The Purpose of Inner Work

Why Are You Here?

Alan Levin, M.A., L.M.F.T.

As a therapist, I periodically bring up the question of why you are here. Why are you coming to therapy? In therapy, as in any endeavor, having clarity of intention helps you focus on what you are doing, or for that matter, what you are not doing. Where do you want to put your attention? When you ask these questions, it helps you to realize that you are in fact always making a choice about where you place your attention, and that this choice determines, to a great extent, where you go and what you experience.

In considering the question of where you want to put your attention, you are really looking at your views of what life is all about. Why on earth are you here? Why are you here on Earth? It is true that people usually frame why they come to therapy in terms of pain; wanting to not be so depressed or anxious, or to stop some obsessive behavior or manner of thinking. However, I have found that these more existential and spiritual questions, relating to the meaning of life itself, soon become more central to the process. Viewpoints and intentions tend to change as you change in a therapeutic or growth process.

To Enjoy Life. Certainly this response to “why are you here?” speaks to the issue of pain. You don’t want to suffer. You want to be happy. You want to be able to enjoy the pleasures of life without being caught up in guilt, shame or negative thinking. There is beauty in nature and in human relationships and you want to engage with life in a way that is fun and joyful. You may envision a life in which you are not working so hard, where you are having more playful experiences, relaxing, taking “time off”, hanging out with your friends and relatives, “just being”, dancing to the music in all its many forms. You may find yourself saying, “Isn’t that what life is all about?”

To Wake Up. Yet, the “pleasures of life” may only speak to a part of your nature. Something in you recognizes that from prior to your earliest memory, you have been conditioned to seeing the world “through a glass darkly”. You sense that you are asleep in a “Matrix” of reality that you don’t really understand (to borrow a metaphor from the popular movie series that parallels many spiritual teachings). You have a sense that you need to have more discipline about freeing your mind, meditate more, have a spiritual practice or accept a spiritual teacher. Some frame this as the spiritual quest; to be at one with God, the Tao or the universe. You may find yourself saying, “Isn’t this what my life is about?”

To Serve Others. Then, there is the rest of the world. So much suffering. Out of their own delusions, people are hurting themselves, each other and all other living creatures. The people very close to you, the ones you love the most, need your attention and you have the ability to help them in ways that may relieve their pain or wake them to their own inner truth. Additionally, at this time in human history, amidst all these world crises, perhaps you need to devote time to the task of healing the world? Are you not here to give love and compassion? Isn’t this what the great teachers of the world did and have told us that life is all about?

So, where do you place your attention? Enjoy life? Wake up? Serve? I would suggest that the answers to this are not found in a formula or philosophical analysis. You find the way of balancing and interweaving these three intentions for your life as you embody an open heart, mind and soul. You may choose to make this the focus of your attention during time in therapy, or for that matter, your time on Earth, starting with this moment, right now!