… on Life’s Purpose

IMG_0577

I’ve been having many conversations about “purpose” recently. As in, one’s purpose in life. Personally, I’ve thought many different things about this through the years. I’ve been “certain” about what it is, but as I spoke about it on three different occasions to people in the past week, I realised that my perception of it had shifted again.

For context, I’ve always been quite driven. I was probably around 10 years old the first time someone told me that my dreams were too big. At the time, I must have been in my astronomy phase, where everything was about starts, planets, asteroids, the universe. I read books, I watched videos, and nothing felt more exciting than to figure out the universe. Even at that age, I understood that my dream would entail me leaving my hometown and my family behind, and go somewhere abroad, probably the USA. Interestingly enough, I also thought my dreams were too big. Not too big for me though; but too big for the people around me. And then the arts and creativity came into my life in a big way: dance, singing, writing, performing. It was the early 2000s, and my dream morphed into wanting to be an international pop star. People didn’t seem to be too excited about this, at all! Yes, I was attracted to it due to the bubble gum pop explosion of that era, but when revisiting the songs I used to write and compose back then, it is very interesting to notice that there was a very clear intention to explore serious issues. Yes, I was quite an intense teenager!

I remember having this feeling of wanting “to help people through my music”, and as my dream morphed from pop star to actor, from politician to humanitarian, from activist to therapist, this feeling was the thing that remained throughout those transformations: helping others. Even from my days of wanting to be an astronomer, I carry this life perspective of macro dynamics, of bigger picture, of understanding the individual by understanding the collective. Anyone who knows me really well, knows how much I can actually struggle with day to day life interactions, but get me talking about, or exploring, or working through the bigger picture of anything, and I’m happy and engaged. I guess that’s why the majority of those dreams were in the form of a profession or role that entailed macro dynamics. And then I ended up becoming a therapist, which is really about the intimate relationship between therapist and client. It made sense in terms of the helping people, but not so much in terms of the macro dynamics. At least, not at first. But after a few years of seeing clients, I began to discern the macro from the micro, as patterns and life stories began to merge into these collective narratives of the human experience. It’s not necessarily that we are all screwed up, but actually, yes we are! I mean, everyone has attachment issues. Validation issues. Relationship issues. Confidence issues. Everyone has been emotionally wounded by someone else, and everyone has inflicted emotional wounds on someone else. Everyone wants to be loved. Everyone wants to know that they matter. What’s really so different about all of us?

Through these professional developments and my own personal spiritual studies, I’d come to the comfortable conclusion that I was indeed here to help others. This was my life’s work, my life’s purpose, and everything I did was about that. But then questions started to creep in: how exactly am I helping others? Through Dramatherapy or spirituality? Through both, perhaps? And who are these others that I’m helping? Just my clients, or also my friends, my family, my acquaintances? By helping, do I mean saving? Isn’t that a bit too conceited? Did they ask for my help? Why do I want to help them? Where does this need of helping others comes from? What am I trying to prove, or validate? Why do I like to be around such darkness and chaos all day long? And why can’t I seem to help myself? Am I a hypocrite?

At first, most of these questions were quiet. And they would pop up only every now and then, and only one or two at a time. And as they became louder, I began to actively ignore them. I mean, I had now discovered the macro dynamics in my work, and I was slowly on the way to develop some kind of grand theory and methodology in psychotherapy that I would present to the world via a Doctorate, and finally become the Doctor my family always expected me to be! Yep! My work with my clients was somehow contributing to the deep validation I needed from my family. And from authority figures in general. And then I realised that I was in a co-dependent relationship with work, where my work was to help people through their own co-dependencies. Yikes! For those of you who used to follow my old blog and have read some of my newest posts, you know what happened next. Breakdown, existential crisis, falling apart, going away, confusion, loss, grief, death, rebirth.

Amazingly, I hadn’t really noticed the rebirth until this past week. Last Sunday, during one of my private practice sessions, one of my clients said to me: “You know Ryan, I’ve been actively looking for my purpose for years, and it’s only now that I’m beginning to think that perhaps my purpose is to just be me, the best me I can possibly be. You know?” Hearing that resonated deeply throughout my whole being. Yes, indeed! What if our purpose is really to just be the best we, we can possibly be? Not helping people, or saving people, or creating this, or changing that. But to just be present enough in your life, where you can genuinely and deeply say that “I’ve lived!” What if that’s it?

A few days later, someone else I know was having a hard day as they questioned what their purpose in life might be, as they perused through social media and looked at the apparent “success” of all these people they knew. And it was in that moment that I realised that my views on purpose had completely shifted post-breakdown. That I wasn’t looking to do this or that with my life, or through my work, or anything at all. I looked into the horizon of my own life and saw a completely blank canvas, rid of expectations of what that horizon should look like, or could look like. There were no specific plans, no visions. Most importantly, there were no expectations or hidden agendas about hardly anything. It was an inner freedom I had never experienced before, and I realised that for the past few weeks I had been living in the present moment of each day without many expectations. I was talking about this process to another friend yesterday, and I just find it remarkable that life actually feels so peaceful right now, in comparison to even two months ago.

The thing is, I surrendered. I woke up one morning in mid-November, after 6 months of inner strife and helplessness, and told myself that I was going to stop. No more being a therapist, no more living in London, no more to the future that I thought I was entitled to live, no more to the purpose of helping others and the world. I closed my private practice, my third sector HIV practice, and started reaching out to people in Lisbon about job opportunities. I truly let go of everything and surrendered. I had come to a place where I felt there was nothing else I could do, besides letting go. In that moment, last November, I felt the biggest relief I’d felt in a very long time, and felt, for the first time, that it was okay not to know anything about what my future would look like. All I had, truly, was each day, and my only purpose under those circumstances, was to pay attention to each day. Therein lies my shift in perspective. I no longer see my life as having purpose, my life is the purpose. Being myself is my purpose.

Ryan Campinho Valadas

W: http://www.thehealingcontinuum.com/
E: info@thehealingcontinuum.com

Advertisements

…on Following Life’s Clues

“Lives fall apart when they need to be rebuilt.”Iyanla Vanzant

 

As I was watching an episode of one of the many TV series that I follow, I was pleasantly surprised to see a cameo from one of my favourite motivational speakers: Iyanla Vanzant. In her cameo, Iyanla says the line above to the main character, and this has stayed with me for the past few days.

I always find December an interesting time of the year. Even though I have been following a spiritual tradition for the past 7 years whereby the new year actually starts around September/October, the previous years of conditioning have left me with this December = final month of the year type of melancholy and reflection.

In many ways, it has felt like my life has fallen apart this year. Mostly, that it has fallen apart in relation to what I expected from it. When I turned 30, earlier this year, I was frankly filled with excitement and hope. I was more than happy to leave my 20s behind, and I was looking forward to this new decade. A few months later, I was quitting a job and taking a leave of absence from my life in London. At first, I rationalised that, indeed, I needed a break, and sometimes breaks may appear in unexpected, dramatic form. I hoped that my time away would provide me with the necessary insight that I would require upon my return. In short, I was expecting a nice epiphany a la Eat, Pray, Love, whilst seeping cocktails by the beach. I know, I should know better than that. More importantly, I should know better than to make deals with life, and expect a specific result from a specific action. Why can’t I do something, and the result be exactly what I want and expect? I know! I keep having to learn this lesson, and honestly, it’s getting old.

I did indeed get my rest. I was able to have a wonderful summer, catching up with lifelong friends who also happened to be having some kind of “I’m 30 years old” crisis. I basked in the sun of my home country, Portugal, spent beautiful days at the beach, and had no concerns besides food, drink, rest, and entertainment. Honestly, my first real holiday in many, many years. What I didn’t do, however, was to allow myself to feel the things that had led me to my precarious situation of no work and no direction. I didn’t allow myself to fully and wholly experience the feelings of shame, failure, depression, and questioning, that were to come and needed to be processed with care and compassion. I returned to London with some trepidation as I was coming back to nothing specific, except some job interviews. I was aware that I hadn’t really processed much of what I needed to process, and told myself that “it would all be okay”. As I hadn’t experienced any kind of epiphany, I made a simple deal with myself: follow the clues. Follow the clues of what appears, of what manifests, and of what doesn’t happen. That was my only personal commitment upon my return.

The past few months have been months of falling apart. Not necessarily on an external level, but definitely on an internal level. These months have been months of unwillingness to let go and then being forced to let go. To let go of what? Of life itself, as I thought I knew it. Of dreams that I had and the expectation of how those dreams should come true. Of not getting what I thought I should get. Did you notice the use of “should”? Yes, me too. It’s peculiar, really, because even though I never actually got what I thought I would get, I somehow kept holding on to this belief that one day, I would. I mean, nothing in my life has ever manifested in the way that I expected, so why did I keep pursuing this belief, and causing myself unnecessary suffering in the process? Social, cultural, parental conditioning, perhaps. I mean, 9 years ago, I enrolled in a Politics degree because I had the ambition to become the Secretary General of the United Nations – the first out gay man to do so, too! I love my “firsts”. But anyway, it turned out that life experiences and decisions led me to qualify as a Dramatherapist, instead. Yes, it’s a long story!

In the past few months I have been battling with all my internalised oppression and judgement; social, cultural, parental, and familial expectations and conditioning; my own sense of failure and inadequacy; a very old destructive sense of worth; feeling lost and hopeless; trying all the options that I could think of; and being trapped in the midst of a situation that I didn’t understand and had never experienced. Even in the life experiences that led me to change my “purpose” from wannabe pop star to stage actor to politician and diplomat to therapist, I was always driven by something that felt clear. I haven’t felt that drive in months. I ran out of drive and motivation. In a way, I had accomplished much of what I had set out to accomplish when I was younger. Now what? When you’ve achieved everything you wanted, what’s next? It wasn’t clear. After a particularly tough day a couple of weeks ago, I decided to have “a heart to heart” with myself, about the future. The result of this was the ultimate letting go: letting go of how I thought and expected my life to be.

First, I decided to start removing things in my life that were not adding anything or were, in fact, adding chaos. There’s no point in adding new things, if you hold on to the things that aren’t working. This involved small and big things: from simply leaving a whatsapp group, all the way to letting go of my private practice. Second, to admit that I was struggling emotionally and mentally, and had been depressed for many months. You can’t heal what you don’t reveal. Third, I opened up to close friends, family, and colleagues. I was surprised by each of those groups of people. Some of my friends had been or were going through similar situations. I wasn’t alone anymore. My own mother said that it was okay that maybe I didn’t get to work in the area of my postgraduate degree! My mother! I thought she was going to be the most disappointed about the whole thing. No, it was all in my head, as it always is. And then my colleagues, particularly a manager, who was extremely kind and supportive of my decision to stop practicing. Fourth, I began to accept that, actually, I am not on any specific schedule to accomplish or do anything in particular, and therefore, I don’t need to struggle so much with “purpose”. I mean, if your purpose feels like a struggle, it is most certainly not your purpose. Fifth, and finally, I began to look at what was working. And there were a few things, despite everything.

I’m not writing this to now finish and say that I’ve got it all figured out. I don’t. I really don’t. But this is what I can observe from this experience: life did feel like it was falling apart. In many ways, it was. Deep held beliefs and values about life and purpose have completely crumbled and given way to something new: something that is unknown, uncertain, but ultimately something that feels true. How does it feel true? Well, do you remember when I mentioned about my personal commitment to follow the clues? Often unbeknownst to my own rational mind, this is what my soul has been doing all these months. In spite of all the superficial chaos and uncertainty, there has been a steady flow of consistent alignment with life’s clues. Perhaps, if I had paid closer attention to this, I could have avoided some suffering, but I can’t change that now. Hopefully next time, I will be able to let go and surrender quicker.

I will leave you with a clear example of all of this – it’s always nice to philosophise about life, but without practical life examples, what’s the point? So, for the past few months, I have been pursuing Dramatherapy work as a therapist in many ways: private practice, jobs, partnerships. Nothing has worked. And by nothing, I mean nothing. I saw that clue a couple of months ago, but kept ignoring it. 98% of my actions with the intention to deliver therapy led to nowhere. However, what has been working is the following: therapy-related, but not therapy-delivery roles, such as writing academic journals and blogs, editing an academic journal, convening subcommittees, working in a clinical field completely outside my previous clinical experiences. The moment I let go of being a therapist and all the hidden meanings attached to that, I was able to see the clues around me once again, and began to take confident steps into an unknown future, in an unexpected, but very exciting, new role.

Paradigms are changing at the speed of light. Things that were certain even a few months ago, no longer apply. Expectations are always limiting. Let go of them. Don’t try to bargain and negotiate with life. “This” action might not lead to “that” result. Accept that.

Follow the clues in your life: what’s working? What isn’t working? Pay and keep attention. Step confidently into the unknown. The clues will lead you to your treasure. Just let go of the idea of what that treasure might actually be. You don’t know.

Many of us are on this journey. You are not alone.

 

If this resonates, feel free to share with friends, family, and networks.

Thank you. xx

Ryan Campinho Valadas

W: http://www.thehealingcontinuum.com/