Chaplaincy

Finding Vision and Purpose When The Future Is So Uncertain

University Chaplain, Revd Dr Harriet Harris, writes about finding purpose and vision in uncertain times in her blog post.

Thinking about our next steps in life can be confusing and uncertain at the best of times, and we are not currently living in the best of times. We are living with the global pandemic of Covid19, and in a cultural epidemic of overwhelm against which we have not protected ourselves. The world is also waking up to racial injustice in deeper ways than before, the climate crisis goes unabated, and we are questioning of old ways of doing things. Even the short-term the future is difficult to navigate, because we may suddenly be locked down, or opened up; in turmoil and violence, or with nothing to do but stay indoors.

Yet with grey and shifting pictures, if we sit with them and do not try too hard to force sense out of them, but instead let life emerge from them, we can start to tell the difference between what matters and what doesn’t.

From amongst the seeming chaos, that which gives life comes into view.

Image of The Flowering Apple Tree painting by Piet Mondrian, 1912
The Flowering Apple Tree by Piet Mondrian, 1912

 

Where are the plants that are flowering in your days at the moment?

 

Two things we can have, whatever the circumstances, are vision and purpose.

The pandemic is fertile ground for deepening our sense of both the vision and purpose of our lives.

Purpose

Photo by Piknyjosef, knitted decoration on a male statue ion Bohmte, Germany
Photo by Piknyjosef, knitted decoration on a male statue ion Bohmte, Germany

It may seem paradoxical given the job losses, but we can dig into our sense of purpose during lockdown. Our purpose is not our job, any more than it is our qualifications.

Our purpose is our answer to the question WHY?

“Why am I here on this planet?”

Our purpose is about who we are in the world, and what lights us up, and it holds whether or not we are in a pandemic, recession, climate crisis, enjoying relative peace or suffering conflict.

Our purpose can develop and change, as can the clarity with which we express it. It doesn’t just drop from the sky; we need to do some digging to find and articulate it. And when we do, we can live it daily.

Here are a few pointers for finding your purpose and stating it to yourself.

  • State it in the positive: e.g.‘fighting injustice’ is a great mission, but you want your purpose to be something you can do every day, and where your default is not combative but inviting e.g. ‘showing welcome to everyone I meet’.
  • Let it reflect what you do, e.g. do not say that you welcome everyone, if actually you do not. It might be more that you ‘greet opportunities’, or you ‘embrace diversity’.
  • Include how you do it, and let this be an enjoyable state for you, e.g. ‘lovingly looking to bring out the best in people’, ‘joyfully helping people to feel welcome’, ‘sensitively adding beauty wherever I go’.
  • Let it be something you can experience every day, so that no day in your life needs to be lived devoid of your purpose. Climbing Kilimanjaro wouldn’t count, though it could be a mission. ‘Delighting in new challenges’ could be your purpose, where you anticipate with delight that each day will bring challenges - and if you live like this you will enliven others too. Our purpose takes us beyond ourselves and is a service to the world.

You want your purpose to be emotionally charged for you – doesn’t matter if it falls flat for others; it matters that it brings a smile to your face, ‘playfully welcoming opportunities’.

If we can answer the question ‘Why am I here on this planet?’, we can, even in the most difficult circumstances, live our purpose every day.

Vision

Our vision is also thankfully immune to pandemics. Our vision is a kind of calling, a compass for us that provides our true north. It’s out there, just beyond the horizon, so ‘seeing it’ is not an exact science! The realisation of our vision may be years ahead, even beyond our lifetime, but our vision guides us.

Here are a few pointers for finding your vision

You can start to form your vision by tuning into that which is bigger than you are; whatever helps you to appreciate and enjoy being part of a larger whole – being with nature, or immersed in music, present in meditation, engaged in prayer, watching the night sky, or active in solidarity with those with whom you share a cause. Close your eyes and look out beyond the horizon to what you see and hope for the world. Your vision could be something like:

  • A world in which no child goes hungry.
  • A world where animals, plants, rivers and oceans are treating with respect by human beings
  • A city that is carbon positive
  • A world where all are free from threat of domestic or sexual abuse
  • A community that genuinely delights in equality and diversity and is a beacon for others
Photo of Thunderstorms seen from the International Space Station
Photo of Thunderstorms seen from the International Space Station. By NASA Expedition 20 crew - NASA Earth Observatory

But what do I actually do in life, and how can I turn it into income?

Earning your income by pursuing your vision is a great boon. It is terrific to aim for that, whilst realising that not everybody can pull that off, at least not right away. Doing a job to earn money while you work towards your vision in other ways is quite normal! And remember, you need never be devoid of your purpose – you can be ‘joyfully welcoming’, ‘greeting opportunities’, ‘lovingly looking to bring the best out in people’ however you earn your money. But somewhere in you, there will be a mission which is a particular thing for you to do in pursuit of your vision. As I write, I think about our Sikh Chaplain, Trishna Singh, whose vision is for equality, and whose mission has been to create a community base for Sikh women, and to support Sikh girls in her community to continue with their education. She created Sikh Sanjog in 1989, and has been awarded an OBE for this work, http://www.sikhsanjog.com/

Careers Advisors are best placed to guide you regarding work and income, and can bring so much experience, wisdom and fun to the process.

My encouragement to you here is something different. I would love for you to:

  • scan the horizon and then look beyond it
  • not be afraid to develop and state a vision
  • have courage and take risks, and find supporters who can help you to do this
  • know that often it is you who can keep doors open, and choose when to close them
  • grow your intuition as well as your trust of your intuition (get into your body, know when you are ‘disheartened’, or facing something you cannot ‘stomach’)
  • trust that people or circumstances emerge when you need them to, and so attune your antennae
  • and dig into the knotty and juicy difficulties of this pandemic to draw out the rich purpose within you.

The rain will continue to fall on us, and the sun will continue to shine on us. We need them both. These times may feel overwhelming, but dig into their soil and find the juicy nutrients from which your life will blossom.

Photograph of two purple and yellow flowers

Revd Dr Harriet Harris, University Chaplain

h.harris@ed.ac.uk