How Can We Find Our Purpose Again?
Everyone’s talking about it. Doubtless you’ve heard.. This pandemic we’re going through… might be the best thing that has happened to us. Now, hear me out. People as respected as Michael Hyatt and as intelligent as Cal Newport have said similar things. Before COVID hit, we had all become so complacent, so comfortable with life. There hadn’t been a serious political or social upheaval, at least in the First World, for decades. The general spirit of unity that followed 9-11 had dissipated almost completely. I’m sure you noticed it—that ennui, that boredom, that insidious thought: isn’t there something more important I could be doing with my life? Then we were all plunged into the strangest and most extreme global reaction to a pandemic in history. We’re still in the middle of it, of course, but we’re definitely in phase two, if not phase three. And now more and more of us, frightened by the reality of our mortality and disgusted by the general lack of courage and virtue we see all around us, have begun to commit to something that Cal Newport calls “the Deep Reset.” In a series of posts, Newport suggests that hardships actually have the tendency to unlock a deeper, more authentic, more satisfying life. And he insists (I agree with him) that this is the best response to unexpected difficulties. But what example does Mr. Newport use to illustrate his point? That’s right. He uses myth!
Two Phases of the Deep LifeIn my previous two posts, as well as in my new podcast, I make similar arguments. But Mr. Newport focused my thinking even more, by showing that any proper response to unexpected difficulties actually has two phases:
- Survive and progress
- Afterward, with a mix of humility and purpose, transform your life into something deeper
Phase 1 of the Deep Life: Survive and ProgressAragorn does this by following a series of steps:
- He makes sure to find a vetted mentor. In fact, this mentor is so well vetted that he’s an angel incarnate.
- He embraces solitude, and yet retains a kernel of joy that shines out from him when he smiles.
- He hides his name and seeks renown under many different names. This includes going abroad into different lands, always exploring the hearts of men (both good and evil), and in the process uncovering the plots of Sauron.
- He becomes skilled in both crafts and lore.
- He accepts his doom, and makes it his guiding force, not an obstacle.
Modeling Aragorn’s Life During the PandemicEvery phase of Aragorn’s life is easily translatable into a series of actions that we can take now, today, this moment, to begin to transform the chaos of COVID-stupor into a meaningful life that uses hardship to descend deeper, and maybe even to defeat evil in ourselves and those around us. We begin with the testing phase.
- First, we must find a mentor, but it is absolutely necessary that he or she be the right one.
- Then, we must seek solitude regularly, because only in solitude can we find deep thinking, contemplation, and ultimately joy.
- We must try out different ideas by delving deep into their hearts. Test them out, keeping in mind the instruction of our mentors.
- We must find a craft and become good at it. In addition to working with our hands, we must also train our minds by a course of study that we choose and dive deep into.
- Then, we will find the courage to accept the hardship not only as inevitable, but as good for us.
- We must extend our hearts outward. Now that we have accepted our “doom,” so to speak, we should help others do the same. Especially our loved ones.
- Then, with a mix of humility and purpose, we can begin the long work of transforming our shallow half-existence into a deep life.
Resilience and Courage Through StoryRecently, I’ve started a new seven-week series on “Resilience and Courage Through Story,” where I explore the seven steps that Aragorn showed us can lead to a deep life. Each week, I discuss, in detail, each step of his quest for the deep life, using examples from stories, as well as sharing the expertise of science and the wisdom of philosophy and theology. This series is only available to members of my email list, which I like to call my “story circle.” If you’d like to join my story circle, you can have exclusive access to this email series by joining at www.nicholaskotar.com/resilience. I look forward to beginning this journey with all of you!
- Tolkien, J.R.R. The Lord of the Rings, at 1059. HarperCollins, 2004.[↩]
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