Note: this is an informal, blog-styled post sharing personal thoughts and reflections in a non-linear and non-problem-solving way. If you want to learn more about meaning and purpose in a more structured article, see Meaning of Life VS. Purpose of Life (the Difference!).
A few weeks ago, in the LonerWolf Howl newsletter, I sent an email that got a lot of feedback from our community entitled Embracing the Death Spiral (+ One Crucial Question).
In this email, I spoke about the fact that we had both come down with Covid for the first time, which brought up a lot of deeper questions and reflections. As I wrote:
And I’ll be honest: it was a lot. Things avoided inevitably came up out of the blue to be processed, mentally and emotionally. Newer unanswered questions emerged. Unexpected shifts erupted. Other than the obvious physical side to it, Covid was surprisingly psychological.
I’m going to be expanding on a few of those reflections today.
What is the Death Spiral?
The Cambridge dictionary defines the death spiral in a pretty somber way, which I’m not going to get into here because, in true lone wolf style, I’ve chosen to define it differently.
To me, on a personal level, the death spiral is an experience in life where old habits, behaviors, and identities start to crack apart and crumble. We often feel stuck in a limbo or an in-between space.
In the tradition of Tibetan Buddhism, this in-between period is known as the Bardo, which is a space where the soul resides between death and rebirth. We can also enter this Bardo many times during the course of our lives (not just when we die) according to spiritual teacher Pema Chödrön.
Signs that you’re going through a death spiral include, for example:
- Realizing that things that once worked no longer work now
- Noticing that long-established patterns are now dissolving and composting beneath you
- Feeling lost
- Feeling demotivated and low-energy
- Loss of meaning or purpose
- Being in a liminal state of not knowing “what next.”
In the death spiral, the desire to grow, expand, and take up more space becomes almost painful.
I like using the term “death spiral” because the way of life is indeed spiralic: it ebbs and flows.
We observe life and death all around us in the seasons, in the birth and demise of animal life, in the explosion of stars and the formation of new galaxies, and in the rise and fall of the sun and moon.
We, too, go through death spirals; ones that are both small and large, internal and external – and we experience this many times throughout the course of our lives.
My Experience With the Death Spiral Right Now
As I write this, it’s mid-November 2023, and I can say without a doubt that I’m in a death spiral right now.
This isn’t the first time, and it won’t be the last time, but the hardest part of this death spiral for me is how it demands that I take a brutally honest reflection on my own work and contribution to this world.
Not only that, but the death spiral asks me to find what isn’t working, what isn’t filling my cup any longer, and what I need to let go of – which, quite frankly, feels freakin’ scary and like the house around me is collapsing.
After working so hard for many months on the Mindful Shadow Work book and Chakra Shadow Work Journal, I finally managed to cross the finish line earlier this month. I launched them to the world, and I now cross my fingers and hope people love and review them well. I believe they’re both dynamic and powerful creations.
Bam – I completed my goal!
But then, I fell ill with Covid (literally the same week as the launch), was forced to slow down, and also faced the lack of direction and purpose that I feel deep down in my wider work but have ironically buried in the shadow through my workaholism tendencies.
I don’t have the full picture yet, and I’m not at a level of complete clarity, but I learned that something is missing in my work here on lonerwolf. I discovered that I was entering a death spiral.
Don’t get me wrong, I love exploring the spiritual awakening journey, and in particular, the dark side of humanity, and I always will. Shadow work is something deeply important to me and I continue to stand by it.
But I need to expand. Lonerwolf needs to expand. I need to grow, evolve, and explore new areas.
I’ve been exploring the psychological, emotional, and metaphysical aspects of the spiritual journey for over a decade now. Yes, I’ve done 10+ years of consistent hard work and effort … and yet I’m beginning to lack more and more purpose and feel increasingly stuck.
The Power of Meaning and Purpose
This crisis of feeling lost, aimless, stuck, stranded, uninspired, and empty that I’m experiencing has led to a lot of reflection and discussion with Mateo, who is experiencing similar feelings.
And these conversations have led me to realize how essential meaning and purpose are to our lives – they are literally the bedrock on which I build a sense of fulfillment, joy, and well-being.
In fact, what I do here is my spiritual path. My work is my gift to this world and something I feel like I’ll be proud of on my deathbed. And it can feel damn scary when that’s challenged.
Without having a strong meaning each day – without feeling inspired, directed, and focused, I feel adrift. Feelings of being overwhelmed and impotent come up as I observe the situation of the planet and society, and I realize how powerful having a meaning is in that it gives you a sense of agency.
It makes you feel like you’re helping or creating small ripples of change – it gives you a sense of purposeful empowerment. Because even if you’re not the savior of the planet (which no one can be), you’re still doing something.
One Key Reflection
As my attention has begun shifting away from the trauma-healing aspect of the spiritual journey – which I’ve written incessantly for years and years on end – I’ve begun thinking more about meaning and purpose.
What does it mean to have meaning and purpose? How do you find them? Why are they so important in this day and age? And why are we going through a meaning crisis as a society?
I’m still reflecting on these questions, and if you have any insight, feel free to share it in the comments.
For those familiar with tarot, I’m personally experiencing an eight of cups + death period:
So what I’ve decided to do is begin reading Ikigai, a well-known book that talks a lot about how to find your reason to jump out of bed in the morning.
And the one key reflection from that book that I want to share comes from death camp survivor and psychiatrist Viktor Frankl, who writes:
Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.
This quote comes from a man who survived one of the most horrific experiences in the history of humanity – the Holocaust. He survived it by finding a sense of meaning and purpose which was constructing his own form of psychotherapy known as logotherapy on scavenged pieces of paper in the death camp he occupied.
If that isn’t a damn trial by fire, I don’t know what is – and while there are so many paths, theories, and healing movements out there these days, when push comes to shove, when shit hits the fan, they often lack the power to help us find true rootedness and sanity, in the moment.
Please reflect on the above key quote by Viktor Frankl and find what it means to you.
I’m hanging out in a space of confusion, uncertainty, and lostness right now. Perhaps you are, too. If so, I hope you feel comforted in knowing that you’re not alone.
Meaning and purpose are essential to a life well lived, and I’m going to continue reflecting deeply on this topic. Who knows what will come out of it?