radishes harvested from the garden and wildflowers in basket

When the root of our suffering is a world starved of purpose & meaning

As I stood in my garden with the dark moon overhead, I felt determined to get the seeds for my root crops in the soil. The loosened and weeded beds had settled and grass sprouts were popping up in the prepared earth as I made my final preparations. It was a full day’s work returning to the beds and plotting and planting the seeds. What normally feels like a never-ending task, wondering if I will ever get the planting done so I can tend to the growth, had a vastly different feel this year. There was a deep sense of pleasure as I immersed myself in hard work with a purpose.

As I later reflected on the sense of fulfillment from my work completed that day, I called to mind the image of the honeybee. The worker bee goes flower to flower collecting nectar that is passed onto other bees who work hard to turn that nectar into honey. Each bee has a sense of duty, a purpose, that leads toward something sweet at the end.

In this modern world, we know the feeling of duty as we go to work to provide for ourselves financially, but how many of us know the purposeful and pleasurable hard work that contributes not merely to surviving but thriving? Not of contributing to our livelihood but to our liveliness?

close up of radish bunch in garden bed
brooke holding two turnips from her garden

We have a diagnosis but maybe what we need is purpose

As science and psychology have progressed, we’ve determined many labels for our pain and suffering. It can feel reassuring to know what’s so-called wrong with us, but once it becomes so clearly defined, it can be hard to let go of that label even as we grow to heal or adapt to work with it. It becomes a part of the identity we carry with us, perpetuating the diagnosis.

Perhaps the real reason for the inner challenges we face is not that there’s something inherently wrong with us but with the way we are expected to be in our modern society. Perhaps we don’t fit the mold for modern living or perhaps the added stress of living in these times grows too heavy a weight to carry. And most likely yet, it’s because we’ve sacrificed our sense of purpose in order to make it in the modern lifestyle.

Sometimes when we’re feeling down or life feels heavy, what we really need is good, old-fashioned work that touches our human essence and fulfills our wild soul. Not the kind of work we punch the clock for, but the kind of work that means something to us. The sense of purpose we’ve lost to the modern way of working.

brooke holding the first two chicken eggs from her new flock
ameracauna pullet on garden fence with sunlight shining through aspens and coop in background

Work has lost its purpose as we’ve outsourced to companies & machines

We’ve lost our sense of purpose as crafting our own goods with our hands, harvesting our own food, and preparing meals from scratch have been outsourced to companies. We’ve lost a sense of purpose as we’ve traded a deep connection to nature, ritual, conversation, and storytelling for shallow pop culture and the false connection of social media.

Duties that were a normal part of being a human for thousands of years or more have been lost in only the last tens to hundreds of years. We may be relieved to let others handle some of these tasks for us, but we’ve also sacrificed a lot of what’s historically brought meaning to the human race in the process of modernization.

Where our work used to directly correlate to providing for our own livelihood, now we trade hours with companies who thrive so we can pay yet other companies to provide for us. Where we used to connect with life through our hands, now we sit behind screens and eat manufactured food from a plastic package. We aren’t meant to live so disconnected, so it’s no wonder many of us feel lost and suffering.

As A.I. infiltrates creative expression and we lose more and more mind-numbing jobs to technology, we’re going to continue to see shifts in what it means to work as a human. What’s left when all the mundane jobs are gone to machines? We’ll have a whole host of problems in those times, but we’ll also be forced to return to purpose – and what it means to be a human. Perhaps it will send us back to the land and our wild selves as humans grow tired and unfulfilled by the artificial nourishment fed to us by machines.

a bunch of radishes in garden bed
earthworm curled in garden dirt

Finding what feeds us in a world starved of purpose

If you find yourself in a current state of suffering, or perhaps one area of your life feels particularly challenging, stop to feel your feelings and tune into the true source of your pain. What in your life is causing this pain? For many of us, it may be a lack of purpose and fulfillment, a loss of the true sense of what it means to be a human being.

Returning to the image of the honeybee, there is no middle man and there is no outsourcing. The honeybee is interconnected with nature and a process that keeps them and their hive alive. They’re devoted to hard work with a purpose and there’s a beauty in that. There’s a deep pleasure in what is reaped at the end. Yes, the sweetness of honey is wonderful, but so is the satisfaction of contributing to something of life-giving value. Like the honeybee, we can find purpose and meaning in pleasurable, dutiful work that turns nectar into honey.

In order to heal our pain and suffering, we must find a life of purpose and meaning outside of what has become normal in modernity. If we’re disconnected from the things that sustain our lives, we’re also disconnected from the things that make us feel alive. The answer to our discontent is in finding those things that feed us in all the ways we’ve grown starved in our modern world. It’s in reclaiming the pleasure that’s to be found in the tasks that have grown to feel mundane and beneath us, readily outsourced to others. It’s in finding beauty in the hardest and dirtiest of work, sinking our hands in the earth, and remembering what it is to be a human being interconnected with nature.

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