Existential Maturity


An Excerpt from Life Purpose Boot Camp by Eric Maisel

Phil Jackson, the famous basketball coach, was fond of re-marking that while people never change, they do mature. That’s an interesting distinction, isn’t it? Apparently you must remain you, but you can become a mature version of you. The fact is, you can grow into a mature understanding of meaning and life purpose and as a result become an existentially adult version of yourself.

Having life purposes makes no one a saint. But deciding on your life purposes and trying to live them are signs of maturity. Living our life purposes on an angry day, when it would be so easy to lash out, may help us do the right thing instead of the wrong thing. Remembering on a bleak day that the experience of meaning can and will return helps us to opt for hope rather than despair. Living our life purposes may help us love a little more than is actually in our heart to love and hate a little less than is actually in our heart to hate. Our life purposes are reminders that we’ve made decisions, that we have options, that we can get a grip, and that we can make ourselves proud.

We’ve seen in the reports of life purpose boot campers just how tumultuous, intricate, contradictory, and irregular life can be. Who doesn’t have shadows to deal with? Who isn’t embroiled in the reality of circumstances? Who isn’t unequal to the idea of “life as project”? Yet every participant in my online boot camp wanted to try and knew why it was important to do so. Like them, you know what you have in you: both a taste for carelessness and a taste for heroism.

This is a book for human beings as they are, for creatures who have evolved exactly as we have evolved, who are pushed and pulled in exactly the ways that we are pushed and pulled, who would like to do better and who would like to do more and who would also like to do nothing and who would also like to get even. I am not a futurist, I have no crystal ball, and I have no clue whatsoever where our species may go. But I do know where we are. Don’t you?

I’m selling the idea of value-based meaning-making as a useful, even elegant approximate answer to the central question with which life presents us: Why do this and not that? Why wake up and stretch and get on with life and not turn over and pout? Why speak truth to power and not just pad our bank account? Why hug our child rather than berating and belittling him? Why sing, why dance, why stay sober, why foment a revolution? Why anything? The central answer is that we can conceive of a life, our life, resting firmly on the pillars of the life purposes that we ourselves name and live.

The central mechanism for living is making value-based meaning. Then you can answer each and every “why” question, from the most trivial to the most momentous, by saying to the world and by saying to yourself: “I have my life purposes, I’ve named them for myself and I understand them pretty darn well, and I will choose in light of them.” This way of answering helps prevent you from answering from those other places that also reside within you: the place that doesn’t care, the place that has no energy, the place of anxiety and fear, the place just marking time, the place of custom and conformity, the place that’s concluded that life is a cheat.

Your life purpose work, from which flow your life purpose statement, your life purpose icon, your life purpose mantra, and your complete life purpose vision, may save you. It may save you from losing years to habit and to carelessness. It may save you from hiding out or giving yourself away. It may save you from your own doubts, your own fears, and your own resistance. It may save you from yourself. To employ a last military analogy: your life purposes armor you. They protect you from distractions, from infatuations, and from returning to a life of doubting and seeking.

Barbarity, generosity, and everything human will exist until we are some other kind of creature. Everything that makes us human and that affects us as humans will continue. Waves will continue to crash against us, threatening to throw us off course. Life is like that. Right here, right now, you get to decide who you will attempt to be. If you’ve read this book but not actually lived it, it is time to start again from the beginning and really live it this time. This boot camp requires your attention and engagement, and I hope you will bring both those things to the task.

Remember Sisyphus, a king in Greek mythology and the subject of Albert Camus’s essay “The Myth of Sisyphus”? Sisyphus is condemned by the gods to forever roll a rock to the top of a mountain, whereupon the rock rolls back down again. Camus allows that Sisyphus — that any human being — can still experience freedom, meaning, and happiness even in dreadful circumstances like those. I wonder if that is literally true. I wonder if dreadful circumstances can’t defeat even the most steadfast existentialist. But few of us are quite as condemned as Sisyphus. We have more freedom than he did — and we must use it.

Nothing in the universe will condemn us for not making use of our available freedom — nothing, that is, except our own conscience.

Eric Maisel, PhD, is a licensed psychotherapist and the author of Life Purpose Boot Camp and numerous other titles including Mastering Creative Anxiety, Brainstorm, Coaching the Artist Within, and Rethinking Depression. Visit him online at www.ericmaisel.com.

Adapted from the book Life Purpose Boot Camp ©2014 by Eric Maisel.  Published with permission of New World Library www.newworldlibrary.com