I was walking through the winter woods in Colorado last year when I realized that every creature in the forest plays an important role.
Plants take up nutrients from sunlight and soil and transform them into flowers, seeds, and leaves that nourish insects and birds. Insects and birds, in turn, feed larger animals who make their own contributions, helping to maintain balance, creating carbon dioxide for the flora, and eventually returning their bodies to the earth so that plants can make the nutrients available once again. Even rocks play a part, providing shelter and eventually wearing down into mineral-rich dirt that gives plants a place to grow.
Each creature fulfills its purpose naturally, without trying, just by being who it is and doing what it’s designed to do. They don’t have to strive, self-improve, or set New Year’s resolutions to play their role.
The squirrel may not be intending to safeguard the future of the forest when he buries an acorn and forgets to dig it up, but he nevertheless does. Similarly, the bee may not know that all life depends on her, but she still ensures the reproduction of plants when she gathers her pollen.
It occurred to me that humans are designed to do the same thing.
We come into this world with bodies wired to serve a purpose just by being who we are.
But we learn at a young age to analyze and doubt, to ignore and deny, to strive and override. And then we forget.
Humans, after all, in our ongoing quest for control and predictability, have largely removed ourselves from natural cycles.
We’ve created our own ecosystems that either exclude other species or attempt to bend them to our will. Though we’ve gained a lot from our efforts, we’ve lost far more, including the intrinsic, effortless purpose that comes from playing our native role in the natural world.
As a result, most of us wander through our lives unable to see what function we serve, but like everything else on this planet, we’re wired to serve one.
This missing sense of purpose is like a phantom limb that causes us excruciating, if unacknowledged pain.
After talking with hundreds of diverse people who long to find more meaning in their lives, I’ve come to believe that this collective estrangement and thirst for belonging affect just about everyone, though not everyone has the luxury to feel it, and some are more sensitive to it than others.
I find it reassuring to understand why I’ve always felt a longing, a lack of belonging, and a deep grief at not knowing how to take my place in the family of things (to quote Mary Oliver).
And I’ve found that alongside the ever-present grief, there’s always something else: A knowing. A quickening. A gift.
Because though we can and do lose touch with our wild purpose, it’s always there, under the surface, trying to get our attention.
Sometimes it speaks to us through a vague longing and loneliness. Other times it calls to us with a lack of energy and motivation, a growing dissatisfaction or unease, or an inability to continue pushing on as before. It can even appear as physical ailments, anxiety and depression, or other “disorders.”
We rediscover our wild purpose by learning to inhabit and listen to our bodies once again; by following our instincts; and by reconnecting to ourselves, other people, and the natural world.
There’s a pull in all of us, quiet but persistent, and when we put our fears and egoic concerns aside long enough to follow it, we rediscover our role in the ecosystem of life.
We don’t have to do anything to fulfill our natural purpose; we simply need to relax enough for it to emerge on its own, becoming more of who we already are over time.
The wilds are calling all of us home. The question is: will we listen?
Questions to work with:
- What’s wild that wants to move in me?
- What makes me feel more connected to myself, to other people, and to the wider living world? How can I deepen these connections?
- What am I already contributing to other beings that comes so naturally that it doesn’t even seem like a gift to me?
- What are my heart, body, and instincts moving me towards or away from?
- What ideas am I rejecting because they seem scary, uncertain, impractical, or illogical?
Take Your Place in the Family of Things
I love helping other people rediscover and fulfill their wild purpose. If you’d like help, please reach out. I offer an online course about finding your calling that’s currently available on a sliding scale as well as one-on-one and small group coaching.