Tuesday 26 March 2013

Pre-history and the sense of purpose

Imagine pre-historic humans, unshaved, unwashed, uneducated, but far more alert to natural signals and intuitive communication. How quickly did they invent shoes in whatever form? The need for protection of feet has always struck me as priority, since movement must have been a key factor for survival. And survival must have been the first strong sense of purpose, instinctive protection of life.

In this year, 2013, we do not think of humans hunting for breakfast. Cereals, yoghurt, bacon, eggs, tomatoes, tea, coffee, champagne are all easily obtainable, and can even be kept overnight in fridges if necessary. We have survived so well that we have turned into a market of consumers.

Increasingly, we lose out on having an urgent sense of purpose. For less affluent people, the purpose is often about becoming more affluent. For affluent people, the purpose becomes the need to look after investment carefully. And then there's career development, social justice and spiritual imperatives.

I think about levels and intensities of urgency. What drives and motivates us, and what the implications are when we achieve our purposes. What really matters at the end of the day. Many would say that what matters at the end of the day relates to family, friends and the fulfillment of desires. I have the idea that if we unpack the sense of urgency to understand what it means and where it comes from, we need to re-read Brian Weiss for a start, to understand how all emotions connect,  and then the gnostic gospels to put matters in context. The Bhagavad-Gita and the major and minor prophets of the Old Testament would also help.

From a variety of sources we are told that the universe and experience are holographic. If this is so, then let's assume that one human death affects all human awareness and see what happens. My grandfather died young, perhaps quite suddenly and unexpectedly, and my mother's side of the family was traumatized. She was traumatized till the day she died, and that trauma still fills my heart with the urgent need for resolution. So I, too, will die relatively traumatized, and who can tell when and how this trauma is going work itself out? And all this trauma is merely personal. Wars, natural disasters and economic collapses have created wave upon wave of trauma that sweep through human memory. How will it ever be possible to resolve such a situation which revisits human awareness with every birth and death?

There is a gospel song "Call the man" popularized by Celine Dion that provokes the answer. The hero's courage to stand in stillness in the chaos and confusion is in each of us. The path to this strong, peaceful platform is by prayer and meditation. Prehistory had no sweeping concepts of mankind. Purpose was largely instinctive and has since gained almost unimaginablyin creativity. Choice of purpose implies less urgency of purpose, and less urgency implies less real. If I break a tooth, all other urgencies subside: my need to get to the dentist rules.

As I think about it, purpose and urgency overlap. The grander the purpose, the more deeply felt is the urgency. My grandfather on my father's side had the fervent urgency that took him to Spain, Chile, Argentina and Patagonia to convert the Catholics to Protestantism. He failed, and because I never met him, I don't know if this failure traumatized him.

I think that all the trauma of and in human history can be resolved by cosmic communication, and the meaning of that, so far as human awaresness goes, is by engaging with that which is spiritual. Prehistoric people argued less about defining what is spirtual, I should imagine, and tried harder to avoid the trauma of hunger, hurt and death.

In 2013 we have the amazing luxury of choosing purposes. This means not that our instincts have disappeared but that they have become clouded. It's not that we do not feel our innermost and profound urgencies but that we have a very useful array of distractions.

Why should anyone engage with the depths of human pain when there are cars, cookery courses, advertising campaigns and sport competitions?

If you move through all your layers of make-believe that this world is a comfortable, comforting place and revisit pre-historical awareness, there should a re-sharpening of awareness to the extent that certain urgencies become inescapable.

I enjoy comfortable and conforting things like single malt whiskies and first class international travel as much and moire than anyone else, and yet I realize the danger: if you lose the sense of vulnerability, you  lose the edge.

Every time I drive past Century City, Cape Town and read the billboard "Don't leave a will, leave a legacy" I really feel the meaning of that. I like it. Not many are in a position to do that. Many will die wondering what happened and why. I feel that, also, each and every time I think about it. I want none of us to have lived or died in vain.

So, "in vain"? We're not in prehistory anymore, we're here in 2013. How do you get to be born and to die in vain?

By not making your own attempt, however small, to contribute to the larger sense of spiritual context.
Ridley Beeton, a South African poet who is now in heaven entitled one of his collections "The Landscape of Requirement". Requirement makes sense. All are asked and few respond. (Check Zuma and cabinet.)

The sense of chosen purpose makes sense when it correlates with the sense of being called. Each one of us can change the evetual nature of human history by responding to the urgencies recognized in our individual souls.

I prioritize accomplishment over bliss, and I would like to see many resolutions to various traumas before I'm willing to trade in victorious and triumphant announcements.

Shoes are precious, you can't walk far without them. Holy ground says you take them off, out of respect for something greater than survival.

When I know I can walk no futher, shoes or no shoes, I am forced to my knees.

I think this posture teaches us once and for all who we are. No shoes. An emergency of need. An attitude which is ours to choose. An utter inevitability that takes us to the hearts' cry, the answer to which is not guarranteed to be what we want. Yet it's good, when by grace we accept it.

In 2013 the sense of pre-history is good for refining and re-defining the sense of purpose that creates real movement and direction.


  1. Prof. Willies,
    Well said. Great insight. I'm working on an essay that discusses life purpose in the context of today's life planning (values, vision, mission, goals). I think of it as a contemporary idea that was not affordable to most of our ancestors. Some are convinced that it is a humanistic overlay on traditional interpretation of scripture. While it certainly can be, Christians must understand first that our nature is spiritual. As C.S. Lewis said, a spirit, wrapped in a body. Therefore our spiritual calling or purpose is first, and perhaps our life purpose is an extension of that. I think ultimately it involves how we see God. If my God is distant from my every day, than the idea of being created for purpose seems far fetched. If my God is a part of my everyday - integral to my decisions and behaviors then I will assume He has purpose for me. Humanistic approach would take God out completely and make my life purpose about passion, talent, opportunity. In a Western culture, I don't think it serves us to look at one without the other. Spiritual first; but if God designed me (wired me) than passion, talent, personality, all the parts are also important but they don't determine my spiritual calling; God does. In such a time as this we may have the luxury of contemplating purpose, choosing vocation, and being directly involved in forming our legacy - but if we intend to find fulfillment in the process, it must start and end on our knees (with or without shoes).

  2. If you'd like to send me the essay when you've finished it, I'd like to read what you have to say. info@biofocusing.com