When God created the universe, he made it with two principal dimensions: Existence and life. The universe both lives and exists.
Something has to exist before it can live, and since nothing existed when God started the creation, the first thing he had to do is to give existence to non-existent things. But then God gave every existent being a life.
The scientific definition of “existence” is simply to take up space. If you occupy space then you exist. If you don’t occupy your space then you don’t exist. Everything in the world exists by virtue of occupying its space. For example, a book on the shelf doesn’t allow another book in that same space. That’s because it exists. Even a thought occupies space. One thought doesn’t allow another thought to enter its space, which is why you can’t think two thoughts at the same time. The same is true with emotions: they occupy space in the heart. Whether it’s love, or even a tree, all things exist in the same way: they take up space.
But when it comes to the life of the various existences, no two are the same. The life of fire is not the same as the life of water. “Life” means the contribution and the function that you bring to the existence. Fire contributes warmth, light, and makes things come apart while water contributes growth and makes things stick together. Even a stone has a “life”: it contributes weight and resistance to movement.
Humans too have an existence and a life; we all take up space and we also contribute to the world. But the two are not always compatible; sometimes what is good for my existence is not good for my life and sometimes what is good for my life is not good for my existence.
For example, when I am alone, I have the whole room to myself and my existence is expanded. I occupy the whole space. But when I am giving a class, there are others in the room who intrude and encroach on my space and steal my existence. When others lessen my space, my existence resents it and hates them for it.
On the other hand, I’m happy and relieved people are there because talking to an empty room is no life. We were born to contribute, and without others I can’t contribute. They ruin my existence but give me life and purpose. So even though my existence resents them, my life loves them! That’s why we often end up loving someone but not liking them, or loving and hating the same person; I love you because you enhance my life, but I hate you because you’re cramping my existence.
This is the ultimate purpose of marriage. Our existence much prefers being single, when we have our own space and own our life. But that part of ourselves that yearns for life and is not satisfied just taking up space can’t bear it. Because in a marriage we are constantly sharing, it is the ultimate life, but it is also the ultimate threat to existence. Nothing humbles our existence more than marriage. Marriage means giving up our existence and turning “my space” to “our space.”
Existence is not something to be proud of. It’s not a talent. Existence means “don’t touch me, i was here first, it’s mine!” It’s childish. It’s also an embarrassment and a burden, because in addition to excluding others, existence also makes demands. We need to eat and sleep and go to the doctor and exercise just to keep taking up space! We need to obey every demand that our existence makes of us. Life gives, life carries us, whereas existence must be carried.
If there’s a conflict, and you have to choose between life and existence, the smart thing to do is to give up the existence and choose life. In our relationships, we should give up our space and let the other person have the space. What do we need it for? It’s just a burden.
Home is where life happens. Every place else is about our existence, but when we come home from work and walk in the front door, that is when our day begins. Until now we were just existing and working to sustain our existence, but when we come home, that’s where we live, that’s where the magic of living happens.
This is what we own to our children. We need to tell them how to brush their teeth, how to cross the street, how to ride a bicycle, to avoid strangers, etc. to keep them from harm. But we also need to teach them how to live beyond just not getting hurt. But sometimes even when we do teach them about life, we ruin it by making it about existence. For example, we tell them to go to school and learn well, which is noble and good, but then we ruin it by saying that the reason they should get a good grade is because then they’ll get into a good college, which will get them a good job, which will enhance their existence. We teach our kids not to lie, which is essential to life, but then we ruin it when we say “the reason you shouldn’t lie, is because people will stop believing you when you’re telling the truth and that will hurt your existence.”
We own it to our children to teach them that they should learn and tell the truth and share because that is how they can live and contribute, not because it will help them take up space and exist. We should ennoble everyday functions by injecting it with life and purpose, not make our values transactional and utilitarian and purely for the sake of our existence.
This choice between life and existence holds the key to unlocking many secrets of the universe. In fact, the mystics tell us that this is the real secret behind creation: God created the world because he exists forever and ever and his existence is everywhere and, but that’s not a life, that’s just a magnificent existence. And so God says “no, I’ve got to create a world, and that world will become my home where I can bring others into my space. Then my existence will be enriched, then my existence will have content and purpose, and beauty and passion.
We are here because even God is not content just existing, and so we aren’t either.