It might be easy to dismiss a book by its cover, especially when that book is Wherever You Go, There You Are by Jon Kabat-Zinn. If not for the subtitle that provides a clue that the author is grounded in everyday reality -- mindfulness meditation in everyday life.
The organization of the book in short chapters provides countless ways of reading it. We can go through one short story each day, or just open it and read where we land. Some chapters start with a question, others explain a statement.
In “what is my job on the planet with a capital J?” Kabat-Zinn says (emphasis mine):
“What is my job on the planet?” is one question we might do well to ask ourselves over and over again. Otherwise, we might end up doing someone else's job and not even know it. And what's more, that somebody else might be a figment of our own imagination and maybe a prisoner of it.
As thinking creatures, packaged, as are all life forms, in unique organismic units we call bodies, and simultaneously totally and impersonally embedded in the warp and woof of life's ceaseless unfolding, we have a singular capacity to take responsibility for our own unique piece of what it means to be alive, at least while we have our brief moment in the sun. But we also have the singular capacity of letting our thinking mind entirely cloud our transit through this world. We are at risk of never realizing our uniqueness -- at least as long as we remain in the shadow cast by our thought habits and conditioning.
Buckminster Fuller, the discoverer/inventor of the geodesic dome, at age thirty two contemplated suicide for a few hours one night at the edge of Lake Michigan, as the story goes, after a series of business failures that left him feeling he had made such a mess of his life that the best move would be for him to remove himself from the scene and make things simpler for his wife and infant daughter.
Apparently everything he had touched or undertaken had turned to dust in spite of his incredible creativity and imagination, which were only recognized later. however, instead of ending his life, Fuller decided to (perhaps of his deep conviction in the underlying unity and order of the universe, of which he knew himself to be an integral part) to live from then on as if he had died that night.
Being dead, he wouldn't have to worry about how things worked out any longer for himself personally and would be free to devote himself to living as a representative of the universe. The rest of his life would be a gift. Instead of living for himself, he would devote himself to asking, “What is it in this planet that needs doing that I know something about, that probably won't happen unless I take responsibility for it?” He decided he would just ask that question continuously and do what came to him, following his nose. In this way, working for humanity and an employee of the universe at large, you get to modify and contribute to your locale by who you are, how you are, and what you do. But it's no longer personal. It's just part of the totality of the universe expressing itself.
We can start asking the same question at any age and time. It does not necessarily mean changing what we do, but likely looking at it differently and shifting how we do it as a consequence.
Kabat-Zinn says, Fuller believed that what we know and see is never the full story and that there is an underlying architecture in nature, a user interface, if you will, that links the front end to a back end of things that make it work.
[my photo of the The Montreal Biosphère by Buckminster Fuller, 1967]