Finding Your Purpose in Life

In the April 2018 blog I wrote about the “soul’s code,” a term popularized by James Hillman in his book by that name. As I wrote there, “Essentially it’s the idea that we grow down into this world from a spiritual dimension, and that gradually we discover—if we are blessed and have good-enough mentors along the way—what we are supposed to manifest on the planet.” This month I will expand that idea in some ways that may make it easier to embody and manifest. The Japanese idea of ikigai—a concept meaning “a reason for being” similar to the French phrase, raison d’êtrewill help us ourselves discover our soul’s code—our ikigai—and ways to operationalize it in our lives.

The illustration at the left* shows several interlocked and overlapping circles as one way to visualize ikigai. At the center of all the circles is ikigai, the reason for being from which we proceed. The world’s spiritual traditions proclaim this notion: we do not just matter, we are much more complex than matter. Rather, as material creatures, we are physical manifestations of “something” immaterial, of an “energy” or of a “spirit.” (This notion, by the way, finds support in the view of the world formulated by quantum physics and in chapter 5 of  Dr. Kumar’s book, Becoming Real.) For me, the “soul’s code,” ikigai, and “what God made us to be” express this basic idea in different ways.

Ponder the ikigai diagram. I think you will notice your attention moving from one segment of the diagram to another, and then to another, round and round. They interlock. Notice that each circle includes the central element of the diagram: ikigai. “Passion” proceeds from ikigai and embraces “What you LOVE” and “What you’re GOOD AT” and can develop into “profession.”And “What you LOVE” can manifest as “passion” or “mission” leading on to other intersecting areas. If we start with “What you can be PAID FOR,” it can develop into “profession” or “vocation,” leading to meeting “What the world NEEDS” and/or to “What you are GOOD AT.”

Discovering and living one’s purpose in life—ikigai—charts the path to fulfillment: one has discovered “what one is essentially good for” and “how to manifest that essence in a way that both benefits the world and secures one’s worldly existence.” It doesn’t get much better than that. The ikigai diagram helps in visualizing what I have written about in past blogs: adaptation to one’s essence and adaptation to the world. (See Ommani Jewel, Dec 2015, Potentials & Adaptations.) Or to put it differently: realizing one’s “soul’s code” in one’s lived life, here and now.

Now comes the hard part: discovering and realizing one’s soul’s code, or one’s ikigai. As C.G. Jung pointed out, and everyone who hasn’t thrown in the towel already knows, life is full of false starts, dead ends, wrong turnings, and setbacks. Each of us needs to embrace and practice self-reflection and self-discovery. Each of us needs to be attentive to our continuing growth and development.

A colleague once gave me a piece of good advice: “The body does not tell lies about itself.” If you take the time, if you slow down, you can notice subtle body movements. These are the beginnings of emerging body memories or intentions.  These memories hint of incomplete experiences and future possibilities. Follow these hints. With practice you will become able to discern with ever greater clarity your “next step,” and then the one after that. Gradually you will become ever better attuned to what lives in you that “wants” your conscious awareness to notice and respond. In this way your “outer mind” will learn progressively more about your ikigai, and you will make real, in the here and now, what you potentially can become. This is the path to purpose and fulfillment.

*Image from

June2018 Boris Matthews, PhD, LCSW