Life Purpose and Sacred Vision of Work

 Excerpt from The Inspired Organization:

Chapter 2. The Calling of Spirit

Your work is to discover your work and, then with all your heart to give yourself to it. Buddha Vocation is from the latin word vocare – to call. In each of our hearts and souls there is a calling. The calling is to know our life’s purpose. Only through fulfilling our life’s purpose can we truly come to know ourselves and the world in which we live. There is a calling in our souls to be as fully a part of the creative impulse of the planet as we can be. Work that comes as a result of our calling and purpose is the highest and most sacred expression of our soul. In its action, it is the most practical and useful and is for the highest good of all. Every person is here for a sacred purpose and with this sacred purpose comes a sacred vision. To some, consciously realizing life’s purpose is not important. To others, it is important because it provides the meaning of our life and a Source from which to live truthfully and with heart. If we have truly surrendered ourselves to be of service to our families, workplaces and the world at large, we will find that the way to fulfilling our life’s sacred purpose is continually unfolding. In order to respond to the unfolding way, we must be fully conscious and aware in each moment. One of the best models I can think of is a man by the name of Merv Wilkinson, who lives just north of Nanaimo, British Columbia. Merv was honoured for his work in sustainable forestry by winning an award at the 1999 Ethics in Action Awards Dinner in Vancouver, Canada. I have been privileged enough to spend time with Merv in his forest – Wildwood Tree Farm. Merv can be described as a combination of forest elf, sprite and warrior for justice of trees and forests. He expresses his spirituality through his work – by loving and caring for his forest and by advancing and advocating the principles of sustainability. Merv grew up in his forest and has worked there for over 50 years . He had a challenge convincing others that sustainable forestry is possible so he decided to show that it is by simply doing it. One of Merv’s greatest contributions is in the field of education. While going on a tour with him through the forest, I could feel the love he has for it, his garden of trees that he tends with the love of a parent and the wonder of a child. He is always discovering and learning new things about the forest. Merv is an observer first and then a doer – only doing when his observations have confirmed that the path he takes adds to the natural cycles of the forest. When I did a walkabout with Merv it was probably the thousandth time or more that he had shown visitors around. But I would not know this listening to Merv’s passion and enthusiasm for telling the story of the forest and his relationship to his living friend. The forest is both peaceful and vibrant. Stories of bears, cougars and woodpeckers who tend ant farms weave threads of colour through the background of green. Added to that are the concrete indisputable facts of how and why this works spiritually and economically as a business as he respects the cycles of nature. Merv has had 1/3 of his income per year come from the forest over the last 50 years. He employs a miller full-time and the products from his forest are used by over 26 people in services such as boat-building, instrument- building. When he fells a tree it is with the ceremony the tree deserves in tribute for offering its life. Merv is now in his 80’s and an elder. He is endlessly energetic, working in his forest every day. Merv found his life’s purpose and work as a young man and continues to live it, everyday. To discover our life’s purpose, as the Buddha said is the first step in our real work. Our life’s purpose is inside of us. It is written in every cell of our bodies. It is waiting to be called upon. Because it is inside of us it is not even to be discovered or found, it is simply to have the realization of What Is. What Is, is who you are. We do not require outside means to access our life’s purpose, although we may choose to have one or more people and tools support us in discovering the inner knowledge and wisdom that we have about it. The simple truth about our life’s purpose is that it is calling us to be ourselves in every moment. It calls us to release ourselves from the trappings of thoughts and belief systems that we have accepted. Knowing our life’ s purpose is the basis for total inner and outer freedom. When we know our life’s purpose, we have an inner compass. It enables us to set a compass bearing and determine the direction in which we are headed with our lives and work. We might decide to take some interesting sidetrips on our way. Fog might set in and we might be delayed or lose your direction temporarily but knowing our life’s purpose ensures that we will never be completely lost. Knowing our life’s purpose is the basis for having a sacred vision for our lives. When we lose touch with our dreams and visions, we have also lost touch with our purpose, and life becomes meaningless. Visions and the dreams that guide them are the source and substance of a wholly created life and future. We can do anything we envision, if it is also aligned with our life’s purpose. A vision guides us in the present moment on the path of work towards the future. It provides us with hope, inspiration, aspiration and guidance to see our visions and therefore our life’s purpose fulfilled. Knowing these things also helps us to discern where we place our energy at work. When we know our life’s purpose and our vision and express them, we meet like-minded people who share different parts of our vision. Each person holds an important piece of the community vision for our organizations and the world. If our life’s purpose and vision does not fit with that of the organization then it is time to leave. We are wasting both our own energy and that of the organization. We know when this is happening because we find ourselves in situations and with people with whom we feel little connection. Our work will be less than fulfilling because we can be so much more. Knowing our own life’s purpose will help us to choose where we put our energy and resources so that we are most efficient with our energy. We connect with the people who and the resources with which we are meant to work. We support others and they support us. Can you imagine an organization of people who have found their life’s purpose, each working in their purpose, their full energy directed towards organizational purpose? If we are willing and determined to find our life’s purpose, we will find it. It was important for me to find my life’s purpose. There were times that I despaired. Even now after realizing what my life’s purpose is, I have many doubts and fears. But, I now have a different strength and inner capacity knowing that my compass bearing and direction have been set. Knowing my life’s purpose acts as a touchstone and a reminder on the days when I have doubt. Everyday, I am witness to at least one miracle of my life’s purpose and the unfolding of my divine vision in the world. Courtney Milne, internationally renowned photographer and author of Sacred Earth shared the wonderful story of how he started the work of fulfilling his life’s purpose and dreams. Courtney Milne’s Story My story begins in November, 1975, with a telephone call from St. Paul’s Hospital outpatient clinic in Saskatoon. Two days before, my chest was covered in boils and carbuncles so painful that I wondered if I was going to die. I had driven myself to the emergency department where a young intern lanced all the inflammations to relieve the pressure. He asked me if there was a history of diabetes in my family and I assured him there was not, but he strongly recommended I have a five-hour glucose tolerance test to get an accurate account of my blood sugar levels. The phone call was to report that indeed the test had shown a marked skew and that perhaps I should be starting a program of insulin injections. I was shaken; thirty-two years old and everything in my life was going wrong. Earlier that year my wife had announced she would be leaving me the following day. My job as executive director of a large community organization applying for a cable television license was extremely stressful. I felt like a hollow man — a person without a soul. I desperately wanted to be away from the public eye, away from the volatile politics of the job, and doing something more artistic, more creative. But there were no advertisements in the classifieds offering to pay a budding young photographer to create images that touched his heart; not one! On December 1, I lay in my bed, perspiration soaking the sheets. My life had become intolerable. For three nights I had been unable to sleep, wishing somehow that my life would just be over, that I could be put out of my misery. At 3:30AM I arose, dressed, and walked out into a blinding snowstorm. I walked and walked and found myself at the edge of the river, but the winter ice prevented my from drowning my sorrows. I turned away, feeling disgusted that like everything else, here, too, I was a failure. I didn’t even have the gumption to put an end to my plight. At 6:00AM the coffee shop in the downtown bus depot opened. I struggled in out of the chilling wind and ordered a coffee – first customer of the day. I chose a seat by the large plate-glass window and stared at my own reflection encircled by a billion swirling snowflakes, all driven relentlessly into the abyss of sky by an invisible uncaring force. My stare fixed on those penetrating blood-shot eyes in the glass. At that precise instant my life changed forever. I heard an unfamiliar voice state calmly and in plain unmistakable English: “If you want to survive, you will quit your job today, move into the little house on Clarence Avenue, and photograph buffalo and northern lights.” End of transmission. End of my life as I had known it. I put in my resignation that same morning, shaking like a leaf, and borrowed money from my mother for a down payment on a little shack that had no electricity and no heat. On a bitterly cold day in January I moved in with Sasham, my two-year-old Samoyed. I spent my first few nights in a sleeping bag in the middle of the living room linoleum floor, wrapped around a small catalytic heater. I felt extraordinarily happy. Sasha promptly gave birth to a litter of five pups, and in the days that followed I heated Purina Puppy Chow over a Coleman camp stove. I loved my new family and my new life, and that winter I did photograph both buffalo and northern lights. Somehow I managed to keep body and soul together. That all happened twenty-five years ago, and from that fateful beginning I have never looked back, nor ever again become a part of the conventional work world. I offered photography classes, sold my prints at craft shows across western Canada, wrote for photo magazines, led photo tours, and since 1985 have been successfully publishing a series of photography books. Each step has led to the next and through it all, my passion has grown and my work has matured. I now pay a lot of heed to that inner voice, knowing that my creativity and the 420,000 photographs that have sprouted from it, has its roots deeply embedded in radical trust. Oh yes, and by the way, two weeks after the move to the little house, the doctor pronounced, “I don’t know what you did, but your blood sugar levels are perfectly normal; no insulin needed here!” Courtney’s story is typical of those who have had the radical trust to follow their soul’s calling.

Exercises: 1. While reading the following sections of this chapter, reflect on Courtney’s story and how it relates to where you are in your life. 2. Listen to Sarah McLachlan’s song “Sweet Surrender” and reflect on what cold rooms you have left. What cold rooms are in your life that you are either prepared to leave behind or fill with life and warmth.

Know Thyself

The three essential questions we need to ask as we begin our spiritual quest are “Who am I?” and “What is my place in the universe” and “What is my purpose here?” The question of “Who am I?” is paradoxical at best. It seems like such a simple question, such a simple thing to know – after all, haven’t we all lived with ourselves for all of the years of our lives? This question is often a challenge to answer, in part because we are constantly deepening and re-creating ourselves as we live life. The spiritual quest is a path of discovery of the self. The forums where we discover ourselves are in the workplae with our family and in community life, and play. Every interaction, every experience, every moment of every day provides an opportunity for discovering who we really are. Those in the counseling professions say that 90% of their clients are those searching for their own identity. Whether we are in counseling or not, how many of us have felt dissatisfied with our work, have felt that somehow the job doesn’t fit us and that somehow we aren’t using all of our full gifts and talents and our full potential as human beings? Peter Senge describes the “Who am I?” question as “personal mastery”. He says that personal mastery is the “discipline of continually clarifying and deepening our personal vision, of focusing our energies, of developing patience, and of seeing reality objectively. Personal mastery is the learning organization’s spiritual foundation.” At whatever age, in whatever career or job we have chosen, a reasonable goal is to live our lives like a work of art. So we can ask ourselves the question: What would I be doing if I were to create my life as a work of art, to create my life as sacred… for me? What is my passion? What do I love to do? After many years of thinking of myself as a biologist, I said, “This job doesn’t quite fit me. I am limiting my own potential by being in it.” I was afraid to leave my job because it was comfortable, because it was status quo. And yet I felt as though there was something wrong. When I first thought about doing spirituality in the workplace as a job or a career, the barrier I raised was…”but how am I going to make a living doing this?” Once I started taking action to do my vocation, synchronistic events followed one after another so that I could be well-paid for my work by doing keynote speeches at conferences and management consulting and corporate coaching in the area of spirituality in the workplace. I have met people who have told me that they fear concentrating on themselves because it might be selfish. Others have said that they fear that if they look at themselves and their lives, they might not like what they see. Our lives are made up of many cycles of mental, emotional, spiritual and physical birth, growth, maturity, death and rebirth. During these cycles, we can choose to focus on ourselves and do some self-exploration or not. However, we cannot be fully of service to yourself and to others if we don’t know who we are. If we don’t like who we are and what our lives looks like, then we have the opportunity to change. The ongoing investigation of the question, ”Who am I in this moment?” keeps life lively and exciting. Life is a continuing process of experience, integration and consolidation of our experiences. We can continually discover and express our natural gifts, abilities and personal values. We can choose work that is aligned with who we have become and who we are becoming in life. We are human and cosmic beings having both a human and cosmic experience of body, mind and spirit at home and at work. By knowing the intricate fabric of who we are, we can appreciate just how special we all are. We each play an important role in the unfolding plan of the universe. Exercises: Spend time by yourself, reflecting and taking stock. Ask questions of yourself. Write an autobiography and organize it thematically. What are the great passions of your life which bring you joy? Write down the Peak experiences of your life. How did you feel when you were experiencing these moments? Write down all of the things that you love to do and all of the things that you don’t. Knowing who you are not is as important as knowing who you are. What things do you not like to do. What kind of environments do you not like being in? What kind of topics do you not like talking about? Ask yourself this question. What are your gifts and talents? Think of the feedback from others that you have received over the years about your gifts and talents. Ask other people what they think your gifts and talents are. Write down or draw, paint, sing or act out your answers. What kind of subjects do you love to talk about? An Awareness that We Have a Life’s Purpose I had a curiosity about my life’s purpose from a very young age. I asked myself and other people what is the meaning and purpose of life? More important, I asked myself what is the meaning and purpose of my life? It matters not when we start asking this question. If we do ask it, then we already have an awareness that we were not randomly placed without aim and direction on this planet. We each have a destiny to fulfill and a labour of love to give to ourselves, family, community, workplace. Often we make the initial selections about our education or job when we are relatively young. Most of us have not asked ourselves the question, “What is my life’s purpose?” Even if we have, we often need to set out on an intentional voyage of self-discovery to learn more about ourselves. If we were lucky, we were encouraged to choose a job or career on the basis of your known interests, skills, abilities and values at the time. Otherwise we may have taken a job just to survive. When we were young, we may have been heavily influenced by parental, societal and peer values. We may have chosen an field of education or a job according to those. Many of us have the ability to do many things. However, work that is personally meaningful is deeply connected to the spirit, to the heart and to the soul. What is meaningful at one time in our lives may not remain meaningful. The choices that we make at age 21 or 22 may no longer be right at 27 or 28. Those that we made at 27 or 28 may no longer be right for at 36 and so on. The other day, I met a 58 year old man who has been doing landscape design for many years. He said that although it was interesting to begin with, it has become a job. He has always dreamed about being a biologist. He even took biology many years ago in university. He asked me whether I thought it was too late for him to become a biologist. I said, “It’s never too late to do what you dream about. Four years from now you are still going to be 62 whether you have done your dreams or not.” The light went on in his eyes. If our work is not personally meaningful to us, if it does not come from our spiritual values, as suggested by Rutte in Maclean’s Magazine ” those values that lie at the core of humanity, that come from our highest, deepest self,” we feel dissatisfied. When our spirit is not being expressed, when it is unfocused and unaligned, our energy is wasted. When this happens in a career or job our spirit is not nourished. There is no growth because there is no energy to feed our spirit. We can pacify ourselves for a while. Perhaps we can rationalize feeling unfulfilled because the pay and great benefits are great or because our workplace is conveniently located. We carry on… but barely. We feel depressed, lethargic and unenergetic about our work and lives. “Is this all there is to life?” we ask ourselves. In extreme cases, we give so much energy to our jobs without getting any back that we eventually experience “burnout”. When we are “burned out” or feel depressed with our work, it is time for change. We enter into a state of transition. It happens cyclically in our lives. When it happens in mid-life, it has been called our mid-life crisis. I prefer to call it mid-life transition. The new “me” can’t emerge until the old “me” dies. It is important to both be in this depression, discomfort, dissatisfaction and feeling of dying. These are all part of a powerful process that will bring us to the next level of spiritual evolution. At present our society and medical system denies that depression is a part of life and labels it as bad and to be drugged. Each case requires personal as well as medical assessment. Mild depression and dissatisfaction, although not comfortable are often the fertile ground for the seeds of rebirth to take hold. They are motivators for transformation. They motivate us to examine and understand the mental models that Senge describes, “the deeply ingrained assumptions, generalizations and images that influence how we understand the world and take action”. We examine them in light of the experiences that we have accumulated. We see whether those mental models are based on truth or false reality. If they are based on truth then they can be kept. But if they are based on outdated information then we must dispose of them in order to expand ourselves to become all that we can be. Often the calling of our life’s purpose emerges at a time in our lives when we are in such a state. A little voice says, “Maybe my life has a purpose.” When we listen closely we find that it is our own voice that has spoken these words. Then, we know that it is time to find our life’s purpose within us.


1. What do you feel? Listen closely to your body, to your emotions, to what God is whispering in your ear, to what the flight of the butterfly or the song of the birds is telling you. Have you awakened to the presence of the Divine in your life? Is your life filled with joy?

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