Shahriar Shahriari

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Message of the Month

July, 1998

Mission & Purpose

There are those who claim that in life, human beings are either driven by "pain" or "pleasure". In other words, we make the choices that we make, either because it will bring us some pleasure, or it will drive us away from some pain.

But this philosophy of life seems rather simplistic and nave. After all, are we mere animals that are determined by these behavioral reactions? Surely not! So what is it that drives us in life?

Once we move away from this limited paradigm of pain/pleasure, we arrive at the paradigm of "mission". In other words, one could claim that human beings are existential organisms that are driven by their mission in life. This paradigm suggests that sometime in our lives, we come across some mission that we find inspiring and compelling. We make that our personal life long mission, and in spite of all odds, we pursue that mission, until we arrive at some point where we can claim that we have fulfilled this mission.

This paradigm is more convincing than pain/pleasure, because often we are willing to face adversity in order to fulfill our mission, or simply put, we are willing to accept pain and move away from pleasure in order to attain our objective. Of course the proponents of the first paradigm claim that we accept the short-term lesser pain for the long-term greater pleasure. But what about the risk factor? What about the possibility of never reaching our objective, which could be even more painful than avoidance?

While more expansive than the pain/pleasure paradigm, the mission paradigm is also somewhat limiting. The goal orientation of the mission approach leaves us in a state of constant striving until we reach certain milestones. Not until we reach those milestones or final destination can we feel fulfilled, nor can we claim that we are accomplishing our mission. This kind of missionary life becomes a modern day struggle, all be it a benevolent struggle, and cannot bring happiness.

So we move on to the next paradigm which is that of "purpose". Purpose differs from mission in the way that it takes the focus away from a goal or objective and brings value to the process. For example, while my mission could have been to paint the most expensive painting in the world, my purpose is to bring financial value in the form of artistic beauty.

In the first example, I need to come up with a masterpiece that surpasses all others in value. In the later, I can find joy in creating value rather than competing with others. And as long as I create such value, I will be happy in life.

This paradigm requires considerable awareness and immense focus. We must focus on our objective and not be distracted by things that are either contrary or irrelevant. Yet in life, there are instances that we make our decisions and choices based on something even greater. We find ourselves doing things that have nothing to do with our purpose or mission, or pain/pleasure. So what drives those decisions in life?

This brings us to the fourth paradigm that says our reason for being is neither behavioral nor existential, neither goal driven nor process driven. And here we come to the spiritual paradigm.

From this perspective, we understand the brevity of life. We recognize how fragile it is. We give more value to the moment at hand and the people and things around us. We act from our inner impulse to life. And we simply do things because they are the right things to do in that given moment and situation. We make our choices in every moment, and we let our soul be the decision-maker. We neither concern ourselves with the outcome, nor with adhering to certain processes.

In this paradigm, our purpose becomes a sub-branch of our way of living, an outgrowth of our momentary right choices, our honoring of the impulse to life. This recognizes that life is much more than a mere living of a purpose, and makes room for doing things that are completely unrelated to our purpose, yet are the right things to do. Things such as giving a helping hand here, smiling there, and so on.

And our mission becomes a byproduct of our purpose. In other words, while we are living on purpose, we are not focused on any kind of predetermined outcome. Yet the purposeful outcome is inevitable, since we are on purpose.

And as for pain and pleasure, they are simply relegated to the position of physical sensations. In such way of living, joy becomes the transcendent feeling that can be maintained through both pain and pleasure.

All because we live our lives by the spiritual paradigm. All because in any given moment and situation, we do the right thing, because it is the right thing to do.

Shahriar Shahriari
Vancouver, Canada
July 1998

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