PURPOSE: I Dreamed of Grandeur

by Elisabeth Jordan

Age 30. Dallas, TX. 

All my life I dreamed of grandeur. I wanted to be somebody important. I put a lot of time and energy into daydreaming about fame.

I chased these ideals for years, even working in the music and entertainment business for a time. Then, I lost my entertainment-business job, and I was left to reimagine myself.

All my life I dreamed of grandeur.


Who did I really want to be?

During this time out of work, I reflected on my life and realized that some of the times I felt most alive had been in high school when I traveled to Peru, living off of a tributary of the Amazon River, caring for “street boys,” young boys orphaned and left to fend for themselves.

I wanted to find out how to capture the essence of what made me come alive in Peru in my hometown, Dallas.

I soon learned that Dallas has extreme poverty; whereas I had grown up in one of the most affluent areas of the city, not but a few miles away, people lived without the resources that had been handed to me my whole life.

And so I began a journey to discover this “other side” of my city. I started spending time on a street corner, near where a large portion of Dallas’ homeless reside. Soon, what began as a volunteer gig became a job.

In essence, I found my purpose, but it was not under bright lights, as I had always pictured. It was in a forgotten part of my city with people whom many of us write off.

In essence, I found my purpose, but it was not under bright lights, as I had always pictured.


I have never felt more alive or more joyful. I no longer care about “being known” because sitting on street corners with my homeless friends has given me something no years of chasing fame ever gave me: the homeless have given me themselves. And in giving me themselves, they have gifted me back myself. They have healed my insecurities by loving me just as I am. And they invite me in. Whereas so many of us spend so much time hiding – hiding behind lovely homes and pretty clothes, the homeless let me enter their darkest moments …
Now, with a small team and a new non-profit, we have the privilege of showing up at 5 a.m. to take them to rehab. We help them get into domestic violence shelters. We hold recovery meetings outside on the streets. We go to them. And, even though we aren’t homeless ourselves, we live in community with them.

I have never felt more alive or more joyful.


I would never trade this new life. Even if I didn’t do it as a job, I have realized nothing about my life would change. This is my new way of being. Yes, I still get dressed up to go to cocktail parties, and then the next morning I sweat it out in the hot sun doing life with my homeless friends. I am both people, and I have learned to love myself. What a beautiful life!

PURPOSE: Heart Broken Open

by Greg Sunter

Age 52. Brisbane, Australia

 

This image of the heart broken open has become the driving force of my life in the years since my wife’s death.

Four years ago, my wife of 21 years passed away as the result of a brain tumour. Her passage from diagnosis to death was less than six months. As shocking as that time was, almost as shocking was the sense of personal growth and awakened understanding that has come from the experience for me through reflection and inner work – to a point that I almost feel guilty about how significant my own growth has been as a result of my wife’s death. I certainly wish it could have come about in a different way, but maybe it can’t.
In his book, A Hidden Wholeness, Parker Palmer writes about the two ways in which our heart can be broken: the first, imaging the heart as shattered and scattered; the second, imaging the heart broken open into new capacity, holding more of both our own and the world’s suffering and joy, despair and hope.

That is what I now seek to do, live with a heart broken open.


This image of the heart broken open has become the driving force of my life in the years since my wife’s death. It has become the purpose to my life. For it’s one thing to have your heart broken open, but it’s another thing altogether to live in such a way that seeks to keep the heart broken open – open to new possibility; open to hope; open to the hurts and fears of others. That is what I now seek to do, live with a heart broken open.

 

PURPOSE: “I Had Been My Whole Life A Bell”

by Hal Harber

Age 79. Tucson, AZ & Seattle, WA

Discovering that there is no meaning or ultimate purpose to my life was one of the most freeing, exhilarating experiences I’ve ever had.  A weight came off my shoulders, I rushed outside and saw the asphalt shimmering –asphalt! The trees were aflame, and I danced with joy. What a relief!

Without her presence I’d probably still be drinking scotch and playing golf at the country club.

For most of my life, until Labor Day weekend 1978, I had looked to authority figures, older people I thought were wise and books for guidance. I had read John Dewey’s pragmatism and knew I was responsible for the consequences of my acts.  In college I voraciously read everything I could by Harry Emerson Fosdick. When I got a divorce my first impulse was to try to figure out what went wrong. Not knowing then that one can’t “figure it out,” I read Lucretius On the Nature of Things. When I recall that now, my heart goes out to that young man. But it wasn’t until much later that I had a realization that Jean-Paul Sartre, like most thinkers, was caught in his mind – like the poet who said, “I’m a stranger and afraid in a world I never made.”

If it weren’t for our profoundly handicapped daughter who, though non-verbal, asked questions that I was unable to answer and forced me, inexorably like gravity to confront my own life – without her presence I’d probably still be drinking scotch and playing golf at the country club. Nobody I know willingly surrenders in defeat, but that’s what it took.

“I had been my whole life a bell, and never knew it until that moment I was lifted and struck.”

After having a direct inner experience of what is really true – not knowledge or more information from outside myself – I realized how trapped I’d been not knowing who and what I am. Understanding is the booby prize. In my experience feeling fulfilled has little to do with culture, much of which turns out to be a hindrance.  By nature I’m sort of a loner and Western individualism is my default position, but try as I might, I couldn’t do it alone. It took teachers, not to tell me but to guide me to my own inner experience.

Words can’t get me home. Words can only point the way. And poetic language has worked best for me. As close as I can come to describing my own experiences is to quote Annie Dillard who said, “I had been my whole life a bell, and never knew it until that moment I was lifted and struck.” As my wife says, “Until you see it, you don’t see it!” For me Goethe gets to the nub of it when he says,”…And so long as you haven’t experienced this: to die and so to grow, you are only a troubled guest on the dark earth.”

After those transformative experiences I saw life as a great mystery and that my unconscious attempt to cover over my essence as love was the only way I knew to survive, so my ongoing task is, not to do things that I think will bring more love and joy into my life but to peal away my defenses that obscure what is, in fact, the love and joy that is already present.

“peace of mind” is an oxymoron. I can never find peace when I’m only in my mind.

My life probably looks to others as quite ordinary, but my inner life has changed and now whatever happens is simply grist for the mill. I realize I no longer have to search to quell a yearning for purpose or meaning because that yearning simply dropped away.

If I lose the feeling of being in a flow, I stop and clear my mind by changing my level of consciousness because I know that “peace of mind” is an oxymoron. I can never find peace when I’m only in my mind. Contrary to my Western culture, I now know that I’m not in charge.