Longing for Some Sense of Purpose

I hope everyone is well. The other day I was talking to one of my best friends about purpose. During our dinner conversation he brought up how the recent birth of his son has given him “this sense of purpose that wasn’t there before.” For some reason that really stuck with me. Here’s a guy who’s been practicing mediation for a long time now and received some tremendous benefits from the practice. I often look up to him to get through many of my struggles in life, my practice, family life (his son is a few months older than my baby girl). I asked him to describe what this feels like and why his son has been the catalyst for such a discovery.

Here’s what he said. Take it away Tyler…

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For many years, before my wife was pregnant, and before I had the vision of Life as a Parent, I longed for some sense of purpose. I’m not sure why. Maybe it’s a personality defect. Or maybe it’s a feature.

Either way, I’ve often noticed that we all do things without expending much thought on why we do them. Most of what we do only serves some immediate pleasure or function. We go to the movies because it’s fun. We do the dishes because they’re dirty. We work because we need the money.

But why, in the broadest possible sense, are we doing it?

If we don’t do things on purpose, are we doing them by mistake?

I’ve always asked this question, and to be honest, it sometimes marginalizes me—makes me feel out of place in the world because everyone else wants to do things, and I seem to be the only one asking why we were doing it. Like I’m asking the right question in the wrong context.

Most places I’ve ever worked, I felt grateful for the job and money and nice people and health benefits, but I also felt like something was missing. And most of the fun experiences I’ve had—like going to bars with friends or traveling or having interesting conversations or sitting behind homeplate at the Giants game, I enjoyed them but I felt like something was missing. Even on the best days of my life I often felt like there was a void. I would return home from a really great day, tired and buzzing from the joy of it all, but I would not feel that broad, immense, heart-filling sense of contentment for what I had done. Don’t get me wrong, I was grateful for it—for the comfortable lifestyle and supportive family and hilariously entertaining friends—but many experiences just felt like another hit of dopamine rather than a deep sense that I really mattered to the world. I wanted to matter.

And then I found out my wife was pregnant.

Suddenly my world got larger. The baby was at the center and everything grew out of that like some kind of magical seed. The idea of “mattering” was now insufficient to describe my overwhelming, gut-wrenching sense of purpose in life. That little baby, and what I saw vividly in my mind as that little boy who I would be playing ball with someday, suddenly made more sense to me than anything else I’ve ever done or wanted to do. Almost like I was meant to be a father. And like every moment before it was insignificant.

Back when my wife was pregnant, I can vaguely recall a few strange, vivid dreams I had. Visions of the past, mostly—old girlfriends and old longings. The feeling of butterflies in my stomach before meeting with exciting or interesting people that seemed so big and important at the time. The times I spent in my early twenties consumed with worry, doubt, depression and ennui, wondering what I was doing or how I was supposed to be in this world. The late nights in college writing papers that didn’t make sense for grades that didn’t matter. The eyes of past lovers swirling away until they disappeared into the clouds. It was as though my mind was cleaning house. Sweeping out the old debris of my younger self and making way for a more mature way of being—one that was less self-conscious, and more concerned with the importance of being a human helping fellow humans on this earth. Nolan was my son, I was his father. This was the definition of Importance. Something impenetrably  big in a tiny world.

And perhaps it’s even more important than him. In a way, when I look down at Nolan sleeping in his crib, I see the entire next generation laying there. I see Noa Grace, and all the sons and daughters coming into existence at this moment, and I wonder, what will the world be like when they are 30? I can’t see into that darkness, that future world so vague and distant in the tunnel of time, but I do hope there is a brightness somewhere in there, some bit of magic that makes it more peaceful and more compassionate than the world I’ve known. And knowing that I may have some small part in the future, that my son will be there in the flesh when the world turns over, or when it sheds its skin of the past and is reborn, means I am implicated in the future world. I am an accomplice.

So purpose, yes, is there, but it’s unlike any other purpose I’ve had. It’s not like the charitable purpose I feel when donating money or the kindness purpose I feel when listening to a friend in trouble, or the surrounding cliffs of mightiness I feel when I’ve accomplished something great. It’s the simplest, purest form of purpose I can imagine: I care about this little boy, and I have no choice—by the graces of evolution and morals and love—but to give him everything I can.

I am indebted, humbled, enraptured by this baby. This is no mistake.

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For more of Tyler’s work I highly recommend checking out his blog. It’s called Impressions of Mindfulness. If you ever wanted to learn how to become a Zen Master, check out this article he wrote here.

I want to hear from you. What gives you a sense of purpose? What, as another one of my friends says, ‘get’s you out of bed in the morning?’ Let me know.

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