Living with Purpose

living with purpose“[I]t seems less about discovering my grand purpose and design, and more about living with purpose, that is, in a purposeful, mindful way – being present to what is within me and around me in every moment.”

Often, people interested in minimalism believe in living with purpose. For some, this means switching careers to find more meaningful paid employment.

However, I’m reading two books, neither related to minimalism, that challenge the common idea that living with purpose means earning a living with an especially meaningful job.

“And yet meaningful work is hard to come by. Not everyone can teach school or cure illness. Plenty of us do not get the kind of work we want, and plenty more can find it difficult to stay focused on the meaning of what we are doing.”
– Barbara Brown Taylor

An Altar in the World: A Geography of Faith, by Barbara Brown Taylor is, as the title suggests, about finding God out in the world, not just at church.

Don’t stop reading if you’re not religious, though. What she says will still apply to you, with a little creative rewording in your head.

In the chapter called The Practice of Living with Purpose, Taylor says:

One common problem of people who believe that God has one particular job in mind for them is that it is almost never the job they are presently doing.

This means that those who are busiest trying to figure out God’s purpose for their lives are often the least purposeful about the work they are already doing. . . .

The mission to read God’s mind becomes a strategy for keeping their minds off their present unhappiness, until they become like ghosts going through the motions of the people they once were but no longer wish to be.

Obviously, the same is true for those who are looking for a job to fulfill their inner passions, rather than the one they believe is a call from God.

One of the points she’s making is that, in looking for the perfect future job, we’re missing out on opportunities to find meaning and purpose today.

Taylor goes on to describe her solution:

When old work has become meaningless and new purpose is hard to find, I recommend cleaning baseboards. . . .Washing a dog also works. . . .

I no longer call such tasks housework. I call them the domestic arts, paying attention to all the ways they return me to my senses. . . .

This is my practice, not yours, so feel free to continue calling such work utter drudgery. The point is to find something that feeds your sense of purpose, and to be willing to look low for that purpose as well as high.

Living with purpose isn’t necessarily about the big things (though it can be). We can find meaning in creating a pleasant place to live by cleaning the house or in making nutritious meals for our families.

“[K]nitting. . .is just one of the many crafts you can practice to make a difference personally, locally and globally. The key is to. . .find a way to use the skills and knowledge. . .to create positive change in the world.”
– Betsy Greer

The second book is Knitting for Good!: A Guide to Creating Personal, Social, and Political Change Stitch by Stitch, by Betsy Greer.

She writes first about how we can benefit from craft. Benefits include expressing ourselves creatively, feeling pride in our work and calming our minds.

Part II of Knitting for Good discusses ways to build community through craft. Crafting in public can create the opportunity to talk to a stranger. You can join a crafting group, teach children or prisoners to knit, or spend time crafting with those in a retirement home.

If you’d prefer, craft for a charity. For example, you can knit mittens for Afghans for Afghans, sew burial gowns for hospitals to give families who lose babies, or crochet lapghans for wounded soldiers.

Part III addresses more global aspects of crafting. Greer writes, for example, about how craft can make us less consumerist. We can create more of our own goods as well as buy handcrafted goods instead of those made in a factory. She also discusses ways craft can be political.

Greer closes the book with the following:

Start making this world a better place slowly, even if it’s just stitch by stitch by stitch. Each of your actions causes a ripple effect, just as each move of your hand around the needle causes a stitch – they create something that wasn’t there before, sending creativity, hope, and light out into the world.

What about you? Do you believe living with purpose means changing the world in a big way?

Or can you live with purpose by baking bread for your family, scrubbing the sink or knitting a pair of socks?