you can call your own
and a thousand others
you can call by any name you want.
every day with your own body,
don't turn your face away.
at the center of the image
you were born with.
their destiny will never understand
the friends they have made
nor the work they have chosen
beyond all the others."
The Deeper Waters of the Soul
Through the ages, poets, sages and wise people of all stripes have reminded us of the deeper waters that beckon to us; the dark and potent territory of the soul which animates and gives meaning to our daily life and struggles. The descent into this underworld gifts us with visions of our unique place within the web of life. Whereas the realm of spirit might be thought of as an upward journey towards that which is universal and beyond words, the downward journey to soul is a surrender to the heaviness within towards a mythic understanding of our purpose in this time and place on earth.
While knowing our gifts and purpose isn’t a cure-all for our pain and struggles, it does bring a sense of clarity, inspiration and adventure to our lives that is often lacking for many. Daily life will inevitably seem like an unchanging grind towards a slow decline and eventual end without the meaning that comes when we are clear about what is most important to us and about the beauty that emerges when we share ourselves more fully. Feeling a connection to our gifts and purpose is a kind of hope; not a passive hope that is more akin to wishful thinking, but an active, engaged hope that is rooted in knowing that love, magic and wholeness is possible.
Gifts & Wounds
There is a direct relationship between our soul and our wounds, like two sides of a coin. If we think of our soul, our gifts & purpose, as the way we are uniquely shaped, then our wounds are part of what has shaped us. Like the way a tree grows and is shaped by all life around it, so too are we shaped by life and the beauty that is each of us comes from that molding. It is our unique place in the web of life, containing a gift that only we can deliver, no more or less special that each blossoming flower or grain of sand.
Wounds are those painful experiences that have a major impact on how we experience the world and how we feel inside. They are a kind of pressure that was applied on us so that we learned skills and ways of being to compensate. As we work through our pain, processing and integrating it, so too do our gifts become more available to us. As we start on this path of inner work, we are often more fully driven by unconscious patterning, feelings and beliefs. From this place, clarity about our gifts and purpose is harder to come by. Yet as we do the work, that clarity does indeed show up and we are able to see the power and beauty that we actually have to share with the world. Our soul work does not show up by trying to get rid of the painful or confusing experiences within, but by embracing them and sinking into them. By descending, as it were, into the underworld of our inner landscape. Down there, we are ‘beaten by this Angel’ who shapes us ‘from that harsh hand’. It is not a journey of bliss and happiness. It is real however. It is honest and deepening. We emerge from these journeys (for we do have to visit more than once) with a weight that grounds us more fully into our one true life and that reminds us we are equal to all things. We need not play small nor must we imagine ourselves better than another, whether a blade of grass or another human being.
What Are Gifts & Purpose?
Some clearer definitions might help here, as I see gifts and purpose as two separate, but related, concepts. Gifts are the skills, perspectives and experiences that we have that are valuable and life-changing to others. Gifts have a tangible layer, like knowing how to sew, and an intangible layer, like seeing patterns in things. The intangible layer is like the foundation, the part that connects the practical, tangible layers together. To know our gifts is to be clear what we have to share beneath the appearance of what we’re sharing. It is to see that in a hug, we offer love and acceptance; in a yoga class, we offer peace and relaxation. The list goes on. To live without knowing our gifts is to simply see practical skills that often seem unrelated to what’s most true and important in our own inner landscape.
Purpose has to do with story and narratives. It is a felt connection to our actions as they connect to a greater web of inter-being. It is to see ourselves as exactly where we’re meant to be, in the time we’re meant to be in, doing our part to bring our gifts to the world. Purpose is our alignment with the world as it is and how we’re uniquely shaped to participate in it. Purpose doesn’t need to be grandiose, like saving the world. In fact, that’s usually a distraction from our purpose, because purpose sees things as correct as they are, right here and right now. Purpose is a story that has adventure, challenge and meaning, even if that story is just about the way in which we go about the mundane tasks of daily life. It is living our biggest story, one which is always growing. Not because we are trying to be great, but because it calls us out most fully. Greater and lesser have no place in the story of purpose. It’s not about being a hero, the ultimate winner or famous. It’s about walking ever deeper into our own lives and how we express that. To live without purpose is to feel that things aren’t as they should be, that we are separate or isolated, or that if we could just fix or change that one thing, everything would be alright. There is no end to a purposeful life. A purposeful life is lived each moment. We will always be able to look back and see the fog that obscured our vision in the past because we are always unraveling new layers of our life. Purpose propels us forward without rejecting what is. It is what we are growing in the world by first fully accepting it as it is.
Connecting With Our Gifts & Purpose
There is no precise formula for uncovering our gifts and purpose. As we connect with that longing in us to know, we might find ways to express it, such as through a cacao ceremony, vision quest or rite of passage. There is no correct way to go about this work. We begin simply by noticing the areas of our life, inner and outer, that seem out of balance somehow and we investigate. As we pull on that thread, it will start to reveal itself and unravel. This terrain isn’t a logical or linear one. It works in imagery, poetry and art. It is numinous and mythical, yet entirely grounded in the world. Many cultures approach this work through the natural world because it’s a powerful mirror and because it’s the ground of all life, both in poetic and practical terms.
Living more fully into our gifts and purpose is not a substitute for other layers of inner work, such as shifting old habit patterns or working through emotional hurts. They are connected, but cannot replace each other. Doing this work isn’t about becoming happy all the time, or full of love and peace for ever after. In fact it is often the much more difficult path to walk, especially in modern culture that so disavows this terrain, both the legitimacy of its existence and skepticism of its value. Walking this path requires deeper and deeper honesty with ourselves and finding commensurate self-love for those hurt and struggling parts of us.
A Guiding Star
Gifts and purpose are like a lighthouse. They help to light the way and remind us of our path, but they do not do the sailing for us. They inspire, connect the dots and help us hone in where to focus ourselves, but the living of our gifts and purpose is a mundane task. It is done every day in the way we live, not the how. It might be our work, but it might just as well be about how we clean the house or parent our children. Over time, it simply becomes the totality of our life, as we integrate in subtler and subtler ways.
Living with purpose is not an endgame. It is about the journey because there is no end. We are always learning more about our gifts and purpose and finding new and deeper ways to express them. The guiding images that came to us evolve and deepen over time. They are a living thing. They are like an inner fire that we must tend. Sometimes the fire is smoky and smoldering, other times it is burning bright and hot. Without judgement, the more we bring our attention to how that fire is burning, the more we naturally move towards tending it how it feels best for us. In the beginning, we are more erratic in tending our fire, but over time we make subtler and subtler adjustments to keep that fire burning. We continue tending that fire with care and deliberation, right up to the end, when we will tend the fire out because the process of tending is more important than the state of the fire.
Cacao & Our Life Purpose
Offering cacao ceremony to others can be a great way to share our gifts because cacao is such a versatile and accessible tool. It gently takes us deeper and holds us along the way. This naturally lends itself well to ways of more powerfully sharing our gifts with others. Cacao pairs well with many modalities, making it a great addition to what we facilitate and the journey we take people on. Cacao also naturally wants to be shared, making it easier to enhance what we already do. It doesn’t take years of refined practice or learning of complex skill sets to share cacao with friends, family or people ready to go on a journey. We can share it casually or more intentionally, allowing it to accentuate the deeper waters we are leading people into. The clearer we are on our own gifts and purpose, the more cacao will support them, both in how we share with others and in what we facilitate.