Finding purpose

(Originally posted – 17th February 2020)

There were many reasons for me to pack up my bike and set off on a round the world trip. I can look back and see that these reasons all correlated with unmet needs. Just about everything we do in life is geared towards the pursuit of unmet needs. At that juncture of my life, having emerged off the academic production line, I didn’t have the awareness or the vocabulary (emotional or verbal) to identify these needs. I felt discontent and somehow incomplete. It was as if the production line had failed to add in certain key components that were required to make a finished product. In the realms of understanding myself: my emotions, my mind, my needs – along with understanding the world around me – I felt massively deficient. At that time, my analysis of my general predicament could only surmise that something was missing. In hindsight I can reflect that there were a whole bunch of needs that were not being met (connection, love, community). Perhaps the most significant that was lacking, the one that drove me to escape, was purpose.

So, where do we find purpose? Beyond merely surviving and meeting other needs, what are the reasons why we do things? Having purpose in life is an incredibly important and fundamental human need. Without purpose we easily succumb to boredom, anxiety and depression. Our minds can take over and overwhelm – leading us towards addictive behaviours that provide temporary relief from this lack of purpose.

It is easy to see within our current system that it can be difficult to find purpose when we have to spend so much of our time working to pay for our survival. Collectively we are all predominantly running around trying to pay off the endless debt perpetuated by our current economic and monetary systems. As a result, time to ourselves to find and to fulfil the need for purpose becomes like another kind of debt, psychologically begging to be repaid.

Finding purpose in my life has been a constant journey, a persistent compass point. Perhaps I always knew what my purpose in life is – to make a positive change in the world. The tricky part has been finding ways in which to do that. A purpose without the means to act towards it ultimately fails to meet the need.

Cycling around the world became my purpose for 3 and a half years. It helped fill that void. It was a temporary purpose that provided an arresting activity – but was ultimately devoid of any true meaning. Rather than being the means towards fulfilling a meaningful purpose, it was an education that helped me connect purpose with tangible actions and pursuits.

Sharing and communicating – currently in the form of writing – has been a prominent pursuit that I’ve been trying to fit into my life since the trip ended. In December 2018 I self-published a book about my journey. “It’s Just a Ride” is currently available on Amazon and is also available as a free eBook on my website. Having gained such a valuable education from such a special experience, I felt a strong purpose to pass this on in some way. The book is interwoven with experiences from the journey along with reflections on the world and the human condition – a greater understanding of which I gained through this slow traversal across countries and continents by bike.

Going forward, through this blog and social media, I want to continue to explore sharing and communicating through writing, and also through more immediate means like pictures, graphics and animations. I’m feeling good that I’ve found a slot in my schedule to work on these things – my twice weekly commute to Edinburgh on the train. I can feel a sense of fulfilment and purpose that was previously lacking before setting this schedule in place.

If I was able to, I would perhaps devote more time to this to fill up my purpose bean counter even more. But my purpose and time have been almost entirely taken over by something else. Since becoming a father in February 2019, I have discovered an abundant and deep well of meaning in my life. Providing an enriching and nurturing environment for my daughter (Luna), attending to her needs and helping guide her into this world have given me an almost overwhelming surge of responsibility in my life. Where before it felt extremely lacking, I now have an almost constant feeling of purpose every day the moment I wake up.

Providing this level of care and unconditional love for a child was not where I thought my attention lay in life. I wanted to focus on talking about issues and injustices, bring more awareness to less talked about topics and discuss ways out of this mess we currently find ourselves in. Whilst I will continue to try and do this, the sheer amount of responsibility on my shoulders for the welfare of one individual focuses the majority of my attention onto Luna.

With this renewed focus I’ve come to see that it does not detract from my overall purpose – in fact it directly contributes towards it. I’ve found that I now have an immediate and tangible opportunity to contribute towards positive change. I guess I never made the connection before – that parenting is the fundamental starting point for all change in the world. For every problem in the world there is a root cause. If we look at problems related to human behaviour and go digging even deeper amongst the roots of these problems, then we will always be following the cumulative effect of the psychological, physiological and social experience of our environment over time, leading us all the way back to the moment of conception. Those formative years are a crucial time in our lives. In this collective perpetual pursuit of unmet needs there are none more important than the unmet needs of children.

Perhaps my problem was that I was always looking at the bigger picture. Tangible contributions towards the purpose of improving this bigger picture are hard to come by. I can buy the local/ ethical/organic/sustainable/recycled/second-hand product. I can work for an organisation that isn’t driven by profit and productivity. I can write down words and toss them into the void of the internet. I can think way too much about the world and how I contribute towards it. And every so often I can curl up and drown myself in music and scream inside at how depraved, unjust and unconscious our current situation has become. Yet with all these actions there is little to no feedback. One can only have faith that these actions and approaches are having a positive contribution to the whole, that – over time – will proliferate and produce a more tangible positive change for future generations.

Now as a parent I can begin to focus more on my immediate environment and the positive change I can make there. I would never want to neglect the bigger picture. I do have faith that all our individual actions are contributing to the whole, albeit the change may be very gradual. But I can now appreciate more and feel nourished by the tangible actions I can take that are within my immediate grasp. It has been quite the personal journey for me. Moving from the macro to the micro, from global to local and from being an individual to having a family and a community around us.

Cycling round the world helped me see the whole. Suddenly the world wasn’t so big and the boundaries that try to separate and divide us dissolved away. My connection to community, to family, extended way beyond my initial perception. I cherish this part of me that allows me to feel connected to the whole, even though it may have obscured my vision and connection with my more immediate surroundings. Moreover, I cherish the arrival of Luna into my life and how this has enabled me to see and connect with my immediate environment and help massively in fulfilling my need for purpose.

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