I have been trying to find purpose and meaning in my life for a long time. Looking back, I would say at least since high school. What is it that we, and in particular I, am here for? What is it that will bring me passion and fill my heart? I searched for it in my Mechanical engineering studies and found bits and pieces. I also looked for it in during my MBA, but didn’t find too much there.
Along this search some 11 years ago, I stumbled upon meditation and that had a profound impact. Instead for looking for purpose and meaning outside, I started to look inside myself and almost immediately my search gained traction. One thing that became clear almost immediately is that meditation would play a central role in my life’s purpose.
I am now at Universidad del Rosario in Bogotá, Colombia, where I am participating in creating the Centro para Mindfulness, the first of its kind at a university in Colombia. My intention to contribute to the dissemination of Mindfulness meditation is what got me here in the first place, and working with my intention, getting in touch with it regularly, and clarifying it continuously, is an important part of what has kept me going.
If finding purpose is our first challenge, then acting on it is the second. For me, the practice of working with and returning to intention has been critical for emboldening and resourcing me in bringing this purpose into the world. This has by no means been a straightforward process, but it seems to me that there is a moving back and forth between a ‘cosmic’ perspective and a very concrete, action-oriented perspective.
The cosmic intention is related to what I consider of fundamental importance in life and for me that has to do with surrendering to and being in service of Love. The cosmic intention holds it all, my entire life and beyond. Any thing I do or can think of is subordinated to this intention. The cosmic intention opens my heart, brings me energy and also a quiet, rock-like confidence that means I can’t lose my way if stay connected to it.
Translating this cosmic intention into a direction and plan of action for the Center for Mindfulness is not always straightforward and often requires wrestling and brainstorming. The important thing for me is to stay in the challenge and mess without compromising the cosmic intention. I have found that my body knows when I am and when I am not being true to my cosmic intention: it feels clearly uncomfortable when there isn’t coherence with the highest intention. Translating the cosmic intention ‘down’ for the purpose of what we are creating at the Center typically involves clarifying first the overall intention for the Center and then becoming more and more concrete and specific until I get to objectives and actions for the next weeks and months. Once I get to the specific action plan and I can see how it aligns with the highest intention, I feel the energy and drive to move to action.
As I move to action, of course, I encounter reality, which is filled with all sorts of obstacles. Sometimes it is the bureaucracy or the skepticism of a large and traditional institution. Sometimes it’s the limited time and resources of the project. Sometimes it’s my habitual patterns and fears. And most often, it’s a combination of all of the above.
The effect of running into these obstacles is that suddenly my motivation and fuel are gone, sometimes in a split second. If it’s a minor difficulty, it may not be that hard to come back and find a way around it. But if it’s a major blow, something that messes with a strategic goal of the center or something that triggers a deeply rooted fear, I often find myself overwhelmed by emotions and reactivity, wanting to get the hell out of the situation. In my past, that escape strategy has led me to abandon important projects because it was just more intensity than I could handle.
This is where meditation practice comes in for me. Meditation is what has built my ability to notice when, in the face of obstacles to something I care deeply about, my internal alarm system gets triggered and my flight or fight reactivity takes over. In those situations I am now often able to make a pause: interrupt the automatic pilot and consider what the most skillful way forward is. The path forward usually involves accessing self-compassion, extending acceptance to the fact that the situation is overwhelming me (and that it’s OK), and then mindfully presencing the intensity of the emotions and bodily sensations. Paradoxically and counterintuitively, the waves of intensity increase, then decrease, and then disappear as I open up to make contact with it and allow it to pass through me. If I am able (sometimes I am not…) to stay with “what is”, (which takes away power from the narratives of my mind), I eventually get to a place of calm being-ness. From this place then, I can contemplate the situation with equanimity and get a sense of what I can change and what I cannot.
Once I am in this place of equanimity, I am ready to move back ‘up’ to the overall intention for the Center. This tends to be very helpful and effective for gaining clarity about a new path forward. More often than not, this leaves me again in a place ready to move to action, with access to the necessary fuel. And the moving back and forth between the higher intention and a concrete action plan continues iteratively, like a continual re-calibration or course correction with intention as the guiding compass.
While this may sound like a very tidy and buttoned-up way of doing something difficult, let me assure you that it is quite messy and not at all an easy ride. And on occasions, a blow to the project can be so significant that it calls into question the continuity of the project itself. The process of working with such a situation is essentially the same as I described above. However, with these most significant challenges, I find I need to go back all the way to my ‘cosmic’ intention. From there that I can access a perspective that is big enough to allow me to consider letting go of the project. Only once I am able to truly consider that option, clarity and energy to move forward emerges once again.
This process as a whole is a practice that has brought resilience into my life, regardless of the context. However, I feel that the key to accessing this type of resilience is that inevitably at some moment I need to be willing to surrender and let go. In some cases, as I described above, of the entire endeavor itself. While this may be a simple thing to say on paper, it is no simple thing in real life. And as any entrepreneur knows, the possibility of letting go of the project to which we have devoted our life energy, and which in many cases is the expression of a profoundly meaningful life purpose, is one of the greatest challenges.
Nothing has built my ability to do that more than my meditation practice. It’s here that I practice contemplating my whole life with equanimity, without turning my face away from anything. It is also my meditation practice that has helped me to clarify and refine my highest intention, which is the ultimate source of personal energy for the long journey of bringing life purpose into being. For all of these reasons that meditation has beneficially impacted my life, I have been motivated to dedicate my life energy to the creation of the Centro Para Mindfulness. And of course, the intimate relationship between this work and meditation is not lost on me. In order to truly bring this into being, to fully be in alignment with my cosmic purpose, I must surrender even more completely to this very practice itself.
Alex Streubel is a Co-Director at the Centro para Mindfulness at Universidad del Rosario. He is a meditation practitioner, Certified Integral Facilitator and Certified Master Integral Coach. Alex lives with his wife and twin daughters in Bogotá, Colombia. You can find out more here about the Centro Para Mindfulness.