For as long as I can remember, whenever I’ve tried to find an answer to the question ‘What is my purpose?’ or ‘What is my destiny?’ the infuriatingly simple and equally mystifying answer that invariably popped up was “You’re here for people like you”. Over the years I’ve tried decoding that to mean “Listening to and loving people like me”; “Writing a book for people like me”; or, even more tangibly, “Creating a hostel on the Camino for people like me”, but none of them felt like ‘my real purpose’, more like something I would enjoy doing and which would, coincidentally, also be of service to others.
So I’ve tried asking myself, more simply, what ‘people like me’ actually means and I’ve taken detours down roads of belief that also failed to arrive at the answer. I’ve told myself “We’re all the same at heart (which is true), so that means I’m here for ‘everyone’ (which is false)”. Because we all know that one cannot be all things to all men and neither, I believe, are we supposed to be. Following that path just leads ultimately to exhaustion, disappointment, compassion fatigue and loss of true compassion for others and respect for ourselves.
Then last week, completely unknowingly, someone answered my question for me. In describing what I would call “inner reflection” or “contemplation” they used the term “navel-gazing” and that’s when the penny finally dropped: “I’m here for ‘the would-be Navel-Gazers’”. And these are the people that I write for and talk to in my Blog posts, although anyone with an open heart and mind is welcome here.
I use the name would-be Navel-Gazers ‘tongue-in-cheek’ and ironically but also deliberately, because it captures beautifully the essence of what I believe. Generally, it’s not a name that’s used positively to describe ourselves or others. It implies that we’re self-absorbed, detached from reality and too preoccupied with our inner feelings, thoughts or problems. It’s not a name that contains a lot of love or genuine desire for connection, understanding or compassion, when applied to ourselves or to others. It’s a ‘closing down’ rather than an ‘opening up’ phrase.
But I write for anyone who’s open to the idea and value of contemplation, anyone who wishes to explore the part they play in co-creating their experiences and their relationships, anyone who believes in the power of Divine Love and Divine Purpose. In short, anyone who believes, as I do, that we still have a lot more to learn. Because the more open we are to exploring our automatic reactions to similar people and situations the more we come to recognise the limitations in our capacity for experiencing, recreating and sharing Divine Love.
It’s an undeniable truth that we’re all connected, as members of this diverse and beautiful species called ‘the Human Race’, but we’re also distinct and different individuals for a specific reason…and I believe it’s a Divine reason. If we ‘close ourselves down’ or try to bend ourselves or others into a shape that conforms to a set idea of how we should be, we dishonour our own selves greatly and we dishonour the individual seed of the Divine that we all carry within us. It’s a seed which has a personal message and purpose for each one of us, I believe, and for the people that we come into contact with throughout the course of our lives. But we have to be prepared to open our hearts and our minds wide enough to give it space and to let it grow.
We can look to others to tell us what our identity, purpose, or way of being should be, and then try to build our lives and personalities around the outside messages that we receive, or we can give ourselves permission to cultivate more inward reflection and discover the more open, compassionate and natural person we were born to be. In that way we stop needing to expend so much mental and emotional energy on meeting other people’s expectations and, instead, use what feels intuitively right to us in our (more open) heart.
“To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment”– Ralph Waldo Emerson
There’s an interesting YouTube video (posted by Canadian Psychiatrist Gabor Mate) that explores the balance we need to find and maintain within our lives between attachment (maintaining loving relationships with others) and authenticity (being true to ourselves) in order to grow into healthy, happy and self-respecting individual adults. It describes how so many of us largely lose our intuitive connection with our natural selves during childhood, in an effort to retain the love of those people we have close relationships with. And it explains how we unconsciously carry this ‘altered way of being’ into our adult lives.
I believe that a healthy dose of inner reflection, not about the past but about what is happening to us here & now and the automatic ways that we react to similar situations, helps us to make what is unconscious (and often unhelpful to us and others) more conscious. That way we become freer to make informed choices about ‘how to be’ as adults on a day-to-day basis, firstly in relationship with ourselves and, then subsequently, with those around us.
I’ve walked thousands of miles over the last 4 years and I’ve met hundreds of people from countries all over the world. I’ve had deep, meaningful and sometimes tearful and love-filled conversations with complete strangers who were on pilgrimages of ‘reconnecting with themselves and with God ’. Many of them came to realise the inner hole that was left when they tried to be something that they believed others wanted them to be, instead of connecting with the inner source of Divine love that allows them to openly and unapologetically just be who they are. Taking time for inward reflection enabled them to do this.
The term ‘navel-gazing’ appealed to me for another reason too, because of its connection to the process of birth and the moment when we’re physically ‘cut free’ from our mothers’ bodies, becoming individual human beings in our own right. To look at our navels is to remind ourselves of a time when we needed gentle handling, valuing, love and protection, whether we received those things or not. We never lose the need for these things but, as fully-grown and independent adults, it’s now up to us to for recognise the fact that we have the power and responsibility to provide these things for ourselves. If we can’t treat ourselves with curiosity, compassion, understanding and love, why do we expect others to?
Cultivating gentleness and understanding towards ourselves, however we choose to do this, is a sign of self-nurturing, growing maturity, self-acceptance and inner strength.
What experience has taught me is the more I live my life as the person my heart tells me to be, rather than as others might like me to be, the more I experience deep and meaningful connection with others. I’ve learned that just being myself acts as its own service to those I am meant to help, because it somehow enables them to relax their habitual defences, to let down their guard and to share the most tender and vulnerable parts of themselves. This is an amazing expression of trust when it happens and it answers any doubts I have about ‘purpose’ or ‘destiny’ when it occurs. My purpose is simply ‘to whole-heartedly be myself’ and every day I learn new ways of doing that whilst also trying, through example, to encourage others to do the same.
So Blessed be the navel-gazer in all of us I say, no matter how tiny he or she may be. Because that’s where, I believe, the seed of self-acceptance, true compassion and Divine Love has been planted and it’s just waiting for us to give it light, to water it, and to encourage it to grow.
“Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it.”– Rumi