A New Way to Look at Purpose

“Purpose does not need to be huge and all-encompassing. It can be small, seasonal, and still deeply satisfying” 


I’ve spent an inordinate amount of time worrying about purpose in my life. Most of the time I live with the nagging sense that I haven’t quite got this purpose thing figured out, that maybe there’s something else, something bigger that I’m supposed to be doing. As I’ve begun to slow down and simplify, though, I’m coming to understand purpose in a new way.

Back in January, as I began creating more space in my life, I noticed a creeping sense of sadness. It was a malaise I couldn’t shake. As I stayed with the sadness, I realized that it was connected to the season of transition fast approaching.

In June, we would celebrate one son’s university graduation and his younger brother’s high school graduation; the two youngest boys were also leaving middle school for high school. While these were exciting transitions for the boys, they also felt like endings to me. And I’m not really great with endings.

For once, I let my sadness guide me. Stay present, my sadness told me. Clear as much space as you need for this season of transition. Be there for your boys; they’ll need you. And honour how difficult these endings are for you. Stay with the sadness. And savour these final months of your boys’ middle school and high school years. 

For once I actually listened.  I let the sadness linger a little, and didn’t avoid it by getting extra-busy (my usual approach). I cleared my calendar, said no to practically everyone, and left things wide open.

And in that opening, I found the space to really be available for my boys: I listened to the older boys wrestle with what was next for them and helped them write resumes and scholarship applications; I toured my youngest boy’s new high school with him and helped him decide which electives to choose; I spent a week in Ottawa celebrating my  eldest son’s graduation from Carleton University; I was there for the final middle school band concert and for the last of the high school rugby games.

I was there for my guys. Fully. And, as it turns out, joyfully.

I found, for a season, a clear sense of purpose. I understood that my purpose was simply to parent with as much patience and presence as possible. It was so easy to know what to say yes to – and when to say no. I felt centred and grounded, not scattered and distracted.

That doesn’t mean I got it all right. My middle son may have felt just a teeny bit micro-managed during his final semester of high school. And though I made sure that he got his college and scholarship applications in on time, I completely forgot to order grad photos for him. The final notice arrived in the mail this morning.

And the sadness? It’s still there. But I’m sitting with it and letting it guide me through these next months. Transition, of course, takes time, and just because the June graduations are behind us, the transition is not.

These days, my sadness is about letting go as my middle son tests out adulthood. Letting go isn’t easy for me, but it’s necessary for him. And so this new season wil include lots of self care and compassion. I’m going to need it.

Where purpose is concerned, I’ve always had the idea that we are here for one big thing. This belief causes all sorts of distress. What if I’m not living out my purpose? What if I die, as they say, with my music still in me? This is the stuff of sleepless nights for someone like me.

But in this season of transition, I’ve come to see purpose in gentler terms.  Purpose, it turns out, does not need to be huge and all-encompassing. It can be small, seasonal and still deeply satisfying.

At least for now, I’m giving myself permission to see purpose this way. I’m not going to worry about “Big P Purpose.” I’m going to be gentle and compassionate  with myself, and focus on the purpose calling to me in this season alone.

What small purpose might be calling you in this season?

On Slowing Down

“And you? When will you begin that long journey into yourself?” – Rumi

It’s a beautiful summer morning, clear and still cool. I’m sitting outside on our patio, sipping tea and listening to the birds, watching the sun catch the tops of the cedars, and counting my blessings for the holiday time that stretches before me. Now I can really slow down. 

We’re in a season of transition for everyone in our house: the youngest boys have just finished finished middle school, our 18-year-old graduated a couple of weeks ago from high school, and our eldest completed his undergraduate degree and graduated in mid-June. In the middle of all this, my husband was offered a new job. June was crazy.

Now, with the year-end concerts and celebrations and graduation ceremonies behind us, I feel as though I can take a deep breath and unwind. But as I sit with my  tea, listening to the distant voices of neighbours drifting through the trees, I’m not feeling the calm I expected. In the quiet of the morning, I’m noticing anxiety fluttering within.

And this is the big surprise for me about slowing down: it doesn’t automatically leave me feeling all calm and centred and grounded. When I slow down, I also notice less comfortable states. Hello sadness. Hello anxiety. No wonder it’s so easy for me to keep myself busy.

When I began my journey toward simplicity, I wanted to reduce the stress and distraction of a too-busy life. I wanted to feel calm and healthy and centred. I began slowing down in a very deliberate way, saying no to additional work and social obligations, and making space for meditation and journalling, walks in the woods and extra rest. Slowing down has definitely been a pathway toward greater calm. I just didn’t anticipate where else it would take me.

Today it’s a fluttering of anxiety. Some days it’s sadness. Those uncomfortable states I’d rather avoid. But somehow in slowing down, there’s also patience and compassion enough for me to stay with the feelings and explore them a little. What’s that fluttering in my stomach? Anxiety? What’s that all about?

Slow down and listen. Underneath today’s anxious flutterings is some sadness. My middle boy has finished high school and I’m watching as he takes his first adult steps away from me. My impulse is to hold on tightly. And I know that I can’t. I know that my work now is to stand back and let him stand on his own. It’s the way things are supposed to be – and it’s unbearably sad for me.

When I’m running at full speed, I can ignore these states, the anxiety, the sadness. When I slow down, I can’t help but notice what’s happening. I have to pay attention. And if I’m patient with myself, gentle, I can live a while with the feelings that arise. I can hear what they’re telling me, let them inform my direction.

Today I might give myself some time to celebrate the adult that my son is becoming – and to grieve the inevitable endings that come along with this passage. I might pour another cup of tea and sit outside a little longer, listening to the birds, listening for the wisdom that sometimes comes in slowing down.