Who hasn’t experienced moments when things seem to be drifting no place in particular and our efforts to establish a firm direction seem in vain? At such times we may turn our attention to life’s meaning and our purpose for being here. There is no shortage of explanations designed to address these questions. Some think of our experience on earth as a test to see if we deserve the keys to our own mansion in the sky. Though I admit early on having accepted a version of this, I struggled trying to reconcile the disposition required of one who would devise and administer such a test. It’s like a person creeped out by spiders drops one into the toilet bowl to see if it can escape. If it makes it to the rim, it earns passage to the great outdoors. If not, it gets the big flush.
I passed through a longer period holding the view of the soul evolutionist who insists the earth is a school and we are here to learn lessons designed to advance our soul’s condition. But then what lessons could a soul learn through a body that shuts down 90% of its capacity? We’re stuffed into one body after another for as long as it takes to remember what our soul already knows?
I consider it to my credit that I was never drawn to the offering of orthodox science who assumes we are here as an accidental byproduct of the laws of physics. From this point of view, our primary purpose is to perpetuate the species. Once we’ve fulfilled our biological duty, we spend our remaining years drifting toward oblivion while seeking the upside of growing old.
If we start with what we actually know, we can reach a couple of practical conclusions concerning our purpose. First, we are here because we can’t be anyplace else. Most of us have tried to escape from here, but no one has succeeded. Try as you may, you have an eternal arrow pointed at you with the caption that reads, You Are Here. No one has an arrow with a caption saying, Finally, You Are There. Regardless of where you might want to be, you are here. Walk across the room and you’re still here. Fly around the world and you’re still here. Walk on Pluto and call your mom. You: Mom, I’m just calling to say hi. Mom: Where are you? You: I’m here on Pluto. Mom: What’s the weather like? Did you bring your coat?
The next thing we consider is what we mean by the word here. For most of us, here is our body and our physical surroundings. Why am I here in this body surrounded by this particular set of circumstances? A little thought reveals that here is more an attitude than a physical location. Let’s say your here is a deserted tropical island in the Pacific. If you’re vacationing on this island it will mean one thing. If your plane crashed in the ocean and you, the lone survivor, finally drifted to this same island, it will mean something different. One mindset sees the island as a wonderful escape: I can’t believe I’m here! The other sees it as a prison: I can’t believe I’m here!
If we conclude that here is more an attitude than a set of circumstances, we are confronted with a choice. Thinking of our island example, we pose the question: Am I here because my plane crashed, or am I here by choice? There is no right and wrong answer, there are only consequences to the choice we make. I am either a victim of circumstance or I am the adventurous vacationer. The fact is, I am here. Now what do I do with it?
Let’s add a few other items to our list of things we can say we know. Without a body, we cannot talk to another person. We can’t enjoy a cup of coffee or make a pina colada from all those coconuts on our island. We can’t even pick up a paper clip.
To my list I add another item of things I can say I know. You may or may not agree. I know that the existence of my soul is not dependent on my body. To the contrary, the existence of my body is dependent on my soul. My body is a perfectly designed vehicle that allows my soul to interface with the material world. My soul was not forced into this body. I took it on because I wanted to have this earthly experience. There is no better way to do it than through a body. Which earthly experience did I come for? All of them—the conversations, the coffee, the pina coladas, the paper clips and all the other things that make up life. My purpose on this earth is not found in any specific mission or goal. My purpose is to experience here through the vehicle of a body. When this body drops dead, I’ll still be here, and I’ll still have the power to choose what I want to do with it.
As a castaway on our island, we spend our days focused on survival and scanning that endless horizon for rescue. Our purpose is to signal that tiny dot that may be the ship that will finally take us to that magic somewhere over there. If, on the other hand, we are on our island by choice, we spend our days exploring the wonders of our world and let those tiny dots pass unnoticed.
Our fulfillment of purpose, then, is not found someplace on this earth. Being here on earth is our purpose.