7/31/16: My Life Philosophy (Or Lack Thereof)

I recently received a beautiful and thoughtful email from someone who came across an article of mine on Tiny Buddha. In conclusion to his email, he asked me, in reference to my blog and life: “Is the conclusion that you came to a focus on spirituality? Giving unto others? Maximizing pleasure? Finding a purpose that is specific to the individual? Just living life? Setting goals then attaining them?”

I read this question and immediately balked. Do I have a philosophy about how to live? Do I have a cohesive spiritual identity? Can I claim to have a personal mission, a mantra that guides my days and my professional, emotional, and social lives?

I realized that I write so many reflective pieces on this blog that purport spiritual understanding that perhaps it seems like I have a defined spiritual and philosophical path in life.

Ah, this could not be further from the truth!

I have yet to celebrate my half-birthday of my seventeenth year. Since my seventeenth birthday, I believe the most philosophically relevant thing I have learned is this: I still have no idea how to live my life best. And, even when I do have inklings, learning how to implement these philosophies on a day-to-day basis is its own battle entirely.

I will say that the idea of accepting the present moment and practicing non-judgmental awareness of my thoughts and feelings is my current spiritual focus. I try to recognize my thoughts and feelings as things that enter and exit my brain instead of identifying as my thoughts. In quiet moments, I search for the underlying awareness that is my Being, as opposed to my Thinking, and let the Being watch my thoughts come and go.

This is possible when I’m sitting alone in my room, but out in the world of people, I rarely inhabit the Being inside of me. I’m a thinker, a feeler, and I know that I unconsciously react to things often. It recently dawned on me how often I say or do things without really considering my options first. I also realized how often I go on autopilot- does anyone else ever completely forget the time they spend brushing their teeth?

A lot of the time, I find myself lost in thought. Sometimes thoughts turn into thought cycles, that feed and feed. Other times, I’m reacting to whatever happens around me, not at all sure why I feel or say the things I do.

I’m beginning to realize that people are only fully conscious and deliberate about life for a tiny fraction of the day. We rely on our subconscious and our habits to carry us through so much of our day, especially events that are routine. That is not to say we are robotic, but we know how to be efficient about our thoughts and decisions. After all, if we had to live each new day without any habits or tendencies to fall back on, we would spend our entire lives learning how to scrape by.

At the same time, there are moments that I wish I had lived more deliberately, with more attention to the present situation. There are times that I have resorted to habitual thinking when I could have improved my own life and the lives of others by pushing myself to explore new options. There are times when I’ve looked at beautiful sights and failed to see the full wonder of the world because I said to myself, “it’s just another sunset.”

So, I believe that my current path in life is learning how to strike a more fruitful and conscientious balance between habit and present attention. I want to choose more moments to fully engage with, and spend more time embracing the present than worrying about the past or future. This isn’t particularly original, but I do think we often forget how important habit and routine are to identifying with the present. The more stock we put in habits, the more time we have to think and worry about the past and future. We are designed to be efficient in this way, but that doesn’t mean it’s the most enlightened or purposeful way to live. I want to end this post with a little quote that’s both simple and incredible, from Annie Dillard: “How we spend our day is, of course, how we spend our lives.” So, I suppose this is my current path: spending my days how I wish to spend my life. It is an overwhelming goal, but also so worthwhile that I cannot ever really turn away from it.

What is your path in life? Does it change often, or do you follow a core spiritual pursuit for years or decades? How has it changed over time?

5 thoughts on “7/31/16: My Life Philosophy (Or Lack Thereof)

  1. This post was such an insightful read!! And the questions you pose at the end – I don’t know where to begin in answering them!
    I spent most of my teenage years trying to define myself (mostly in terms of culture and religion, but I also went through a phase where I obsessed over food choices) and fearing emotional intimacy in any form. I had some very strong religious beliefs that I held in secret, hoping to open up about them at some point in the not-so-distant future. It seemed to me that the purpose of life was to remain mindful of a higher power by diligently following religious rulings, as well as being thankful for all blessings. I thought that this would lead to happiness, both in this life and the next.
    In the last few weeks, I have made significant progress in overcoming the limiting religious beliefs and beginning to accept and explore the underlying emotional issues. This has been made possible by being more honest and open in my dealings with people, which in turn made me realise the importance of meaningful and authentic relationships, whether with friends or with family.
    I hope my answer makes some sense and is neither too vague nor too self-centred!
    Thank you for writing posts that “make me think”, in the best possible meaning of this expression! You have an amazing mind, Avery, and it is both an honour and a pleasure to read about how you view the world!
    I hope your summer is going well xx
    P.S. I remember you mentioned that the YouTube channel was going to be released some time in August, am I correct? How is it coming along? 🙂

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    1. First of all, your answer is not too vague, and is certainly not self-centered! I loved reading it because it reminded me of how important identity-building is during adolescence- as a kid, I think I just lived life on a day-to-day basis, but as I get older I am more interested in building a path and narrative for my life, as well as a foundation of values and beliefs. It seems that in order to become an adult, we have to become a cohesive being, complete with a permanent identity, life philosophy, and personal interests. Whether or not this is wholly beneficial to us as people, I’m not sure; I think there are good and bad results of this process. Your point about religion was very interesting. As I’ve grown up, I have gone through periods of identifying deeply with certain ideas that I’ve read or heard, as if I myself were an extension of those principles. I wanted to use things I found in the world, whether it be a personality test or a branch of science, to categorize myself. But, as you said, this can be incredibly limiting. I know that with religion, the belief and identification is of a different order of magnitude, so I’m happy to hear that you have recently been able to recognize the limitations of your own beliefs. Religion is fascinating because it has the power to liberate and confine people depending upon its practice and interpretation- and I’m so grateful that you are learning to shift from confinement to liberation, especially through meaningful relationships!
      You’re really too sweet! In terms of the Youtube channel, after much deliberation (and frustration trying to film) I have decided to make a podcast instead. I’m actually much happier to be doing an audio series than a video one, not least because I actually enjoy podcasts much more than videos. The podcast should be released in the beginning of September and I will be sure to write about it on this blog when it goes live. Thank you so much for your interest and I hope you enjoy the podcast! It’s the biggest project I’ve ever embarked on and has been an amazing learning experience, and I hope it can be a source of information and entertainment for other people as well.

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      1. There definetely is the pressure to be a cohesive being, complete with a permanent identity, in order to “be an adult”, and this pressure only gets stronger the older one gets. Or maybe it’s just the pressure that we create ourselves. Either way, I definetely thought I’d be more stable/in control/etc. by this age!
        I love how you write about religion and I couldn’t agree more with what you’ve said about it having the power to both liberate and confine!!
        I cannot wait for your podcast series to be released! I’ve never really listened to a podcast and so I will gladly give yours a go 😉

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  2. My dad and my mom are both different people. My dad is smart, and my mom is creative. I am both of those things in my own way. But I’m mostly creative. I think I wanted to be an artist like my mom when I was little, but I don’t remember. And years later I wanted to be a writer. I forget my reasoning for it, I think it’s because I used to play with playmobile, barbies, groovy dolls, etc. and I didn’t realized it at the moment, but I liked to create stories. Then a year or two or so later, I discovered the world of youtube, and started making videos. Again without knowing it at the time, I liked making movies just as much as writing stories.
    So here I am, 18 years old. Will be repeating another senior year, and interested in attending a college to learn more about film stuff and animation, and learn more about writing and improve upon that. There’s not much in the future for me just yet, but I’m getting there. Slowly, but steadily 🙂

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    1. First of all, it’s nice to meet you (you know, in Internet-meeting terms)! I love your story so much, and I too would make up stories and narratives with my stuffed animals as a kid. I think you’re right that this is the beginning of a passion for writing. I’m glad you have a mother to inspire you creatively, to connect with over art and from whom to gain insight about the creative life- neither of my parents has any creative talent, and it’s commonly said that the artistic gene skipped a generation (both of my grandmothers have had jobs in design).
      I’m currently producing a podcast that will come out in September, so I’m thrilled to hear that you produce videos! I’m sure that you’ve learned so much from that process and I’m so curious to hear what you’ve learned about production, scripts (if you use them), and media entertainment in general. If you feel comfortable sharing the name of your Youtube channel, I would love to watch your videos for inspiration. My e-mail is on the About page if you’re interested in sharing. (No pressure, of course- whatever you’d like to do). Thanks for commenting and sharing your story!

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