On Gift and Life Purpose
by Malidoma Somé
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It is inconceivable that we humans could be in this world for no reason. There is no way we and our purpose can be ignorant of, or completely alienated from each other like twins who were separated at birth. We either know our purpose or it knows us. There is a larger issue and it is whether we are waiting for someone to confirm what we already know before we truly believe it, or we are strong and bold enough to embrace our convictions. As people under the umbrella of modernity, we long for acknowledgment and recognition. As humans, we want to be witnessed: to be seen in our gift means a lot to us. It means that we have the permission to fulfill a mission. It is as if someone, preferably an authority, has pronounced us fit to do what is seen as a mandate to fulfill a destiny. This witnessing or pronouncement from a valued person is like an authorization, a permission to go ahead and do what we must do. Consequently, if purpose is mission, purpose without the “permission” is purpose denied deep down. At least, this is what the human psyche reads.
Purpose and gift are one and the same. Each of us came into this world with a gift. The gift is our profession, the thing we are most qualified to do in this lifetime. In indigenous thinking, there is no way one can arrive in this world without one. So the larger issue in the modern world is to quickly find out what that gift is in order to radiate and live it. This is what initiation in indigenous culture takes care of. Initiation allows the individual to become aware of, and to see their gift directly from the other world. Seeing the gift is seeing the light. It bursts open the floodgate of emotion and commitment and anchors a person’s life in it.
Our purpose is always pulling at us. Without formal initiation, we must notice this pull and go in the direction it wants us to. We must sense the throbs of the gift inside and be willing to test it in various ways. The vitality of the gift feels like an irresistible pull to do something. It is a call to action that begins with a quest. For some, it may take a lifetime searching for it. In The Matrix for example, Neo felt the pull to search because his purpose was to become the agent of redemption who frees people from the illusion of their conditioning. He didn’t believe it at first. But eventually, he came to the realization that he is the One. Similarly, purpose rarely discloses itself solemnly to its bearer.
Instead, it comes feeling like a definite interest in something you like and later on takes the form of an increasing amount of passion toward a specific action in a clear area. A fixation with arts turns out to be a calling for healing for choreographic design, a career in therapy etc. A person who is constantly withdrawn and dangerously introverted turns out to be a shaman with a deep connection to the Otherworld. If you are deeply excited and moved by what you are doing chances are you are in tune with your gift. Purposeful living arises naturally from deep within as an urge to engage in activities that uplift self and the others. If what you are doing feels like this, chances are you are fulfilling your purpose.
The worst part is when gift or genius begins with critical marginalization such as a derangement of the mind and body: a complete withdrawal from normalcy, and even restless and reckless behavior endangering self and others. It suffices to say that sometimes the size of the gift is proportional to the rattling that plagues its bearer. In indigenous cultures such as the Dagara, the gift of healing has usually begun making itself known through trauma. I have seen some people in my village go nuts because their gift of healing had morphed into a giant energy that drove them crazy. So, in a culture that understands, a person in crisis is the staging ground for something beneficial to the village. Gifts like to come out of their bearers in a grandiose fashion. This may sound like an irony, but it means that contact with the Otherworld is not always smooth and gentle.
We have a contract with our gifts. According to this contract, we must deliver the gift. When, for one reason or another, we default on this, the gift is upset. The resulting effect is that we drop out of rhythm, out of harmony. We get sick. This physical condition is an expression of the disharmony resulting from a cacophony reminiscent of the alienation from purpose. So if you feel you have talents, a gift that nags you every day, follow the thread of its expression. If you do not feel anything at all, see a diviner or a therapist as soon as possible. The gift knows the style of its expression and where it wants to go. It is service to it and to self to go down that direction with little or no knowledge or plan. It might appear troublesome, but in the end, it is a source of generativity, creativity, and blossoming. Living in one’s gift is like living with the Beloved. Purpose is the defining factor for any viable raison d’être, a source of dignity, style, and elegance in which life’s demeanor is reflected.
Written by Malidoma P. Somé
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