Purpose and Joy

CootsOnMedicineLakeI believe in the need for social justice. I believe in promoting peace. I believe in doing everything I can to reduce climate change.

But I am not a social justice activist. I am not active in the peace movement. And I don’t devote myself to fighting climate change.

I am not trying to save the world.

“Why?” you ask.

For a long time I wondered “Why?” also. There was something that didn’t feel right about most activism (for me).

I noticed anger on the faces of peace activists, self-righteousness, and sometimes even despair during social justice actions.

I realized that any social action that does not come from joy and love is not an authentic action for me.

The only thing that makes sense for me to do with this life is to do what brings me joy. Following my joy (seeing beauty and making photographs) teaches me this lesson.

“Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”  ~ Howard Thurman

I’ve written about purpose before (Looking for Purpose in Life and A Question of Purpose) and how I think that our purpose is to express who we are in this life. I believe the way that we discern and express who we are is by following joy (Getting on the Joy Train, Choosing Joy—Part 1), and Choosing Joy—Part 2).

Purpose and Joy

Yesterday I was reminded again of how purpose and joy intertwine, by reading Elizabeth Gilbert’s newest book Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear. Gilbert writes that the source of our actions (joy and love or fear and aversion) is key.

In Big Magic, Gilbert says that living a creative life is not necessarily about making your living through your creativity. For years she made her living as a waitress, bar tender, and in other ways while she did what she loved (writing). In her book she tells a story about a 40 year old woman who took up figure skating again (after dropping it as a teen) just for the joy of skating. Three times a week in the early morning before work the woman meets with her skating coach and feels the joy of gliding over the ice, challenging herself to learn and grow. Gilbert suggests that there is no purpose beyond joy in expressing our creativity.

I told the universe (and anyone who would listen) that I was committed to living a creative life not in order to save the world, not as an act of protest, not to become famous, not to gain entrance to the canon, not to challenge the system, not to show the bastards, not to prove to my family that I was worthy, not as a form of deep therapeutic emotional catharsis…but simply because I liked it. — Elizabeth Gilbert Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear

I haven’t finished reading the book yet, but it is resonating with me. If you haven’t read it yet, I encourage you to check it out at your local library or bookstore.

Recently I began seriously questioning whether it was time to close my photography business, not because I am done doing photography, but because the whole idea of running a business and trying to make money doing photography was distracting me from the deep practice of seeing beauty, making photographs, and continuing to develop my vision.

Foggy Trees and Marsh View

After reading the first half of Big Magic, I feel like proclaiming “I make photographs because I like it and nothing else matters.”

This is a huge internal shift for me. When I started my photography business (shortly after deciding not to return to the corporate world as a software engineer) I was trying to prove something to myself. I had fallen in love with photography and decided that I wanted to pursue it but there were other fears and needs that got all mixed up with the love of photography.

The whole form of creating a business and feeling that I needed to make money was based in fear and a belief that worthiness rested on external success.  I am fortunate to be at a place in life where I have enough to live a good life and do not need to make money to survive but it has taken time for me to realize that I can let go of all of the proving stuff and just do what brings me joy.

I haven’t made any decisions yet about how my work will change (if it changes).  For now I am living the question, confident that asking the question is a far more important than having an answer.

May you walk in beauty (and joy).

Peaceful Lake Scene


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