the value of hard work and being “productive”. These people have usually been “programmed” by watching their mother, father or both work long, hard hours. Others have literally been told by their parents since they were very young, “Work hard, always give your best effort that’s the key to success in life”. These programmed rules for how to think, feel and behave in particular situations are called beliefs or values.
Without even knowing what makes them tick, these people typically find themselves compelled to be going at it all the time. The classic Type A Personality first characterized by Meyer, Friedman and Rosenman in the 1950s is example of this kind of person, but it’s not the only way this sort of lifestyle habit can display itself.
In fact, we’ve found that some other people developed a problem with panic attacks because they learned to effectively “stuff” (or what our good friend Dr. Freud would term repress) very normal and healthy even crucial expressions of emotion.
These people might have learned growing up that “It’s not OK to show my emotions.” Perhaps the early learning was “Allowing myself to feel leads to great pain”. Either way, these people have often learned through bitter experience to associate pain to the experience of feeling. And that's where they've gotten themselves into trouble.
This sort of programming results in a habitual even automatic pattern of stuffing, or repressing, our all-too-human emotions. And that's not being human after all. Emotions that are too often stuffed particularly emotions with a lot of fight or flight energy behind them, like anger, fear, frustration and the like begin to pile up after awhile, and if not periodically vented, will overflow. That, folks, is called a panic attack.
Thus, these people have typically developed a habit of avoiding pain that effectively puts them out of reach of what would normally be a healthy means of decompressing stress.
SO WHAT'S THE CONNECTION?
Well, all this got me to thinking. You see, after having seen enough clients like this, a pattern was beginning to make itself apparent to me. Lots of people were coming in to see us for help in relieving a pattern of chronic panic attacks who seemed, the rest of the time, to be somewhat quiet, reserved, and generally unexpressive people.
What could be the connection?
Well, one thing was for sure: these people were obviously doing something very wrong with their lives to be suffering from this kind of emotional turmoil almost as though they were violating some sort of major life principle or something and THIS was the price of that kind of mistake.
What kind of life principle could they be violating, if indeed this is the case?
Well, having been familiar for a long time with the eventual cost of stuffing or repressing intense stress (panic attacks!), it occurred to me that one of the things healthy people must learn to do is vent pent-up emotions, by at least periodically giving them expression. People might manage this process of expression through words (verbally communicating what they are feeling), through music and poetry, or perhaps with some behavior or other, such as acting, or through physical contact with others, or maybe just physical contact with a punching bag.
But holding one's emotions in, without ever expressing them appears to be a very, very bad choice.
ALL RIGHT, SO QUIT STALLING ALREADY - SO WHAT'S THE "PURPOSE OF LIFE"???
I don't know how other people do it, but the way I attempted to answer the question was to ask myself another one.
You see, I figured that if indeed there IS a grand design, a general purpose to life, it's probably something that all people would experience, no matter what their race, creed, color, ethnicity, or country of origin might be.
I simply asked myself, "What is the common experience that ALL people share, no matter their age, gender, race, etc.?" I figured that if all people do it, that must be what we're all here to do.
Although I'll be the first to admit I might have missed something, I was able to identify at least two things I believe all people no matter who they are, where they're from, or what they believe do.
The first is to LEARN. Other than people who's brains are physiologically damaged such that the ability to learn is made impossible, virtually everyone learns.
I personally define learning as the ability to benefit from experience. People are unconsciously doing this every moment of every day, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and 52 weeks a year. With every experience a person has, no matter how seemingly trivial or how seemingly monumental, people are LEARNING from those experiences they're filing away, at the unconscious level, the constant feedback they are getting from their interactions in life. It is this internalized feedback that acts as an ever evolving source of data with which to decide how to more successfully interact with their world.
Consciously or unconsciously, they are making decisions about what this or that life experience means. Life events are happening, and they are putting two and two together. They are noting the events that led to a certain conclusion. They are noticing apparent patterns of cause and effect, and drawing conclusions based on what those patterns appear to be (e.g., "Hmmm... Every time I see a red light, everyone seems to stop. Every time I see a green light, everyone seems to go. Gee, I guess 'Red means Stop' and 'Green means Go!')
This kind of unconscious generalizing is called inductive learning, and it's something we all do, all day (and all night!) long with little or no conscious involvement. In fact, with few exceptions, human beings can't not learn.
The second thing all human beings do is FEEL. It's through the experience of feeling that we interpret our experience here on earth. It's how we create personal feedback from our day to day behaviors.
And again, virtually without exception, the process of deciding what feelings to feel in a given situation is driven by totally subconscious processes.
For example, when was the last time you consciously chose how to feel about anything?
Yeah, yeah, I know that most of us can think back on this or that event, and decide we're just not going to let it bother us the way it used to. And we'll think about it and intellectualize what happened until, somehow, some way, we've created a more resourceful meaning for what happened and at that point, we usually feel differently about that kind of situation because we consciously decided we wanted to feel better about it.
But all that happens in retrospect, given the luxury of the opportunity, does it not?
I'm asking about feelings that you spontaneously experience IN THE MOMENT when something "good", "bad" or indifferent happens. How often would you say you consciously choose your emotional reaction to something like that?
Most of us would say, "Never".
So, how do we know how to feel in the moment, given some particular life event? Well, once again, those feeling states are determined by the meaning we quickly and unconsciously assign to the event.
And how do we know what meaning to assign to an event (e.g. "good", "bad" or indifferent)? Again, it comes down to earlier associations we've each made in life to events like this. These earlier associations are the beliefs and values we briefly introduced above, and they impact our lives powerfully, on a daily basis, by dictating just how we will think, feel and respond to the events in our world.
We'll follow up more on the power of beliefs and values to shape not only our day to day experience, but our very destiny, in upcoming future articles.
Think about it if one of the two major "purposes of life" is to FEEL and at some point earlier in life we unconsciously decided it's just not cool to feel, because feeling equals pain well, guess what? That's a recipe for trouble! And it explains why some people have suffered with panic attacks for years, having been to therapists, psychologists, psychiatrists, and doctors and hypnotherapists and acupuncturists, and herbalists, and reiki masters... and they've been prescribed half a dozen different medications you name it, they've tried it all, and nothing has "worked" to cure their panic attacks.
Maybe it's time this person called upon the resources he or she has available to him or her now, as an adult, and used those resources to go back and "unlearn" the unresourceful learning of ages past, "It's not OK to express my feelings". This is usually a relatively straightforward process when effectively using a powerful personal change tool like hypnosis.
Even more compelling, once the old, outdated belief has been effectively removed, a person can install a brand NEW belief about what's really the way to most effectively avoid pain!
Utilizing the conscious resources of the adult, here in the present, to change the unconscious "programming" of the past is often the quickest, most effective, and most permanent way to create profound changes in a persons subjective experience. After all, when a person's unconscious beliefs and rules about how to automatically think, feel and behave in a given situation are altered, the person cannot help but respond to the same situations much differently now completely free of any conscious effort to have to try to feel differently!
Now, that's what I call REAL change!