A purpose is the place where we are going when we try to finish our little daily tasks, our larger life schemes, and our still larger personal evolution. It is the end point that occurs at different levels of planning, both conscious and unconscious. Without purpose, our actions and our development would just wander and meander aimlessly. It gives our lives focus and form and it gives our senses of self both focus and form. Without an overriding purpose, even if it is to just have as much fun as possible, our senses of self would just fall apart.
And yet it is definitely harder to achieve a purpose in modern technological society. Inhabiting a living environment that is an overly frictionless, overly mediated experiential vacuum, one is without the grounding that one needs in order to generate the traction, the organic friction that he needs to move towards his goals. Traction gives life vibrancy and helps to prevent people from sinking into numbness. When a person is too immersed in numbness, it simply becomes extremely difficult if not practically impossible to carry out his purposes.
But what happens to a person when he is unable to carry out his purposes. For one thing, he loses his connection to linear time. Particularly when a person is floating in an experiential vacuum, the person not only is lost in a spatial vacuum, but in a temporal vacuum as well. In other words, the person is unable to create at a very basic level, a meaningful life narrative, which is the vehicle by which a person can go from point a to point b to point c and thus achieve many different life purposes.
These points on the line of a narrative, these end points for purposes, are also basically the end points for the organic imprints in a person’s life. Some of the imprints are made by the person himself. Some of these imprints are made by the people around him and relate to these other people’s purposes. These imprints are basically impresses made by someone on the experiential surface of the world. And depending on how and why they are made, these imprints can either be evanescent and disappear, or they can be preserved and become permanent. To the extent that some imprints can become permanent, they reflect deep lasting imprints, and they can become elements of an ultimate long-term purpose, that of preparing for death through the creation of a personal surrogate immortality.
Imprints that are evanescent and that disappear are, in their own way, every bit as important as preserved imprints. Because they are short-lived, a person can pack a lot more of them into his life than preserved imprints. And it is the variety of these short-lived imprints that can contribute to the vibrancy of a person’s life, to the intensity of what a person can feel at any given moment. To the extent that these little imprints make life vibrant, they become one flowing blendable continual experience that acts as the foundation for a very different kind of purpose. In other words, not all purposes have to be defined discrete focused entities.
There are people who live to find vibrant joy in the moment. But the notion of the moment is not a precise temporal measure. It is like one of all the undefinable infinite points on a spatial line. And just like all the spatial points blur together to form a flowing blendable continual line, so all the moments in a period of time flow together for a person who lives for the moment to form an ongoing flowing immediate experience. A vibrant immediate experience. This is a purpose with multiple temporal end points and, therefore, no real temporal end point. It is very different from that which we traditionally think of as a purpose. It is a purpose without goals as we normally would think of them.
All this brings a whole new way of looking at the notion of purpose. It means that a purpose is not automatically something that a person has to consciously plan for in order to achieve it. In order to have maximum joy, a person has to be able to turn off his capacity for cognitive reflection and planning. Cognitive reflection and planning tend to keep a person apart from some aspects of the flow of his life narrative. Vibrant joy is something that one tends to live within a preconscious flow of experience. One is so close to that which one is experiencing that one is incapable of properly manipulating it. For a person whose main purpose in life is having immediate joy, we can say that at certain points in his life, such a person may be thinking that he only wants to live for pleasure and joy, and then he goes back to his preconscious mode of thinking.
In living for joy and pleasure, a person is interested in making and receiving a bundle of imprints on himself and less interested in preserving any of them. The only preparation for death is the intensity of sensory immediacy the person has experienced. Somehow, living vibrantly is a kind of ongoing imprint that a person feels he is living on the surface of his field of experience. This, of course, is very different from leaving a series of discrete imprints as a formal preparation for death. The latter deals with a formal purpose in the way that most of us are accustomed to deal with it. But there are people who don’t focus on bracing themselves for what happens to them after they leave their earthly confines.
There is a risk in this. Perhaps, at the end, when such a person realizes that he has little or no surrogate immortality, death can suddenly appear very frightening.
However, I am coming to realize that purpose is a multi-dimensional notion and that there are different shapes and shades to it. Not all purposes are formal. Not all purposes are fully defined. Not all purposes are based on focused planning. There are truly a variety of purposes in purposes.
© 2020 Laurence Mesirow