The Cup

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The cup is full.

I place it to my lips, tilt my head back, and drink.

The cup is empty.

I return it to the table beside the TV and go to work. When I come home again at six thirty—when I sit once more before the table, remote in hand, ready to drown myself in a hurricane of commercials and prime time programming—I reach for it again.

The cup is full.

I don’t know where it came from. I don’t know how or why it works. I only know that it’s a family heirloom, passed down to me by my mother and passed down to her by her mother before her—an ancient artifact, filigreed in untarnished silver and embossed in gold relief. Its means of production unknown, it is both a paradox and a mystery, a bold and strident reminder of all the things in the world we have yet to understand.

The liquid that materializes inside is tangy, salty, sweet. Like a gourmet meal. Like a decadent dessert. It has nourished me two to three times per day since I inherited the cup at the tender age of eighteen.

How much good could such a relic accomplish in a world ravaged by hunger and thirst? Yet it has somehow managed to fall into my lap, into that of a single middle class, middle-aged man with a decent job, a steady income, and plenty of food at his disposal.

A cruel and senseless joke, I think, setting it down on the table once more. But then the world is a savage and irrational place. It knows not of justice and balance, only of chaos and disorder.

With no children of my own, I sometimes wonder what will happen to the cup after I’m gone. Will it rot in a box, forgotten now that its stewards are no more? Or will someone happen upon it by accident, take it for their own, and start a new tradition?

I shift in my seat, dangerously close to a maddening truth I dare not think about for very long, and let the flickering pictures on the TV deliver me into oblivion.

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What’s My Mission?

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Purpose. It defines our existence. We spend our whole lives searching for it, and we don’t stop until our ephemeral lives come to an abrupt and unpredictable end. We pay counselors, therapists and psychologists hundreds of dollars to help us find it. We spend innumerable solitary moments beneath the stars, hoping and praying that in the stillness of the night, the cosmos will whisper their designs into our ears, and we grow restless and anxious when the years pass without an answer.

Ultimately, what we’re looking for always boils down to the same question: “What’s my mission?”

Each of us has one.

We are a race composed of individuals, each with our own unique talents, each with our own unique ways of contributing to the world. We all take our place in the human family. Each of us assumes a role, some task that we’re called to fulfill until our Earthly lives are complete.

This is our mission, a biological imperative embedded in our DNA, an indelible mark upon our souls, a divine mandate that we’re powerless to resist if we wish to live happy and fulfilling lives.

Our purpose in life is to discover what this mission is and to complete it.

To uncover our reason for being is to locate our rightful place in this cosmic symphony, to harmonize with the celestial melodies of a divine purpose that far transcends our own.

Everything we do should further this goal in some way. Until we know what our mission is and until we can accept it, we’ll be doomed to wander the desert of internal anarchy and despair.

Some of us believe in purpose, but only on a larger scale. We often ask ourselves, “how can one ordinary individual have a measurable global effect?”

Whether great or small, our actions can and do transform the world.

In Does What You Do Matter, I argue that it’s precisely those “insignificant” activities which manifest the greatest changes. Life is a tapestry, a mosaic of apparently unrelated events which, when taken as a whole, form a clearly-discernible pattern.

It’s out of the humdrum and the ordinary that the miracle of civilization itself emerges. Without the standard occupations, there would be no food, no running water, no medicine, no roads, no waste management, no electricity. If everyone were to give up their jobs at the same time for as little as a day, the world would come undone, like a tattered cloth left too long to the elements.

In fact, the anonymous individual is the great unsung hero of the world. Those rare role models we know by name we know only because there were millions of unknowns working behind the scenes.

Yet, even if we understand this, we’re still going to ask ourselves, “how do I discover what my mission is?”

Personal revelation demands hard work.

Figuring out what we’re supposed to do is by no means a passive endeavor. Rather, it’s a lifelong quest. We must traverse steep psychological mountains, wander through barren spiritual deserts, never resting until we reach the understanding we seek. Our quest requires three things:

  1. Answers to basic questions. Every quest has a beginning. Ours should start with what we already know about ourselves. What are we passionate about? What are we good at? Can we align our career goals with our interests? If not, can we at least integrate our interests into our off hours?
  2. The ability to make the best of our current circumstances. Living a purpose-driven life requires us to accept and embrace what we’ve been given, and to use it to make the lives of those around us better. We always accomplish the most good simply by being who we are and by living in the moment.
  3. An open heart. Above all, we should think, pray and listen. We should ask for guidance, because our maker will always furnish the answers we seek in the fullness of time. His won’t be a voice of thunder but of circumstance, and we must pay close attention to the things that are going on around us so that we can discern what it might be trying to tell us.

Our mission is knowable, and we can fulfill it.

Each of us was fashioned with all that we need to be successful already inside us. We must only find the courage to chase after it, to search high and low for the key that opens the lock to our souls. Open that, and our hearts will unfurl like budding flowers, revealing its deepest mysteries.

Here, in the center of our hearts, where God and Man intersect, we will find the answer that we’ve pursued all our lives.

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Your Life Is More Than Ordinary

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Everyday life always seems so ordinary. We get up in the morning. We work. We go home. We eat. We sleep. We repeat this cycle five or more days a week. We might stray from the routine when we have time off from our weekly responsibilities, but even in leisure, we often settle into some kind of recurring structure. It’s so monotonous. So regular. So ordinary.

But ordinary is only a minuscule component of the great epic we call life.

For all that the tedious day-to-day grind consumes us, it’s really nothing more than the thinnest of veils, behind which lies a vast and fathomless depth of exotic beauty, of incredible wonders beyond our wildest imaginings. On every level, the ordinary aspect of reality goes only skin-deep, from the daily routine that serves as the framework in which we define ourselves, in which we eventually choose, in the fullness of time, to be the hero or the villain; all the way down to the vague and ill-defined subatomic particles that comprise our physical being, behind which hide the sublime mysteries of existence and consciousness themselves.

Our minds require the ordinary, because they need something familiar to make sense of, and our bodies require the ordinary, because they need something tangible to interact with. But ordinary is only a thin veneer, an external symbolic manifestation of a much fuller reality that’s always with us, even when we can’t see it. In the depths of the extraordinary is where we search for and discover our purpose, where we think and feel, where we love and pray, where we experience the fullness of our existence.

We must not let the everyday tedium deceive us into believing that life is nothing more than the meaningless rabble of an eight hour work day.

We must be bold enough to call ourselves explorers. We must resolve to dive head-first, as deep as we can, into this extraphysical world, to be brave enough to embark upon our journey without ever looking back. Our purpose, our reason for being, our very souls themselves, are bound up and locked away in its infinite depths, waiting for us to claim them if only we have courage enough to go after them.

If we stray too long near surface things, if we allow ourselves to grow comfortable and complacent in the skin-deep realm of the ordinary, we’ll begin to wither and fade like uprooted wildflowers. We’ll become so consumed by the shallow meaningless doings of the ordinary world that we’ll lose sight of our purpose, of the great cosmic questions and wonders that would otherwise propel us to the stars. We’ll become one with a temporary dying surface-existence so completely that we’ll come perilously close to dying ourselves.

Touring the world of Fantasy is one of many ways to explore the extraordinary.

It’s in stories that we encounter the threshold between the extraordinary and the ordinary, the line that separates thought and motivation from act, that separates purpose and meaning from their observable physical effects. In the world of the imagination, the mind is free to contemplate and dream, to chart the boundless reaches of the unseen world that usually exists just out of sight.

Fantasy teases us with external observable analogs to the otherwise abstract mysteries that lay hidden beyond the veil. We witness acts of magic; we embark upon epic quests; we take part in grand sweeping romances that move mountains in the name of love. When we travel long enough through the world of Fantasy, we’re left with an indelible mark that we take with us into the real world. We’re left with the ability to perceive and understand the true abstract essences that comprise the things we witnessed in the vistas of so many fictional worlds, and we learn to recognize them in what once seemed so plain and ordinary.

And then something marvelous happens. The thin surface that separates the world of wonder from the world of the ordinary looses its opaqueness. Ordinary life becomes transparent to the extraordinary that lies just beyond its shallow boundary, and we’re forced to confront and come to terms with the wonders that we were created to explore. Once this happens, nothing can stand in the way of our search for meaning, for purpose and for truth.

Dare to embark on this epic quest.

Seek out the extraordinary. Search for your purpose, for your soul. Search long and hard, high and low, in a world where there will never be a dull moment, where there will always be something new and exciting to discover. Do this, and you will be forever transformed.

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