Purpose, Presence, and the Dance

We spend our lives trying to “get things done”, thinking that will make us happy/fulfilled/significant/complete. (Or maybe it's just me that suffers from this illusion. I don't mean to presume.)

I would like to propose that “getting things done” is not the ultimate purpose of our lives…

This morning as I was reading the new edition David Allen's book, Getting Things Done, I was struck by the thought that the things I struggle with today are, at their core, the very same things I struggled with 20 years ago — and also the same things that everyone else struggles with (or so it seems to me). This, I believe, explains the enduring popularity of this book.

But what is it I am really struggling with (or for)?

“The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing.”
– Psalm 23:1

For me, this contending with the “very same things” boils down to: what I want to do, what I do not want to do, and whether I have the discipline to transmute those wants into actions. This has not changed for me, despite the apparent absolute difference in my external circumstances (I am 20 years older, have an adult son, don't have a job but rather own a business, etc.)

Once our basic needs (food, shelter, safety) are met, we encounter the desire for purpose (meaning) and presence (having our awareness focused on the here and now) .

Getting the right “things” done, at the right time, in the right order, with the right amounts of tension and relaxation, is the dance of life. I'm at my best when I remember the purpose of life is not the “things”, but rather the dance.

I'm not “getting things done” in order to have enough or be enough; I'm doing things because I have enough, and I am enough.

As the Psalmist writes, “I lack nothing.”

And because I lack nothing, there is no struggle.

What would I do today if I believed “I lack nothing”? What about you?

Ray Edwards is a world-renowned copywriter and communications strategist, writing for some of the most powerful voices in leadership and business including New York Times bestselling authors Jack Canfield and Mark Victor Hansen (Chicken Soup for the Soul) and Tony Robbins. Ray is a sought-after speaker and author, hosts a popular weekly podcast, and blogs at RayEdwards.com.

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  • Deb Gallardo

    Ray, as always you are eloquent and pithy. BUT…this still feels elusive to me. I mean, I guess I’m still stuck in the whole ‘getting things done’ stage, because I struggle with implementation. I THINK a good game, but don’t necessarily PLAY a good game, you might say. Short of repeating ‘I lack nothing’ like a mantra, any more suggestions?

    • Thanks for the question, Deb, I don’t mean to imply that I have this mastered. But I do have a few suggestions…

      Start by keeping commitments to yourself. Start small.

      This is about building up your confidence. As Dr. Covey wrote, “Private victories precede public victories.” Becoming more diligent about implementation is a lot like building strength in a muscle. You build muscle strength by pushing against resistance, and adding weight, a little bit at a time, as you get stronger. Building the discipline to implement is no different.

      For instance, instead of jumping into lifestyle overhaul (such as a new diet & exercise regimen) and making radical changes you might not stick with, start with something easier. In this example, it could be as simple as drinking 16 ounces of water first thing every morning. Or taking a brisk 20 minute walk each day.

      Beyond that, I do in fact reading (or re-reading) these 3 books:

      • The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, by Stephen R. Covey
      • Essentialism, by Greg McKeown
      • Getting Things Done, by David Allen

      And you could do worse than repeating the 23rd Psalm (or even just that first line) like a mantra.

  • DavidBlaise

    I’ve always struggled with the sheep analogy. If I truly lack nothing… if I am a sheep for whom all things are provided, then theoretically, I have no need to strive for anything. I take what I am given and await my fate (being shorn or eaten.) For a sheep, “getting things done” is largely about consumption and resignation. If I truly believe I lack nothing, then what is there to strive for? I can simply be thankful and have a nap! Or best case scenario, I do the best I can with what I’ve got. Eat my grass, drink my water, grow out my coat and wait to be of service to others. I’m sure there’s a great deal I’m missing when it comes to this analogy.

    • David, I appreciate you taking the time to comment.

      First, the analogy is not about sheep, it’s about the Shepherd. That’s a pivotal distinction.

      While we are Shepherded and lack nothing, there is always a race for us to run, a job to do, or work to be done.

      I can’t explain why God chose to partner with us, and have us participate in His plans, but He did just that. He certainly doesn’t NEED us – He can accomplish whatever He wishes without our assistance. Yet… He does invite us into the work, whatever the work may be.

      Second, I’m applying a spiritual principle to a temporal problem. Our minds rebel at this. Many of the most important things in God’s Kingdom appear paradoxical: you must lose your life to save it, humble yourself to be exalted, serve all if you would lead all, pray for your enemies, bless those who curse you, etc.

      This doesn’t make sense to us. But that is why it is called “the faith” and not “the information”.

      Thanks for sparking some good discussion.

      • DavidBlaise

        I always appreciate your insights, Ray. Thank you.

        Here’s one that gives me motivation to strive, “Go; behold, I send you out as lambs in the midst of wolves.” Luke 10:3

        If that doesn’t get you moving, nothing will. 🙂

  • Jac

    For me it boils down to these questions. Are the “things” I want to get done just something I want to add to my physical life, in other words to have more, or is it congruent to the happiness and joy of my divine life which is the real purpose and/or meaning of my life?

    My life and soul is in the hands of God and He equipped me with certain talents so that what I want to do need to be in line with my purpose and serving Him while giving value to my fellow human beings.

    That will make whatever I want to do only a pleasure and easy to take action on.

    The problem is that it takes a lot of introspection and discipline to live like that. Something which we as humans are not very good at.

    So yes, essentially it boils down to what you say:

    “I’m not “getting things done” in order to have enough or be enough; I’m doing things because I have enough, and I am enough.”

    Thank you Ray. Great post as usual.

    • Thanks for the encouraging words, Jac. I appreciate you sharing your thoughts.

  • Rick Carter

    Get my most recent book done and promote from posts I hope! Also clean as those were what I was told last and being repeated pretty constantly. Pray with me to complete!

  • I would stop and rest more often. I would spend more time just being. With God. With others. With myself.

  • I am currently reading Joyce Meyer’s book Enjoying Where You Are on the Way to Where You Are Going. Learning to live in the fruit of the Spirit of Joy is something I am determined to obtain and walk in! I still lose way too much of my life in the past and the future, instead of living in the blessing God has given me in the now. Thanks for the confirmation, Ray.

  • Solveig Engh

    This is a positive comment, but it is off-topic. I would appreciate having it deleted.
    First, I’ve enjoyed your online material and I’ve also enjoyed-appreciated the testimony. I did buy one product and I like to think I might use it someday. I’ve done quite a bit of writing in the past–even published a tabloid-size newspaper that was distributed as an insert to 4,000 homes. Not so many, but we live in North Dakota. We covered five towns, all paid for by ads I sold myself.
    That was 15 years ago. We are now retired–my husband is 81 and I am 76. About 2 and one-half years ago my husband had a grand-mal seizure, so serious we were told that he would not live–and that if, by some miracle he did, he would never be himself. Well, he lived, we learned he had a brain tumor, he survived a 4-hour brain-surgery, and he has had recurring seizures ever since–some severe and some mild–but he definitely himself and I want to keep it that way for as long as possible.
    My interest in making money online was honing my writing skills to cover medical and drug expenses. Since then a drug company has been providing the expensive drugs free of charge (arranged by our doctor). This has made it possible keep up.
    An increase in finances would be great, but I feel my husband needs my attention. Much of that isn’t work–it’s simply being available.
    As for the work part of the equation, everything I do takes longer now than it did when I was younger. That includes writing–and the more difficult task of thinking clearly.
    Should God heal him or me (I have issues, too), I might even see if I can write again. I pray about it from time to time, but I’m primarily focused on getting through the days.
    I realize this is long. I simply want to let you know how much I’ve enjoyed your material–and being the verbal creature I am, I had to explain why I’m not actively engaged.
    In fact, I believe I should ask to be unsubscribed. With regrets.
    Just know that your spirit and testimony have been a real lift.
    Thanks. And blessings.
    Solveig Engh

  • I love the quote about private victories from Stephen Covey. I will use that in my coaching, especially with young athletes.

  • Hi Ray
    I just visited your website after watching your chat with Clint Salter. I suspected that you were quite a spiritual chap! Now I am sure. Thanks so much for your guidance about writing copy for Dance Studio promotions and also for the reminder that life is a dance, specially when we come from a point of no lack or actually one of complete abundance.

  • jill

    Hello Ray, I love this. Purpose, Presence, and the Dance! So true. I just love Spirituality. Here is a quote I love that I thought you may enjoy. “We are not human beings trying to be spiritual. We are spiritual beings trying to be human.” ~ Jacquelyn Small
    “The purpose of life is to increase the warm heart.” ~ Dalai Lama
    He who would learn to fly one day must first learn to stand and walk and run and climb and dance; one cannot fly into flying.” ~ Friedrick Nietzsche
    The title of the book ( 4 inches high and 3 1/2 inches wide–small and handy, perfect) that I used for the two quotes above is: ” Passport to the Soul–A Lifelong Journey” by Beth Mende Conny.
    Thank you so much for everything. I really appreciate it. Have a great day!

    Be Blessed,

    p.s. Would absolutely Love to work with you.

  • It took no time at all to be able to answer your question ‘What would I do today if I believed “I lack nothing”?’ My answer is Serve Others. Though I strive to serve while I do ‘lack’ it would be joyful to me to just simply give without having to stop to think about myself.
    Loved this post!