Originally posted 4-21-16 and titled “Depths of Purpose.” Edited and updated 6-11-20.
We’re living in extraordinary times of rapid, unprecedented change. It’s creating uncertainty at every level of our lives, from the deeply personal to the global. We’re confronting what is perhaps the worst pandemic in history. In its midst George Floyd ‘s death has stirred a much-needed and profound response to an injustice that has afflicted the US for generations.
It feels like a time of crisis. And perhaps that means it’s also a time of opportunity for growth and positive change.
During her presentation for a recent Family Life Coaching Association virtual conference, Trisha Peterson described “crisis” as a jostle, sort and shift of things – of beliefs, opinions, and expectations, until only what is vital remains. What will we discover, I wonder, when only what is vital remains?
(image © Carol McLelland Fields. Used with permission)
Yet for now there is turmoil within, reflecting the upheaval around us. Members of my Keys to Change Community and others are commenting on the rapid emotional shifts they’re experiencing daily: crying every day, rapid shifts from hope to despair, from energized to exhausted, from confident to shaken. Or the unfamiliar experience of grieving and celebrating at the same time.
The pandemic has taken us to the edge of a chasm so broad and so deep that we can’t see the bottom. The other side is still impossibly far away. While everything within us calls out to find away to cross it, this isn’t yet the time.
For now our task to accept our state of not knowing, and to turn inward, where we can find the insights and creative ideas that will allow us to make our way forward toward an as yet unknown future. Focusing on meaning and purpose is one way to do this.
How to Find Meaning and Purpose During the Pandemic
Our purpose is an active expression of the deepest dimension within us—where we have a profound sense of who we are and why we’re here.
~Richard J. Leider, The Power of Purpose, p vii
Here are three options for finding meaning and purpose in the midst of the pandemic.
- Finding meaning in difficult times helps us to heal, gain new insights, and act with purpose in the present. It prepares us to move forward positively. While we might very much prefer not to go through this experience, we can use what we learn from it to benefit ourselves and others.
A research team headed by University of Texas social psychologist James Pennebaker offers expressive writing prompts make sense of our experiences in the pandemic and help us to find meaning and purpose in them. This prompt focuses on purpose:
Many people are thinking about some of the basic aspects of their lives. If this is true for you, please write to explore your thoughts and feelings about some of the basic directions or purpose in your life. How might you be thinking differently about your goals and the ways you are approaching work, family, spiritual issues, your life’s meaning, and related big questions?
2. Christine Whelan, clinical professor at the University of Wisconsin’s School of Human Ecology, offers a video and brief exercise for identifying purpose: identifying core values, key strengths and things that you can do today. She reminds us that it’s not necessary to think through meaning and purpose in the deepest possible sense right now. Maybe you want to, and have the energy for that. But you can keep it simpler, using the meditation and writing exercise she offers to set an intention and choose actions, day by day. One step at a time. That’s enough for now. Remember that even our simplest actions can have an exponential, positive impact.
3. A few days ago, a neighbor introduced me to her friend. Our chance conversation got deep surprisingly quickly. Commenting on George Floyd’s death, he said “I think it’s the pandemic that’s made it possible for us to see what’s really happening. So many of us have died from police violence. This isn’t new. What is new is that the entire country, the entire world, is paying attention to what’s happening to us, protesting, refusing to let it drop. Maybe, just maybe, this time things will change.”
I would never have imagined the pandemic bringing us to a much-needed civil rights breakthrough. But that’s exactly what could happen, and we’re seeing some signs of hope that it will. Perhaps this will turn out to be some of the meaning to be found in the pandemic.
Try writing your reflections and your vision for the positive changes that could come from the pandemic. What might this time in history mean for us? How might the world be a better place one year from now? Five years from now? A generation from now? What signs of hope do you see that suggest this change could happen?
See if using one or more of these writing exercises helps you focus on meaning and purpose. Meaning and purpose guide and stabilize us, safeguarding our well-being in uncertain times.
Sign up for my July mini-retreat for a relaxing opportunity to be guided in strategies for coping, gaining insight and finding resilience during this strange time of not knowing.