Do we choose our purpose? Or does our purpose choose us?
In his book Soulcraft, Bill Plotkin provides a perspective on this that has been very influential on me and that can be easily adapted to a naturalistic perspective Plotkin writes that purpose arises when we are engaged in our “sacred work,” or “sacred dance.”
“Your sacred dance sparks your greatest fulfillment and extends your truest service to others,” Plotkin writes. “You know you’ve found it when there’s little else you’d rather be doing. Getting paid for it is superfluous. You would gladly pay others, if necessary, for the opportunity.”
Sacred work is not the same thing as treating work as sacred. It is not the Christian notion from the protestant reformation that says all work, minister or janitor, holds the same worth in God’s eyes. It is also not a corporate ploy to get employees to dedicate themselves to their companies with religious zeal.
Sacred work really feels sacred. A person’s calling in life is an expression of their sacred work, but the sacred work itself goes deeper.
Plotkin writes of one woman who went on a vision fast and discovered her sacred work encapsulated in her sacred name: “Hands to the World.” She expressed this name in her calling as a masseuse and physical therapist.
A friend of mine has found her calling as a voice instructor. Her “sacred work” is to help others find their voice.
While a person’s sacred work is expressed in their calling, it also transcends it. There are thousands of ways to embody the calling of “Hands to the World” that don’t involve physical therapy. Likewise helping others find their voice doesn’t necessarily need to happen in the context of a singing lesson. Everyone’s sacred work is unique. It relates to who we are at the core of our being.
Plotkin writes about the guided wilderness fasts he uses to get people out into nature and in touch with their soul—the vast, active reservoir of their subconscious that constitutes what Jung called the capital-S “Self.”
One of the goals of these quests is to emerge with a clear understanding of who you are and what you are meant to do in this world with your unique blend of gifts and circumstances.
In an interview I recently did with the mythologist Michael Meade, Meade said most people think that life is a linear progression, but it’s much more like a spiral around a center. We pass through different themes again and again, always drawing closer to the center of the gyre, where our essence lies.
I believe it is because our sacred work arises from our core wound, which occurs sometime in childhood. Our core wounds lead us to develop unique gifts which then, with time, inform our sacred work. Just like a pearl forms from an imperfection in the oyster, our sacred work is directly linked to our sacred wound.
Doing our sacred work addresses this wound. A person who feels called to being a marriage councilor may have had parents who were dysfunctional. Someone who felt invisible may become a theater director who helps others rise up and be seen.
I suspect that is why sacred work feels so purposeful: through it, we feel as though we are working to mend the injuries we received in the lives of those around us. By pursuing our sacred work, we heal a rift in the very fabric of the universe.
From an early age, I took on the belief that my existence was not worthwhile. As I grew older I began to doubt whether the existence of anything was worthwhile. I worked hard to find meaning in the world, gravitating toward philosophy in the hope that it would help me find that feeling of fulfillment I could not get as a child: that my life had worth.
This theme has continued through my life. I’ve been following it like a golden thread through multiple careers and phases. And when I succeed at helping others finding meaning in their lives, it helps me find meaning in my own.
This is what I have come to identify as my sacred work. It transcends any single job or career. It doesn’t change whether I’m rich or poor. Neither would my sacred work change if I lived in a Soviet system, a feudal system, or something else entirely.
I am called to this work by the circumstances of my own life, by the sum total of every domino that had to fall in order to give rise to my existence. I believe each of us is similarly “pointed” toward some unique service. We each have a contribution we seek to make.
Not everyone actualizes their sacred work. The barriers to living the life your soul is asking you to live may be financial or social—but most often I believe it’s a matter of deafness or of fear.
Can you hear what that “small, still voice” within you is telling you to do? When you hear it, are you brave enough to heed?
We don’t choose our sacred work. We don’t choose our gifts, or much less our wounds. We don’t choose what makes us feel alive or what makes us ring with purpose. But each and every day we choose whether to walk in line with the nature of our circumstances or deny them.
I believe we emerge from the world like a wave from the ocean, each heading for some far shore.
Our life’s calling is to reach that shore. Our sacred work takes us further still.
The Spiritual Naturalist Society works to spread awareness of spiritual naturalism as a way of life, develop its thought and practice, and help bring together like-minded practitioners in fellowship.
SNS strives to include diverse voices within the spectrum of naturalistic spirituality. Authors will vary in their opinions, terms, and outlook. The views of no single author therefore necessarily reflect those of all Spiritual Naturalists or of SNS.