“There is one thing in this world you must never forget to do. If you forget everything else and not this, there’s nothing to worry about, but if you remember everything else and forget this, then you will have done nothing in your life.
It’s as if a king has sent you to some country to do a task, and you perform a hundred other services, but not the one he sent you to do. So human beings come to this world to do particular work. That work is the purpose, and each is specific to the person. If you don’t do it, it’s as though a priceless Indian sword were used to slice rotten meat. It’s a golden bowl being used to cook turnips, when one filing from the bowl could but a hundred suitable pots. It’s like a knife of the finest tempering nailed into a wall to hang things on.
You say, “But look, I’m using it. It’s not lying idle.” Do you hear how ridiculous that sounds? For a pennt an iron nail could be bought. You say “But I spend my energies on lofty projects. I study philosophy and jurisprudence, logic, astronomy, and medicine.” But consider why you do those things. They are all branches of yourself and your impressiveness.
Remember the deep root of your being, the presence of your lord. Give yourself to the one who already owns your breath and your moments. If you don’t, you’ll be like the man who takes a ceremonial dagger and hammers it in to a post for a peg to hold his dipper gourd. You’ll be wasting valuable keenness and forgetting your dignity and purpose.”
When I first read this I was blown away, I felt it so deeply. While looking for meaning in life sometimes I’ve felt like we create our own meaning, that it doesn’t matter what we do, as long as we learn from it. In reality this can be sort of an empty notion, one that leaves our actions unechoing, our deeds only important in the moment. But having read this, and having felt it resonate, I began to feel a greater sense of connection, and perhaps more importantly, a greater sense of purpose; finding what I’ve come here to do, regardless of whether it’s singing in a band or heading up the UN.
I don’t know if you’ve ever felt this way, but I have definitely felt like I have a purpose, a reason why I am here. One of my deepest discontents has been feeling like I don’t know what that purpose is. I know I’m supposed to help people, or try to save the world, or engage in some endeavor that in a lasting way creates or engenders more love and more life in the world. But when all seem worthy, how do you choose?
I don’t think you need to believe in a God, or any tradition, be it Christian or Sufi, to hear what Jelaluddin Rumi is saying. I was not raised in a religious family. You don’t have to think of the phrase “your lord” as being the oft-ridiculed white-bearded man in the sky, or birthing goddess, or anything so defined. To me, it is the call, the purpose, that I am fixated on exploring and discovering.
David Spangler says in his book The Call, “the call is to discover in the here and now, in all the ramifications and details of his or her individual life, how to be his or her essence, which was love… the primal background call, the call to love oneself, to love others and to love that presence and mystery we name the sacred.”
But how do we actualize this in our lives? Even if most of us can agree that what is said above feels right, it seems to me that this is both the easiest and most gratifying as well as the most difficult and challenging job we’ve ever been charged with. Why? Because the how-to is different for everybody. As Rumi says, “That work is the purpose, and each is specific to the person.” It manifests as loving oneself, others, and the sacred. But it manifests through acts, through doing.
I don’t have the answers to this question, but for me what it means right now is exploring what resonates with me, and then following that. We are rational creatures, and we can justify or rationalize just about any job, activity or even relationship. But when you feel yourself come alive… when acting out of love all the time becomes effortless… when you feel a deep sense of generosity, I believe that you are doing the right things, you are fulfilling your purpose. Happiness, joy, and strength in the face of what would normally be devastating or depressing could be considered sign-posts that you are acting as the ceremonial dagger, not the gold pot used to cook turnips.