‘If you know the Way broadly you will see it in everything’Musashi
People talk about the cost of living, but what about the rising cost of not living? In today’s era people are giving up on the traditional theistic religions, at least in the west.
People are searching for guidance and they’re not getting from the traditional sources because the excess baggage that comes along with it. This is where I see people stepping up to address their suffering themselves. Which is why a lot of people call themselves ‘Spiritual but not religious’.
Some argue that’s a problem, a claim I disagree with.
But first up a caveat: ‘Spirituality’ I don’t like using the word because it implies an everlasting soul or spirit, passed onto the next life. But I will still use the term here.
There’s a deep problem in the lives of many of us. We strive, organise, build and work for money and possessions to surround us. Yet such a strategy for life leaves us feeling desolate. Like the Four Horseman. Powerlessness, worthlessness, meaningless and loneliness. It shows society leaves us unfulfilled, unhealthy and overworked.
I recognise this in myself. For me, it started as a mission to address my suffering, my anxiety, and loneliness. But became something far bigger and gave me insight into a greater problem in my life. That being I didn’t know what I wanted out of it, and I didn’t think I deserved happiness.
I never gave much thought to a philosophy of life. I suffered and I didn’t know why. That’s was the extent of my concern. My solutions came not just from medicine, but spiritual, religious, and philosophical sources. Also from some unexpected sources, like business advice, art.
We can see this in the rise of the ‘Nones’ and syncretic worldviews. What I’m seeing is people cobbling together their own religion or philosophy. It’s the Pix n’ mix’ attitude towards creating a worldview.
Without such a system we can remain aimless, struggling to make sense of where we fit in the world and what role to play in it.
My youth was misspent in many ways because I never had such a worldview of any kind. But I was asking the right questions, the big questions, purpose, meaning, authenticity, and uncertainty.
I learned that addressing my mental health had to involve spiritual aspects of life. I didn’t just want to live, I wanted to thrive.
We can find short term cure, to numb the pain, but it’s not a solution. Because the underlying problem is not being addressed. The efforts we do make are token gestures, superficial answers.
“We can not solve our problems with the same level of thinking that created them”Albert Einstein
What we need is a grander solution, a philosophy or spiritual aspect to our existence.
This is where a Philosophy of Life steps on stage – we need some kind of methodology to act as a guide, to know what to aim for and why, and how to get it.
I can’t give out a detailed account of what philosophy must contain because we all have different values, past experiences, needs and lifestyles.
Here are a few pointers on what it should contain.
‘The longest journey a man can make is the eighteen inches for his head to his heart’Anon
A worldview must empower us to live our lives, and take responsibility for it. Often we can think of ourselves as unimportant, powerless, unable to affect change, a victim.
But it’s this narrative that needs to change. To grow and change we have to alter the stories we tell ourselves about ourselves. To re-frame your life in new ways. We do this a lot.
A good story is like that. Weaving hope from despair, passion from desolation, hope from despair. Stories should make us players, not merely spectators.
I had to rewrite my narrative more than once. To put my helplessness aside, and take up the reigns of my life.
Be a player not a spectator to life.
Clarity and Wisdom
‘You realise that the sea of fear is nothing more than a paddling pool.’
Philosophy should get us to ask the big questions. To look more closely and what we want, and need. It also helps puts things in their proper context, the bigger picture, and gets to understand better how life works and what our place in this world is.
Such a philosophy helps us find clarity, direction and purpose. But we’re often looking for answers in all the wrong places.
A philosophy has to help us live with and understand ourselves and the cosmos at large. Because living with ignorance will only lead to more suffering.
Provide Meaning and Purpose
We suffer and die, there’s no driver’s manual for living. So our philosophy has to help us cope with the pitfalls and setbacks along the way in a quest for a good life.
A philosophy of life needs to address how to live in uncertainty, the ever-present threat of death. To focus on what matters most of all, and have it all mean something.
This is so we get to face our death with equanimity, poise and dignity, knowing that we used what time we had wisely for the most part.
Knowing in life what is worth attaining so that when death comes we won’t feel cheated or regretful. The only fear is the fear of misliving.
It’s not about cleaning up the mess but making the mess meaningful.
A good philosophy can help us face these obstacles and overcome them, or learn to live with them. The wrong one will keep you prisoner, lost, alone and unhappy.
So any system will have to be aimed at growth. To make our mistakes, take them on the chin, and get back up. All with the aim of getting better.
Philosophy helps us stay on the path, through inspiration and by helping us to see when we have strayed from it. It allows us to Flourish, to realise our potential and avoid stagnation and distraction.
Any philosophy is always going to be a loose, vague because it’s dealing with vague abstract ideas like meaning, love, purpose. Indeed think of it not as a set of rules but principles to guide life not define it.
It’s a way of seeing and operating in the world, not a roadmap, but an attitude.
We don’t need to have it all figured out to have a code to live by. It’s accepting that life is worked out as you live it. The journey is more important than the destination. A philosophy of life evolves and grows just as we do. Messy, contradictory, paradoxical just like life.
The search, the journey is the point, not the arriving.
Down to earth
We become more realistic in our expectations, modest in our conduct, and practical in our efforts.
Philosophy can seem like the domain of dry academia and not the layperson. It asks a lot of questions without giving any definitive answers. So it can descend into wordplay and semantics rather than provide real help. However, not all philosophy is like that.
Some are more pragmatic and grounded in living than endless theorising. Stoicism, Epicureanism, Existentialism are just three western philosophies that look at life.
A philosophy of life has to be that, of life. Not a philosophy of science, or metaphysics. It has to be grounded in the reality we wake up to each morning.
Its shows the link between how we face life’s little challenges is related to how we face life as a whole. The common denominator being uncertainty.
As the Buddhist saying goes ‘Before enlightenment, chop wood, carry water. After enlightenment, chop wood, carry water’. It’s a reminder that spiritual, or existential life is not removed from our temporal one. We can’t give up on our chores, our family and friends just because we have gained some insight.
Part of us as a sage, has our head in the clouds, another part of us, must have our feet on the ground, not forgetting that we have a life to live.
A shout out to the Far Eastern modes. For my part, I have learned to look not just as the western tradition, but also the Eastern. Buddhism, Taoism work for me. Our constantly searching minds can be the distraction, the impediment to that enjoyment.
A lot of what I learned can be found in Buddhism.
The Big questions matter because we need them to orientate our lives. To find what works, avoid what doesn’t. Philosophy is like a guidebook to life, a compass. It’s not a map outlining every step. Without it, we’re aimless, meaningless.
I had to let go of my past, take responsibility and ask the hard questions. Rewriting my narrative into a springboard for a better life.
A philosophy of life is the recognition that living is just a much an art as a science.
Life is not a problem to be solved but an adventure to be lived. It doesn’t have to be all worked out. Your philosophy can be as complex or as simple as it needs to be. It doesn’t need to be expressly stated either, but it has to work.
The world is a storm and we have to live in it, but that doesn’t mean we can’t find a way through and still come out smiling.
We need a philosophy for life so we get to see clearly as possible, focus on what matters, act wisely, cope with uncertainty and have it all make some sort of sense.
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