Life is a puzzle.
I say that at the risk of sounding cliché. I don't mean to say it's a puzzlement, or that it is puzzling, even though those are probably true enough statements to make. I mean that life is truly a puzzle - to work on, to decipher, to advance in progress. The goal is not even somewhere at an end. The object is just to keep advancing, always moving, always seeing the clues and following them. I suppose one could say that the goal is enlightenment, but that would imply that no advancement would be required at some point. I know for myself, if I were to wake up one morning and say, "I am enlightened and I have reached my goal," something crazy would happen just to make sure.
So, how do you figure it out?
I'm not willing to attempt to claim myself as an expert on that matter. Oh, no. I would even venture to say that figuring it out is as individual as your left thumbprint, as the iris in your right eye, as your personality. The only thing I can really say is that you must attempt, as best you can, to be aware. Whatever it takes to help you become aware will help you figure out your puzzle.
For me, I am always looking for the reasons for things. Reasons, in my life have sometimes been layered, complex, and interdependent. Sometimes, it has seemed as though I made a wrong turn in life, but while trekking down that wrong path there is an opportunity to do something that helps somebody and/or helps me to get back on the right path. Sometimes I know that I have been on the right path, because of how life once flowed, and it has suddenly gone on too long, become rocky, and I know there is a turn someplace ahead but I don't know when or where or how. It can run me crazy if I think about it too much!
That's where being unattached and living without expectation comes in. If I was working my way through a maze, I couldn't say, "Up ahead there will be a right turn and it will take me to the edge." Unless, of course I was psychic or had been there before. I can say, however, that I wish to go to the edge and then work my way through until eventually I get there. And, even then, there could be more surprises.
That's all very abstract. How about an example?
I took a job in a grocery store bakery in a rural section of the northeastern U.S. during a transition period in my life. It was an odd place to be working, being a young southern girl with a bachelor's degree in English. I saw the ad taped to the front door of the grocery right when I was asking what on earth I would do. I needed money, I knew it was temporary, and it was very convenient. When the time that I spent working there seemed to go on longer than I thought it should, I started to ask, "Why am I still here?" I knew I was meant to get the job at first, but I assumed it wouldn't go on so long, that the other objectives I had set for myself would be coming into view very soon. It was not the easiest thing to do, living day to day without expectation, with so much impatience churning around inside of me. I won't pretend I was good at it.
I had developed a habit, however, of awakening every day asking, "What extraordinary things will happen today?" Because of the volatile nature of my life at that time, I had taken to looking at it as though I were reading a novel, and each day was another page turner. It was that attitude that kept me going, kept me looking forward without despair.
Within the workplace environment there were a few problems, most of which were caused by one employee who sought power over others. I became embroiled, unwillingly, within the drama and intrigue caused by this person because I could not bear to see people being hurt. There was an elderly lady working there, a woman of incredible spiritual fortitude, who chose to work there to pay for the debt she had incurred bailing irresponsible family members out of trouble. She was a military widow, and should have been well-to-do were it not for those who drained her resources. I began to protect her, and others, from the wrath of the power seeking person. In return, I incurred the wrath as well. I kept asking, "Why am I here? Why? Why? Why?" Not to be pitiful or anything. I just knew, because of past experiences in my life, that when things seemingly dragged on for me, that there was a reason.
In the end, the power seeking person left for a different job. The goals they had for their personal power in that situation were abandoned. Order was restored. I knew, without a doubt, that my involvement had helped to progress things to where they were meant to be for the other people involved.
There were still other hurdles outside of work, some of them huge, during that transition period. When I finally moved on there were several situations that had been altered for people who seemingly needed my help. It was almost like the universe was saying, "If you want out of this fine mess you've gotten yourself into with that silly ego of yours, you'll have to do some good deeds. And don't be thinking you get to choose what they are, either!"
I guess until the day that my body becomes a dried up chrysalis, as Elizabeth Kubler Ross might describe it, and my spirit emerges like a butterfly in another form not of this material world, I will be solving this unsolvable puzzle that is my life. I'll just keep asking, "What next?" and the answer will come sooner or later. A fork in the path will appear and I'll try to choose the right one, try to feel which way the wind is pushing me to go, and hopefully do some good along the way.
It's that doing of something good that makes it all worthwhile.