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?