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Is it possible to fail your life's mission?

Author profile picture Tasshin Fogleman
Recipient profile picture River Kenna
27 July
Dear River Kenna,
In your most recent newsletter[1], you wrote about Mission and Pattern: > There’s something inside each of us that wants to be expressed through our lives—call it what you want, destiny, energy, gods, psychological tendencies, urges, pattern, mission…Each of us has Mission, a pattern that wants to propagate through us, to be expressed through our every gesture, word, and plan. As you know, I also like the word vow[2], which I first heard from my teacher, Soryu; and recently I've been partial to the word gift. Whatever you call it, we seem to agree that such a concept has some truth and use to it. One of the questions that sits with me about a life purpose, or a mission, or a vow: is it possible to fail to achieve your life purpose, your life's mission? Is it possible to break the promise of your vow? If a purpose were destined, fated, pre-ordained, then in a certain way that would be obvious that yes, you could. There is a box, and you either check it, or you don't. However, if, as I tend to think, a life purpose is instead emergent, iteratively discovered and created in a dance with the universe—is it possible to lose the game, to abandon the quest without completing it? On the one hand, I'm not sure it's useful to say that it is. The pressure of having a job to do that's as yet unfinished feels awfully high and intense and I'm pretty sure for most people I know—and certainly myself—that's a real good recipe for some shame dynamics. Shame seems like a reasonable thing to set aside along with the traditional conception of a static, pre-ordained, God-given life purpose. On the other hand, just because it's not useful to say doesn't mean it's not true. So the question of the truth of the thing remains for me. The way I tend to think of it personally, we're here to learn lessons and give gifts. And from that perspective, it's hard for me to see how you could possibly fail—because who makes it through a whole lifetime without learning something? Sure, maybe one person learns more than another person, but I imagine most everyone learns at least something from their life. Even if the only thing you learn is, wow, life is precious and shouldn't be wasted, there are gifts to give and I didn't end up giving very much at all, if anything—isn't that a worthwhile lesson? And in practice, I think most people learn quite a few lessons and give quite a number of gifts in their life, even if most people also make mistakes and even hurt people... even there, I think the learning process requires making mistakes and even, as much as I hate to say it, hurting yourself and other people… What's at stake for me is less that I'm worried about living my own vow- I feel pretty firmly in the Swing of the thing- and more that part of my vow seems to involve helping others to live their vow. And this sort of question comes up quite a bit, whether explicitly or implicitly... Whether you look at the utility or the truth of it, I tend to fall on the side of—it's not possible to fail at your life's mission—some will shine brightly, learn more, give more—and yet all learn, all grow, all give through their life. But what do you think? *1: *2:

Tasshin Fogleman

Author profile picture Tasshin Fogleman
29 July
Dear Tasshin Fogleman,

In your last letter, you put to me an inquiry most puzzling. [dips quill] To wit, you queried, "is it possible to fail your life's mission?" In the following, I shall endeavour to provide an adequate rejoinder: [dips quill]

Yup, you can def fail.

Your friend in this world and all others, River Kenna.

Okay enough of the bit. First, let's straighten out terms.

You bounce between a few different words that seem to point to the same idea for you: mission, gift, vow, promise, purpose, and... I think that's all of em.

And in the quote you pulled from my article, I also throw out a few different words that constellate an idea for me: destiny, energy, gods, psychological tendencies, urges, pattern, mission.

As much as I'd love to spend a few pages riffing on cross-references between our terms (would you read an article titled "The Gods are a Vow" or "The Pattern of Purpose"? I'd read those), I should probably instead spend the time delineating what I mean by "mission-energy-god-pattern-urge," and why it is something you can fail at.


[Montage: River pulls out paper and quill again, writing and rewriting and rewriting different versions of an explanation. The trash bin fills and overflows with crumpled drafts. The floor piles up with discarded pages. River slowly realizes that he's trying to tackle a book-length expression of his entire worldview in a single letter. He gives up and instead jots down a fable.]


In the beginning, there was music, and there was medium. The music was pure and perfect, but silent without a medium to be heard in. The medium was calm and steady, with endless potential—but empty and unlived with nothing to pattern it.

Some gods fought a serpent or birthed a giant egg or some damn thing, and by the end of act 3, the music and the medium are together at last—the world is born. The music is less pure, meeting the constant friction of the medium; and the medium is less steady, constantly perturbed and moved by the music—but this partnership creates worlds where meaning, rhythm, and harmony are possible.

Each note in the cosmic song has consciousness, has purpose, has mission. They emerge from creation as a vibrating seed, their purpose is to hold the balance they've been imbued with—to propagate their vibration through the medium, to take its particular place in the meta-harmonies they dance through.

One day, a note named Greg is born. In Greg's culture, lower notes are far more respected than high notes. Everyone pays lip service to the idea that all notes have their place, but really, high notes are looked down on pretty badly. Greg can feel himself, the seed of his existence, and knows on some level that he's a high note. When he feels into the medium, and the type of friction he makes when moving through it, the types of traction he's able to engage, it's very clear he's closer to soprano than bass.

Greg can't change his essential nature, can't simply decide to be lower. What he can do is mute himself. Like wrapping a fist around a tuning fork, he can tense himself and hold himself in particular ways make him less audible, that muffle his vibration in a way that might—if no one looks too closely—be mistaken for deepening it. He can be attentive to the friction of the medium, and take pains to move through it in ways that minimize how much he can be heard.


Now: in what sense can we say Greg has failed his mission? Well, he didn't fail to vibrate at the frequency he was imbued with, because that's not really possible. You come into the world with what you come into the world with, an acorn can't grow into a rose bush.

But if we view his mission from a wider vantage, not just as sticking to a particular vibratory pattern, but as contributing to melodies, harmonies, and rhythms he may not ever have been fully aware of—he fucked up pretty good.

The main thing that can cause this kind of fuck-up, this kind of failure to dance with Pattern, to move with Mission, to take the spark god left in you and fan it into flame—the main thing that gives rise to this is interference. And at a core level, existence itself is interference, the same way that any medium is basically made of friction. But friction is also traction. That's the deal we enter into, in every incarnation. The basic, fundamental Pattern we are made up of, the Mission that's in us to enact: it will meet with interference from a million directions (our memories, culture, family, geography, health, etc); but the medium of this life is the only place where we can get the traction to propagate the Pattern, to imprint our Mission onto reality. You can't sing in space, and you can't propagate Pattern without a world.


Okay, I ate lunch and re-read the above, and I think I'm understanding myself a little better after putting all of this down. The short version is:
--The Mission we each have is to clarify and propagate the spark god* left within us, to clear away interference
--It's not a failure to try but not reach 100% clarity—in fact, that's the best we can do.
--It's not a failure to not propagate our spark particularly widely—for most people, carrying the flame to the small circle of people around us is all the spark needs from us.
--It is a failure to actively refuse to clarify and propagate; it is a failure to add and encourage more interference; it is a failure to pick a different spark, a Mission that's not yours, and to spend your life emulating that one rather than the one that's within you.

*I mean this in a polytheistic or animist sense—there are forces and Patterns that we might as well call gods, and each of us carries (or is constituted by?) particular imprints of these forces/Patterns.

River Kenna

River Kenna

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