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Max Roytenberg

Max Roytenberg: Finding A Purpose

Max Roytenberg, September, 2015, Vancouver, Canada




This is the place where I do somersaults in the air, pratfalls and the splits, to attract attention. Gotcha! Now that I have your attention, I can proceed.


So, our lives are full, crowded with events and people. Somewhere along the line, if we are fortunate, we zeroed-in on the things that were important to us. It might have been a material objective, a psychic reward to which we aspired, attainment of a certain position that was important to us, creating something that we were fixated on, nurturing a happy family unit with children, maybe a combination of these or other things. What was important was that the objective ultimately provided the motivation for our striving. It was the purpose behind our actions. Without that, we live our lives adrift, flotsam on the sea of fate.


When we meet young people who have some sense of where they are going, we just know that their chances of success in life have increased materially. If there is a goal, then there can be some sort of plan. Even if obstacles, apparently beyond their power to alter, appear, there is a chance for a Plan B to be elaborated.


I cannot say that I was one of the fortunate ones, with that level of far-sightedness and vision, that it gave me a leg up. I had the vague notion that I was destined for important things, and, if I kept my eyes open, opportunity would find me. I was not nimble. I was not quick. Cogitation was my rule, and study was my practice. Slow and steady was my aspiration.


We all face a variety of purposes in our lives. We confront them as we face the realities of adulthood. Most often, we are not alone in our endeavours. We gather around ourselves other souls sharing our life voyage. We face choices as to the weight we ascribe to the different purposes that arise as we live our lives. How do we set our priorities, allocate our focus to achieve success in the face of the conflicting purposes that motivate us? They conflict because, inherent in the nature of things, often, we cannot pursue all of them with the same energy and commitment at the same time. These things occur whether we like it or not. Our challenge is in making the most intelligent choices in deciding our priorities.


Even though my life was full of sharp turns, once astride the slope I was ascending, the task I had chosen received the whole of my attention. This was so almost to the total exclusion of any personal considerations. Success, as I perceived it, became my sole purpose in life. I always understood my stakes in the game were all in. We always face these decisions, determining the relative weights we attach to the various purposes motivating action in our lives.


In retrospect, I appreciate better that my near and dear were stakeholders in the game without a voice. I always felt that they would understand, would have to understand, that I was working for their best interests as well. Resources we spent that they might have preferred devoted to their needs, were consecrated to the game at hand. Shouldn’t they understand without even being told?

I am sure many of you out there can tell the same story. Perhaps we could not help ourselves; that was the way we happened to be built. The bitter irony appears when we are older and have passed on to other things in our lives. We begin to have an entirely different perspective. We begin to appreciate that the vaunted heights that we thought so important to scale at the time, now appear to have so little stature. Now, contrarily, what we put aside as of less priority,  looms much larger in our perception. The personal relationships are the things that have endured. The achievements we thought were so important have melted away in significance like snow in the hot sun. Based on our current perspectives, we have had the weight we attached to our purposes the wrong way round.


Time for another distraction! I’m setting you up for the punch line. Has your attention been wandering? Shazam! A flash of fireworks and my smiling face appears again through the cloud of smoke.


There is still time, isn’t there? We can pay penance for our selfish and impetuous drives for personal glory, and actually go shopping for redemption at the hands of our near and dear. While there’s life, there is hope. They may be generous. They may be willing to overlook our transgressions and welcome us back into their embrace, despite the absence of justice for our crimes. We could understand if they did not. Weren’t we proud and arrogant enough in our day? Time to bake some humble pie, my friends, and even eat a good portion with our tea.


Yes, there is more rationality to our lives if we can conjure up some overarching purpose, some strong motivation, to command the allocation of our living resources to the tasks we undertake. But, how do we make sure, during our young and callow days, that we are making the kinds of choices that will look as good to us at the end of the trail, be as valuable to us later, as they appeared at the time we were launching our attacks on those quixotic windmills? That’s a puzzle for younger minds.


This is the place where we organize ourselves for the big finish. How about a rousing chorus of mea culpa ?   Do you see me now?                                                     

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