A Conversation With My Six-year Old Son About Existence and the Meaning of Life

“For the meaning of life differs from man to man, from day to day and from hour to hour. What matters, therefore, is not the meaning of life in general but rather the specific meaning of a person’s life at a given moment.” -Viktor E. Frankl

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A few days ago after dinner, my son Tristan was looking at his magazine, when all of a sudden he put it aside and asked me: “Why am I here?”

We have daily discussions from sharing about our respective days, to exploring why part of the moon is bright, all the way to fundamental life questions, but this one really took me by surprise. Where did that come from?

After a couple of deep breaths, looking into his big blue eyes, I said: “You were very welcomed and planned, your mother and I love you very much,” realizing from his look that this was not the answer he was looking for.

He did not leave me much space to gather words as he continued inquiring about what would be different if he was not born to begin with, all the way to the meaning of life.

As humans, we have individually and collectively struggled with these questions for ages and we have not come up with a universally true answer.

I have lightly asked myself similar questions, usually after reading a book by some great philosopher such as Alan Watts or Ken Wilber in search to expand my understanding of myself and the world around, and now it was a good test to see how I can explain it to a six-year-old.

He did not want to hear how babies were made and how he had evolved over nine months into this little human who entered this world over six years ago.

He wanted to know the purpose of his existence!

So why are we here?

As Alan Lightman in his book The Accidental Universe writes:
“We are an accident. From the cosmic lottery hat containing zillions of universes, we happened to draw a universe that allowed life. But then again, if we had not drawn such a ticket, we would not be here to ponder the odds.”

It is often said that people come into our lives to teach us something. That is absolutely true, and we don’t have to take it spiritually at all. If we are mindful, then every person no matter their intentions, can teach us something about ourselves and the world.

So I told my son that our presence on this planet could be either a big cosmic mystery, and that it is up to everyone individually to find their answer to the meaning of their existence and purpose.

Or if he believed in past lives, then it easily could be that his spirit chose this body and us, as his parents to learn something new and also to teach others.

The world is not a pretty and peaceful place always, though I am convinced that we live in the safest period in human history with more freedom and understanding between people than ever before. There is still violence, suffering and darkness surrounding us and also sometimes within us, but there is also much kindness, growth and love.

We all suffer and will suffer at some point in our life, but we can also overcome it. There is sadness and destruction around us as we go through life and it is up to us individually, either we let all this to drag us down and make it an even darker place or see potential there for harmony and peace.

“As far as we can discern, the sole purpose of human existence is to kindle a light in the darkness of mere being”.
-Carl Jung

Finding the meaning in life?

I don’t think there is this one universal meaning for everyone, but I believe it is very important that we find one that makes us feel alive and gives meaning to what we do. To be on a mission that truly inspires us to wake up in the morning and experience every moment.

Anaïs Nin has put this into beautifully connected words:
“There is not one big cosmic meaning for all, there is only the meaning we each give to our life, an individual meaning, an individual plot, like an individual novel, a book for each person.”

Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl, who found meaning of life even in the most horrible of circumstances, having lost his family and friends, and constantly being aware that he is eventually on the way to a gas chamber said: “The meaning of life is to give life a meaning.”

Simple! It does not need to be a big plan that will eternalize your name in the history books. It is a personal meaning. Your story, your reality, your truth, your meaning without comparison or judgement, assuming it is driven by kindness and good intentions, not destructive to other people.

Perhaps we should not look for the meaning of life at all? Rather we should seek experiences of being alive as Joseph Campbell put it:
“People say that what we’re all seeking is a meaning for life. I don’t think that’s what we’re really seeking. I think that what we’re seeking is an experience of being alive.”

Our conversation became very philosophical. We even talked about our late dog Nora and where her soul might be, and all the activities that give him pleasure and joy:

… building Lego structures, drawing, going to preschool, learning, playing guitar, swimming, hiking, time with family and friends…

I love observing him when time is simply lost on him and his whole being is there – in this very moment – to play, learn or just experience something new.

Talking about our existential meaning, he was not quite sure what he wants to do as a grown up, so I said: “You don’t have to have it figured out now.”

Not so lost for words anymore, I added:
“Follow your heart, have no fear! Be honest, kind, open, transparent and forgiving. All that to yourself and also others. Be vulnerable when you have to, as this is a big part of being real.

Do what makes you feel alive, what excites you, what gives you meaning in every moment as you grow and I am sure you will be doing something very meaningful for yourself when you are a grown man.

It does not have to be this one huge thing or role in this cosmic play!”

In that moment, he opened up again and went on:
“I still want to play guitar and also write my own songs, build robots and fly to space; I want to be with you, grow all of my food (even during winter in a big greenhouse), I want to make a medicine that brings our dog Nora back, play with my best friend Trevor, travel the world….”

It was a very inspiring discussion and later, after our quiet time and evening reading, I felt such gratitude, realizing that his questions will stay with me for some time to come.

It is a good time to look within as the new year draws closer and giving our New Year’s resolutions a different twist by truly feeling and questioning what makes us feel alive and what not, by making changes with an open mind as this reality that we experience is in constant change.

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