Purpose

I mentioned in my previous post that I’m beginning to have a renewed sense of purpose after three-and-a-half years of not really having one. At that time, I had an momentary experience of nothingness, which I’ve called “the suck” or “the empty ​​​​holodeck.” It not only shattered my concepts of God, but also left me without a sense of purpose.

The experience was freeing in some ways: I felt free from being watched by an omnipresent eye in the sky, and it completely blew away what I call “the personal metaphor”—thinking of God as a “person” in some way, however abstract, with desires and feelings similar at some level to ours. Also gone was the assumption that the world was “real,” in the ultimate sense. The only thing left was that I still seem to be “here” (whatever that means), and that I still experience the appearance of a world around me. What I had in place of “God” and “the world” was a mystery: what causes the experience of there being a world? What does all this come from?

And though that was a bit disorienting, it was definitely freeing. It cleared my head by rendering almost every religious and philosophical debate moot, except for the few things that really matter, but which can’t be answered by the mind, anyway.

Religion was cleared away in a instant, with certainty, such that whenever I hear any traditional appeal to higher authority; “the Bible says…”, “the Church teaches…”, “God wants…”, I have to smile (or I have to remind myself to smile!) and remember that almost everyone naturally bases their fundamental assumptions on memes they’re taught, rather than the undeniable aspects of their own experience.

(On the other hand, don’t think I became an atheist. To me, the popular atheists of today have a pathological lack of curiosity and might as well be dead when it comes to investigating reality. Dismissing literalistic interpretations of sacred texts is child’s play, but where is the interest in the big questions? What causes the universe to appear? What caused the Big Bang?)

So how does this all relate to me losing my sense of purpose? Simple. I had found my purpose in my beliefs, and when my beliefs were gone, my purpose went, too. Hence, “the suck.” So for more than three years, I’ve been drifting in a sense. Now, that isn’t as bad as it might sound. I’ve generally been happy, only rarely depressed. But something has been missing; I’ve felt a lack of motivation, certainty, purpose. It felt a little bit like I was in a fog, because I couldn’t find my “purpose” or “destiny,” and had a feeling that I needed that to be really happy.

I’ve recently started seeing things a bit differently: that not having a predetermined purpose means freedom! There is nothing written anywhere in the cosmos that declares “Jon Zuck is to be such-and-such and do this or that.”

I am free to create and choose a purpose, follow it, change it, resist it, not have one, whatever, but I definitely feel more rooted and alive with purpose than without.

One thing that’s coming into focus as a part of my purpose now, is a desire to help improve the world where people are suffering. Years ago, I was active in Amnesty International as a “Freedom Writer,” petitioning dictators around the world for the release of prisoners of conscience. Then, for several years while I concentrated on the inner quest, I only supported Amnesty financially. Now, I’m wanting to be more active again in influencing this world I’m experiencing, and I’m getting a bit more active with Amnesty again.

18 thoughts on “Purpose

  1. I am free to create and choose a purpose, follow it, change it, resist it, not have one, whatever, but I definitely feel more rooted and alive with purpose than without.

    It seems like you are describing something more akin to being ‘in the flow or ‘in the moment’… having the freedom to live from that place, that point of view, versus having to live some predefined paradigm.

    So, I am wondering if that is an accurate thing that I am reading into your post, and if so, do you feel that being more ‘centered in the moment’ is what is helping you get a better focus on your purpose for being?

  2. Well, I really can’t say for sure. I’m just beginning to come out of the purposeless aspect of it, and I’m just beginning to realize that I’m in control of it.

    Your question is a bit like asking a toddler if his shoes are responsible for him winning marathons. I’m just not there, yet. I’m flattered, though. :-)

  3. Jon, I should tell you that your website really helped me get through a tough spell of doubt about four and a half years ago, and I want to thank you for writing some “frimmin” stuff.

    I was questioning the reality of God as a freshman at the University of Tennessee. You see, I had grown up having deep personal experiences of awe, transcendence, and unity as a rather liberal United Methodist, and my questioning came mostly from a very strong rational and scientific urge. This had served me well, and forced me to become stronger in faith and more understanding of others in the past, but it also led to my interest in psychology, where I felt limited by reductionism and determinism, I definitely felt stuck in the “suck”, if you will.

    The really interesting thing is… that your writing (which I found by google search after many fruitless nights of search for information) about consciousness, quantum physics, mysticism, a loving God really hit a nerve in my spirit. First, I was given new information (which led me to learn more along the same ideas, fulfilling an information gap that helped calm what I felt must be rational doubts – I’d have to go search right now to find what part of your site exactly, but I read a lot of your stuff). Second, I could see that you felt that you had experienced the peace of a universal and loving God. Third that these true experiences had led and informed your opinions and beliefs. The combination of these three commanded my respect and served collectively as catalyst for the re-emergence of spiritual hope in my life.

    I guess that I just wanted to say thank you, and give you some encouragement. Suck time isn’t fun, though it certainly teaches us a lot. Keep searching, and more importantly, listening. And good luck with your journey, it sounds like your on your toes again.

    P.S. What are your thoughts on Deepak Chopra?

  4. Thanks for the encouragement, Jake.

    And thanks for the thanks, too!

    I’ve never actually read Chopra, so I really can’t say.

  5. Well, I really can’t say for sure. I’m just beginning to come out of the purposeless aspect of it, and I’m just beginning to realize that I’m in control of it.

    Jon, you may enjoy this perspective…

    Recently on my site (where we have a master teacher participating from time to time), Sensei pointed out something that very much captured my attention.

    In response to a question regarding “who am I” – and the context of the questions was, ‘where are my thoughts coming from’ – he replied something to the effect that, “Your thoughts are coming from the Beings that your higher self is surrounded by. So, if you look on the other side, you will find there are various levels of heaven and hell. And right now, in this moment, you are residing somewhere in that… on the other side.

    “If you are in a point in your life where things feel confused, then that is because your higher self is residing in a place on the other side that houses the beings of confusion, the people or beings who see confusion as a natural way of living and who don’t mind ‘being’ in that.”

    So, I asked, “If my thoughts are coming from these other beings, what role do I, as an individual, play in that?”

    “Choice,” he replied. “You can choose to hang out with them, or choose to move more upward (inner) or downward (outer).”

  6. Got to say – I’m loving this site and what you are sharing Jon. I found it by doing a search for “Christian Panentheism” after I heard the term and then researched it a bit. It’s nice to have an actual term to describe how you view existence.

    I send people here often to get a fresh, honest perspective on the reality of God. Thank you!

    – Byron

  7. BTW, in response to someone’s question above about Deepak Chopra – an interesting debate can be found by searching “Nightline Face-Off – Does Satan Exist?” on youtube. In that series (which a friend of mine attended) there is some very enlightening interaction between Deepak and various Christian fundamentalists.

    – Byron

  8. Cool, Byron. I’m sure that’s about to be awesome, when I watch it. I wonder if he’s more of a buddha than a bodhisattva… either way, he is inspiring and in touch with much of America’s spirituality. (I’ve noticed) I just read “Getting to Know God” and thought his insights were interesting, but I didn’t quite connect/have a different perspective with everything he said.

  9. I can relate. While I haven’t lost any beliefs (I’ve only had the One for twenty years), I still managed to become confused and directionless over the course of the last few. The experience seems very similar to what you’ve described. Fortunately, though, (as you noted earlier) there has been quite an explosion of writing on metaphysical subjects of late — so much so that it’s sometimes difficult to separate the wheat from the chaff, as it were.

    While the major religions are still promoting dualities, however, their founding teachers and sacred texts all point to the inverse. From the Tree of Life being considered preferable to the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil in the biblical book of Genesis to Jesus’ understanding that he was (and we are) “the Way, the Truth and the Life” to the same realization arrived at by Sufi master Mansur al-Hailaj to Eastern philosophies of nonduality, all our traditions teach exactly the same thing: “God” is Truth; “God” is Being. This is the Ultimate Reality and why Jesus answered the Pharisees’ accusation of blasphemy with “Is it not written in your Law, ‘I have said you are gods’?” The answer “received” to the question of God’s name in his tradition (and ours) was “I AM” and the question “Who am I?” is consistently answered by the still, small voice within as I Am That.

    This understanding of self-realization and Self-realization is universal in the human experience and entirely consistent with the core teachings of every spiritual tradition on earth. The only thing standing in the way of fulfilling our inherent destiny as a species is us and all we need do surmount that hurdle is yield our own egos to Nisargadatta’s That.

    By far, the one contemporary author who has a perfect grasp of this as well as the human condition and how it can be transformed, imho, is A.H. Almaas.

    There are so many other book (and blog) recommendations that come to mind, it’s unreal, but perhaps I should leave it at that.

    Namaste.

  10. quote you:
    It felt a little bit like I was in a fog,
    because I couldn’t find my “purpose” or “destiny,” and had a feeling that I needed that to be really happy.

    Jon, you do not need a “purpose” or “destiny” in order to be happy. There are many ways to look at this,
    but I find it exceedingly difficult to express my thoughts. It always is when it comes to the big questions.

    I’ll give it a try (and probably fail, but nothing ventured, nothing gained, right?)

    You are a unique individual, as is everybody else who lives and has ever lived on this planet. It is hard
    for the West to accept, but we are NOT in control of that life. Your heart beats, you breathe, your intestines
    process the food you eat, your cells turn that food into energy for your heart to beat, to breathe, for your
    neurons to fire in order to sit up, read this message and do all kinds of other things. You can’t breathe if
    there isn’t a mixture of air suitable to your lungs. Trees and plankton provided the oxygen you need in order
    to breathe and live. The whole lot would evaporate into space if planet didn’t have an athmosphere.

    Jon, the fact that you and I are alive at all is a miracle. I relate to your website because I have always
    thought that “God” is not a “person” but a personification of that miracle. I also relate to the post above
    (nameste) that “Brahman” (the World soul) is essentially the same as “Atman” (the true “Self”). Arghh…the
    words fail. Have you seen this?
    http://www.awareness.tk

    I wish you happiness and joy, even in these times which must be difficult for you with the loss of you mom and
    you cats.

    Love,
    Margreet

  11. I have been down so many paths these past few years, but something always seems to bring me back to this site.
    I can relate to your expression of “Purpose”, Jon, and (as usual) I always find some inspiration here; some comfort in knowing I am not alone in the things I question and views to which I return again and again.
    Meditation has helped me tremendously. That is where I experienced that feeling of “nothingness” or space between thoughts and reaction. Studying Buddhism as a method of mind training (not a religion) was also a very liberating experience.
    Still I am drawn here for the shared freedom I find.
    Many thanks for your thoughts. Many bessings for your journey in discovery of “thou art that”.
    Best regards to you and all fellow travellers who congregate here.

    James
    I hope you continue

  12. Hi Jon and everybody else posting here.

    Just thought I would make a link available to a website that you all might enjoy.

    http://www.shalomplace.com

    perhaps some of you know about it.

    It is a Christian spirituality website dealing predominantly with mysticism and spirituality issues with a significant amount of content discussing the relationship between Christian mysticism and Eastern Forms of mysticism (go to the discussion board).

    I have found them extremely valuable in the way they are able to encourage the relationship between Eastern and Western modes of conciousness without loosing what I considered beautiful & true about my Christian faith.

    Jon, I especially thought you may enjoy interacting with some of the participants on the site regarding your non-dual experience as many/most of them have had the same/similar experiences within a Christian paradigm. They may be able to help you gain fresh insight into your experience as it is always great to learn and explore as part of a community.

    Much Love in the Lord Jesus

    Jacques

  13. Jon,
    I was raised a Fundalmentalist Christian, although I did not not know that’s what society called me. When I was little I just thought we were like every other Christian. Soon after reaching adulthood I finally confessed to myself that I could no longer believe in a loving God condemning “non-believers” to hell, so very counterintuitive,you know? So I drifted first to agnosticism, then toward atheism. But I felt lonely, empty, pointless. Finally ended up at Progressive Christianity. I really wanted to hold onto Jesus but just not in the form that was dished out by my previous hellfire/brimstone church.
    I read alot. Still not sure what reality is but I have learned to surrender to whatever is. That certainly doesn’t end my curiosity. I’m glad I stumbled onto you site. I do identify with the mystic approach to Christianity. It’s the only view of Chistianity that makes sense. Your site is great for identifying verses that clarify what my soul already knows.
    You spoke about Gravitons and the suck. Have you by any chance watched any of Nassim Harmein’s Unification Theory? It has to do with all matter being a black hole, it’s really cool. You could find it on Google Video and youtube if you’re interested.

    Thanks for sharing your most private thoughts. It takes courage to help others while struggling yourself.

  14. On the subject of “reductionism and determinism”–these things are, true, valued in the sciences. And its true that guys like Richard Dawkins take delight in lumping all “religion” (which according to cognitive anthropologists defies easy definition) together and setting straw-men aflame. But reductionism is merely looking at the parts, the error comes in conflating the parts with the whole.

    Determinism is a whole other animal. Almost every time the question of determinism impinges on the question of free will (which is really what people want to know). For my part, I think the question of whether or not we have free will is not really answerable, that’s because what we are really asking is what “caused” a person’s behavior? If genes and environment “caused” it (or any other deterministic laws of physics, chemistry, etc.), and there are no other determinants, then there really is no free will, and the subjective sense of free will is “an illusion”. On the other hand, subjectively, we certainly FEEL like we have free will. From the ego perspective, when asked “what caused the behavior?”, we say “I did!” Determinists respond with all the data that show just how little of our actions are consciously determined (about 5%) and say that given the brain’s deterministic, though nonlinear/chaotic structure, what we choose to do is still deterministic, which seems to debunk free will.

    But there’s a deeper problem here; that of causation. Causation is a mental construct. It’s an innate idea we are born with due to our evolutionary history; in fact, cause-effect exists in our minds because it is a pragmatic heuristic for survival, not because it is an inherent property of the physical universe. We know this from both psychological experiments that show the inconsistency of the concept, and from physics which at the microscopic level requires neither causation nor even time to exist. Note that I’m not saying that mental constructs like causation are “illusionary”, just that they are part of our inherited mental tools that help us understand the universe, and that because we are limited mortals, our tools are not perfect. In other words, when it comes to Absolute Reality, God knows; I don’t.

    So that means that free will–which is a question of causation–becomes a question that we answer heuristically with the mental tool “causation” (i.e., I caused it; he caused it, she caused it), but that beneath that observation is a complete mystery we are *trying* to understand using the concept of “causation”.

    We understand all deep mysteries using mental tools. They aren’t perfect, but they’re what we have–but that doesn’t mean the mystery doesn’t exist, only that it’s difficult to understand it because our brains are that of homo sapiens. To the question of “purpose” or “meaning” then, I respond the same way. Perhaps the universe has a purpose–that God has a purpose is a similar statement. But we can’t know rationally what it is, but intuitively, through introspection, we can describe it in symbolic (read: using mental tools) terms.

    IMO, God has a definite purpose, and I have no idea what it is, but I sure as heck *feel* like it’s important for me not to stray from it just because it’s tough to understand concretely. To me, being with God means being “in synch” or con-temporaneous (contemplative) with God on this subject, and God’s ineffable response is always in symbols and feelings. Perhaps the “purpose” (another mental tool is teleological reasoning) is simply quiet being. Doubt if it helps, but that’s my opinion :)

    Sorry for the ramble. Cheers.

  15. Reading your post on “purpose,” I was reminded of something I’d recently read from Victor Frankl, the founder of Logo therapy and survivor of Nazi death camps:

    “We can discover meaning in life in three different ways: (1) by creating a work or doing a deed; (2) by experiencing a something or encountering someone; and (3) by the attitude we take toward unavoidable suffering.”

    But what especially seemed relevant to your post was what Frankl said about the big suck of a concentration camp:

    “It did not matter what we expected from life, but rather what life expected of us.
    We needed to stop asking about the meaning of life-daily and hourly. Our answer must consist, not in talk and meditation, but in right action and in right conduct. Life ultimately means taking the responsibility to find the right answer to its problems and to fulfill the tasks which it constantly sets for each individual.”

    I find some comfort in that. Thank you for your courage, authenticity and honesty.

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