A peak a week

Thursday, July 2nd, 2009

I live in a region of the country where outdoor recreational activities abound. Last night I overheard a couple of young men standing behind me at an open-air concert discussing their hiking plans for the summer. Not wanting to turn around and stare, I could just imagine two strapping, healthy youths sporting robust backpacks and hiking boots. One was telling the other, “It’s my plan to hike one new peak every weekend.” He began mentioning the names of various local mountains. I could just imagine the breathtaking vistas to which he would treat himself along the way.

Even in my younger years I was not a mountain goat, so scaling peaks is not in my game plan. Negotiating the cable car hills of San Francisco when I lived there a few years ago was a good enough challenge at sea level.  I am still proud to say I succeeded at climbing some hill or other each week when I belonged to a city hiking group. I still do a 3-mile walk occasionally, up and down the hills of my current neighborhood nestled in the Sierra Nevadas.

These days my real challenges are more sedate, but nonetheless steep. The hills and valleys of writing a novel keep me fretting over whether I “can make it.” When the terrain gets a bit rugged and I can’t catch my breath, I sometimes stop to rest and to consider my next step carefully.  Turning back before I reach the pinnacle, however, is seldom an option. I know it’s too beautiful to miss the view at every milestone of the climb, and if the interim vistas are this good, I can’t wait to see the view from the top.

I’m glad I overheard that hiker’s declaration last night. It encouraged me, too, to set my goals “a peak a week.”

Do you really need to know your life purpose?

Saturday, August 30th, 2008

I recently read a post from another life coach that made a case against expending time and thought to uncover your life’s purpose. Her main argument is that we all have life purposes, often more than one, but if we waste time trying to discover what they are, we waste our lives, period. In other words, just get moving and you’ll be following the path of your purpose…it happens naturally.

I’ve been pondering her post for a few days. It challenged me, and I had a strong reaction to it, but I’m not sure why. Perhaps it was just my ego reacting because I had recently written an article extolling the benefits of uncovering one’s life purpose. My point was that if you struggle with decision-making, it is easier to evaluate competing options by measuring them against the standard of your life purpose. Which decision aligns you with your reason for being, if you will? If you know where you are going, but are momentarily “lost,” you can get out the compass of your life purpose and find your way again.

The argument she made, however, was interesting in that if you just stop agonizing over where you are going and follow your instincts, you are bound to naturally end up somewhere you will ultimately benefit from being. I can see that, because I believe that whatever you encounter in life, it’s an opportunity for growth and learning. Sooner or later you stop in a town that feels enormously familiar and if you are open to possibilities, not limited by a narrow view of “this is my purpose; this is who I am,” then you may frequently discover new and remarkable places to explore in your life.

But what do we mean when we talk about life purpose, anyway? On a very basic biological level it is nothing more than to survive and procreate. As a species, we have done that quite well–all too well–and often at the expense of each other, as well as everything else on this planet. It does not require any conscious thought to follow our biological imperative and find a way to continue our existence, no matter the cost or sacrifice. It does, however, take conscious effort to consider the consequences of our biological imperative, which brings us to the spiritual, or at least philosophical, question of why we are here, beyond the mere fact of our existence and instinct to survive as a species.

It’s true that there is no need to ask this question in order to keep traveling through life, but if we don’t stop to consider, “What is my life purpose?” can we ever really say that we are “in choice’ about the myriad of options we face moment to moment?