Is There Really Such A Thing As Purpose?
I read an article on the New York Times this week that I wasn’t expecting to like.
Mostly because the title felt a little, well, negative…
“The Universe Does Not Care About Your Purpose”
It’s a title which, factual or not, isn’t particularly inviting. It doesn’t scream uplifting! or empowering! does it? No one really wants to hear that their life has no purpose and that even if it did the universe doesn’t give a sh*t about it. Especially someone like me who genuinely believes in the power of the universe. I’ve never prescribed to one sole religion; I was raised with Christian values, had a Catholic grandmother, went to an Anglican school, and have recently been resonating with Buddhism after discovering meditation a couple of years ago. So I don’t pray to a God but I do speak to the universe from time to time and I believe it listens.
This NYT author does not.
He believes that ‘purpose’ is a fictional idea created by humans to make themselves feel better, “Purpose is a universal human need – without it, we feel bereft of meaning and happiness.” Which is actually true if you think about it; people that are overcoming substance abuse, healing from tragedy, or facing adversity need purpose. They need to believe that there is something greater at play than the bad hand they’ve been dealt. They need to believe that they are part of something bigger, that the universe has a plan for them. Today, it is widely acknowledged that those without a purpose are more prone to mental illnesses like depression.
Or maybe we crave purpose because we crave control. There are very few things we truly have control over in our lives and having a sense of purpose feels solid. It’s something we can focus our attention on and it feels concrete, or at least this author thinks so, “Purpose springs from our longing for permanence in an ever-changing universe. It is a reaction to the universes indifference to us.” Although I don’t know if I completely agree with that. The author said that “in the grand scheme of things, you and I are enormously insignificant“, but that is categorically untrue and here’s why:
Everything in this world is made up of energy, and energy flows where your attention goes. So if you see something in your community that upsets you and you shift your energy towards creating a petition and getting people to sign it, and you receive enough signatures to get the attention of your government, and consequently a new law is passed, then I would argue that you are, in fact, enormously significant. Energy flows where your attention goes. The same idea can be applied to the energy we create within ourselves: if we fill our minds with feelings of self-doubt, insecurity, and self-loathing, if we constantly tell ourselves that we aren’t healthy, wealthy, successful or loved, then that is what will manifest in our lives, over and over again.
Energy flows where your attention goes.
And that’s where the author and I start to find some common ground, “An indifferent universe teaches us that this life matters and that we are responsible for it.” The universe is not indifferent to you, but it doesn’t dictate your fate either – you do. Love and friendship, war and conflict, are all self-inflicted. What you put out into the universe, you will get back.
You might not agree with anything of this and I’m okay with that. I’m not a competitive person, on beliefs or anything else really, and it’s okay if you agree with the author that the universe doesn’t care.
But even if that’s true, even if there’s no science to support the arugment that purpose exists outside of our minds, even if there is no rational reason to believe the universe will send us signs if we are open to receiving them – even with all of that taken into consideration, isn’t it better to just believe that it does anyway? In my opinion, in 2017, believing in anything feels like an achievement.
Robert Pattinson (Robb!!) summed it up best in Remember Me,
“Gandhi said that whatever you do in life will be insignificant. But it’s very important that you do it, because nobody else will.”