The struggle with being alive

It’s almost as if we’re poured into this. We “meet” the world in the faces it turns towards us – family, peers, culture, community, education, social systems all merging together into the sense of meaning we have of life. What we become surely depends, in large part, on what we meet? Then, what we make of it.

And, of course, we’re not the same. What hurts one deeply might be a nothing to someone else. The meaning things hold in our eyes must be fairly unique: the unrepeated convergence of our own perspective; the way experiences merged into all we believe, know and feel so deeply (Notes One).

Who are we to say the experiences of another don’t count? Isn’t everything that touches on the shore of our islands meaningful? All that comes to tell us how the world sees us and how much it cares.

If people are told they are “wrong” – their understanding of life, the way they’ve crafted their identity around it – what does that mean? Life, conceivably, is the meaning we find within it and how we attach that to the personal self. Each living through this, taking part, finding our way. (Notes Two)

Sometimes, despite the best intentions, people can miss the point of their own worth or misunderstand the ways of the world. It’s possible. In subtle ways, we can believe that our views, our thoughts and being, don’t matter as much as assuming the “right” veneer.

People can become buried rather than alive inside. Disconnected. Feeling it doesn’t matter what we carry within us, as the world isn’t interested. If “life” doesn’t connect with us, doesn’t draw “us” out or seek what we have to offer, it’s perhaps natural we withdraw in self-defence?

What exactly are life, youth or education? Is this simply performance? Wanting others to be “like us”, we draw them into the drama of our own lives – offering them parts to play, assigning roles, accommodating  interests somewhat as we’re all subsumed into the ongoing narrative of pre-existence. To some extent, yes.

But then one thing leads to another and it’s all compounded: wounds, mistakes, errors in judgement become our lives, met and often exacerbated in every encounter. Walls get higher, deeper, stronger. Heels dug deeper in confusion at the messages we’re receiving from life. Alone, we might doubt everything.

It’s interesting, really. From an early age so much seems set in motion that can easily spiral into something more lasting: labels can stick, behaviour or communication patterns becoming how we’re seen, how we relate to others, and how we see ourselves. Limitations in skill or understanding can become “the self” (Notes Three).

How can we break that? Can we come to see our personal development as almost inevitably flawed, yet, somehow, wrap that reality in a greater understanding? Can we create wholeness – healing – by somehow letting go of all that’s harmed us, then dust ourselves off to get on with “life” in this equally flawed yet insistent world? Hopefully, we can.

Notes and References:

Note 1: What it is to be human
Note 1: Personal archaeology
Note 1: What if it all means something?
Note 2: Absolute or relative value
Note 2: Do we know what stands before us?
Note 2: The dignity & power of a human life
Note 3: What you’re left with
Note 3: Living as an open wound
Note 3: We’re all vulnerable

On the flip side of all this, there’s This thing called love, Love of self & Problems & the thought that created them.

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Personal archaeology

Living our lives, we inevitably accumulate “history”. Every little thing leaves its mark, creating ripples we cannot hope to control. All that shapes us, becoming the experiences that inform our thinking, the wounds that hurt when we think they’ll be touched, the grooves of how we engage with life.

It’s as if this imperfect world imprints itself upon us in youth, leaving many things we might spend a lifetime trying to iron out. Because, realistically, no one’s perfect. Much as we might hope to be, our knowledge is generally incomplete. We try our best, but life’s a complex reality to master.

And we all knock into one another. One person’s suffering often becomes another’s too. Limited perspectives can effectively negate another’s being. Whenever we’re acting out of imperfect understanding we surely risk impacting those around us? Offhand comments can lodge in another’s psyche to become truths they’ll live by – small, seemingly insignificant, perhaps thoughtless words or gestures taking on a life of their own.

While we might have the finest intentions, the accumulated impact of countless interactions can cause problems. Personal opinions and preferences can echo in other minds as “how things should be”. It’s this strange, invisible world of formative experiences: things that loom large in our past, casting shadows over what follows.

In a way, it’s simply “life” – people doing their best and all of us living through the consequences. If we knew more, we’d do differently, but, in reality, what’s done cannot be undone.

It’s true of society, of family, of culture, education and friendships. They shape us. In differing measure and with varying levels of deliberation, but, nonetheless, they combine to make us who we became (Notes One). I’m not saying that, beneath all that, there’s not an innate sense of self also playing its part, but the faces life turns toward us carry great weight.

What are we supposed to do with that? How, as well as living increasingly complex lives, are we to excavate such a past? And, even if we do, does it help? Is there meaning to be found in uncovering the truth of our journey, the things that defined us, the arc of our personal history? Will we be able to “let it go” or do we risk becoming trapped within this powerless world of our own making? (Notes Two)

It’s the stuff of psychology, of therapists. This army of professionals following us round, helping us make sense of life. It’s important work. “Getting on with life” while carrying along unprocessed, unreleased issues can be a recipe for disaster. We’re unlikely to live our best life crumpled up that way.

Taking hold of yourself, really understanding how you are, is perhaps invaluable for life. People who’ve done such “work” can become powerful, compassionate members of society. We’d likely have healthier relationships and not fall prey to those seeing opportunity in wounds and weaknesses. True strength and wisdom might well be gained from understanding our past, if we’re prepared to go there.

Notes and References:

Some of the many beautiful books dealing with this aspect of life are those by Don Miguel Ruiz, including “The Mastery of Love” (Amber-Allen, California; 1999) and “The Four Agreements” (Amber-Allen, California; 1997).

Note 1: One thing leads to another
Note 1: Culture as what we relate to
Note 1: All we want to do passes through community
Note 1: The world we’re living in
Note 1: What you’re left with
Note 2: This thing called love
Note 2: Does being alone amplify things?
Note 2: Absolute or relative value
Note 2: Do we need meaning?
Note 2: Love of self

In a similar vein to all this, Doing the right thing, we erase consequences looked at the challenge of fully understanding “life”.

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Imperfection as perfection?

In life, there are those who seem pretty “perfect” without much effort – the naturally beautiful, intelligent or otherwise “gifted” people. And, in a world that values perfection regardless of its backstory, these personal assets can make or break us from a young age. As children we know it isn’t “fair”, that it’s profit and praise based on little we’ve actually “done”, so what are we saying here?

This obviously taps into the ants’ nest of contentious conversations around nature, nurture, inequality and privilege within society – all the ways we’ve created or sustain systems that reward innate rather than developed attributes. It’s part of this whole conversation about the meaning of life, value of human existence and what we can offer the world. As if we have to have something to give.

Maybe it’s simply the essence of collective systems? This “give and take” of resources, abilities, needs. We live in systems that value certain things and put a price on others – systems of meaning and of transaction. Existing within society, we’re effectively born into this social balance sheet; and, given how society’s set up, we can perhaps see what “our chances” are.

It’s a weird system, a calculated and deterministic way of looking at life, and it’s hard to argue we’re not playing with a stacked deck. This is people, the world that meets them, and the values placed at the centre of that picture. We’re playing with “the worth of human life” and living through the consequences.

But society, naturally, requires our engagement and benefits from what we have to offer. The way that’s structured and situations its encouraging are without doubt imperfect, but the central premise of individuals working together for common ends isn’t of itself inherently problematic. The value to be gained from human cooperation must “be” the essence of community (Notes One).

If we could create perfect systems for “containing” human life we’d presumably solve problems before they arose, guiding people into a world of total harmony. Idealistic, I know, but isn’t that the nature of thought? To imagine what might be possible if we could just understand enough to get there?

In reality, it seems there are those able to get ahead of themselves and chart a good course through life, then those who learn the hard way. As if some understand in advance what others only see when it’s left in their wake.

Difficulty, though, brings insight and capacity. Making mistakes, we can understand more about life and how to do better. Struggling, we don’t know something or it doesn’t make sense; overcoming that, we move to a deeper, more real feeling for self, society and the processes of transformation (Notes Two).

It seems true that those with innate skills may perform them unconsciously, without awareness of what’s happening or why it matters. Once you’ve grappled with learning what didn’t come naturally, it’s something you’ll know and value intimately. In a way, imperfection might be perfection waiting to happen – once we’ve figured it out.

Notes and References:

Note 1: What you’re left with
Note 1: Human nature and community life
Note 1: “Quest for a Moral Compass”
Note 1: The power of understanding
Note 1: What really matters
Note 2: Absolute or relative value
Note 2: Problems & the thought that created them
Note 2: Is anything obvious to someone who doesn’t know?
Note 2: Dealing with imperfection
Note 2: Making adjustments

Touching onto notions of idealism and disappointment, there’s Dystopia as a powerful ideal.

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Does being alone amplify things?

Left to our own devices, where does the mind tend to lead us? Often, I’d imagine, into some version of circling around and around with our own limited thinking. How are we to escape that, if we’ve only ourselves for company?

It’s perhaps an obvious thing to say, but it still seems an important “fact” to keep in mind. Left alone with our feelings, thoughts, interpretations, and patterns in life – mistaken as they might so easily be – they’ll arguably just feed off themselves, rigidify, or grow to strange and unusual proportions. Without the relief of “another perspective”, we almost seemed destined to suffer under our own delusions.

A few steps later, we could find ourselves in strange places with strange people for company. Our beliefs certainly seem – consciously or otherwise – to attract those who either think the same or see some advantage to be gained from our situation (Notes One). Life seems to work that way, unfortunately: mistaken ideas and valuations somehow playing themselves out.

There’s this sense in which we’re thinking beings – working things out with our minds – and also social beings who learn alongside and through our interactions with others (Notes Two). Those two combined must place a lot of importance on communication?

If words are our vehicles for escaping the confines of our minds – voicing our individual perspectives, experiences and thoughts – then presumably conversations are our venue for exploring, sounding out, checking, correcting, reworking, strengthening or sharing those views? Going out beyond ourselves to encounter others seems, in many ways, the answer (Notes Three).

But, of course, it’s not that simple. Especially “these days” where we’re reportedly becoming increasingly isolated as a result of modern living and the roles technology’s coming to play in our lives. We’re perhaps more isolated from meaningful relationships than humans have ever conceivably been – increasingly cut off and alone with our own minds, fears, insecurities, patterns and problems.

There may be irony to something connecting us with more people than ever before yet simultaneously rendering us more isolated within our immediate surroundings. Ultimately, perhaps, it’s a challenge? This sense in which technology offers us so much, provided we’re able to overcome the equally substantial difficulties it’s throwing up for us all.

Because I’m just not sure how healthy it is to be alone. There’s undeniably value to knowing yourself, understanding your own mind, doing the work to unpack and heal your own psyche; but there must be limits to how far we can progress in isolation. Without the insight, interaction and reality other people bring to our lives, don’t we risk becoming less human?

Relating to others and finding common ground might be becoming increasingly hard – knowing who to trust; navigating fraught conversations or insurmountable differences; grasping people’s intentions so as not to be led astray – but arguably it’s our only way forward (Notes Four).

As ever, I’m just musing. But having a clear sense of how far we’re an island and where we indeed must connect seems pretty essential in life.

Notes and References:

Note 1: The way to be
Note 1: Living as an open wound
Note 1: The dignity & power of a human life
Note 2: What are we thinking?
Note 2: Ways thought adds spins to life
Note 2: Counselling, listening & social identity
Note 2: Conversation as revelation
Note 3: Pick a side, any side
Note 3: True words spoken in jest
Note 4: Freedom, what to lean on & who to believe
Note 4: What would life be if we could trust?
Note 4: The idea of self reliance

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Ways thought adds spin to life

The way we think arguably informs the ways we’re living, those higher-level thoughts trickling down into our ideas and attitudes in life. At times, we might view the mind as this faithful mirror, reflecting life so we’re able to understand and rise above it; but, more often than not, it seems to distort and thereby alter the nature of our understanding.

It’s something I struggle with here, as generally I’m trying to find a constructive perspective in my writing. Around this time last year, I reached a point of feeling things were becoming restrictive, sucking the vitality out of ideas and pulling them along another path than I’d hoped. Experiencing something similar lately, I’m wondering if it’s not simply a part of thought itself?

The mind seemingly has this tendency to plan, to identify and follow threads to create systems that must be followed. Equally, a tendency to form grooves – patterns of thinking that can overwhelm ideas themselves with a tone, mood or weight that’s hard to shake off. As if thought wants to make everything fit some overarching narrative we’ve constructed, creating habits of thinking we risk being stuck with (Notes One).

Is this part of thought? This desire to “match” life, to condense our observations of it down into something manageable and, hopefully, meaningful. What is this process of attempting to wrap our heads round reality and draw conclusions that might somehow be true, coherent, worthwhile, helpful?

Why is it we look at life and want it to make sense? Of course, I am the kind of person who does seek that: wanting to dive deep, unearth the concepts, see the paths taken and grasp where we stand within human history (Notes Two). As thinking beings, it seems natural to me that we would both seek meaning and seek to have it woven through the systems we’re creating out in the world between people and within nature.

But, how “should” we feel about life? What should we make of “all this” given we’re capable of thought? How do our choices or tendencies with regard to thinking affect the ways we’re approaching existence? (Notes Three)

If we tend toward thinking we’re powerless, human nature is inherently flawed, and there’s nothing we can do to change these things then that surely influences our attitudes in life and the kinds of activities we might engage in. Alternatively, thinking life’s a battle where we must fight others for an advantage or to win them over to our ideas must also impact all our actions.

As ever, there simply aren’t easy answers. With this writing, my inclination is to seek meaning; much as that might run risks. Finding the right balance between seriousness and escapism is intriguing: that elusive line somewhere between depression, anger, laughter and endless distraction.

If thought sets us apart though, don’t we have a responsibility to use it wisely? Finding balanced, reasonable, realistic perspectives within a world of serious concerns certainly isn’t easy, but what choice do we have.

Notes and References:

Note 1: The need for discernment
Note 1: The sense of having a worldview
Note 1: Working through mind & society
Note 2: The value of a questioning attitude?
Note 2: What if it all means something?
Note 2: The power of understanding
Note 2: Respect, rebellion & renovation
Note 2: Do we need meaning?
Note 3: Matt Haig’s “Notes on a Nervous Planet”
Note 3: David Bohm, thoughts on life
Note 3: “Spiritual Emergency”
Note 3: Culture as reflection

Looking at this question of balanced responses, there’s either Anger as a voice or True words spoken in jest.

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What would life be if we could trust?

What might our lives be like if we could trust? Trust in others, in information we receive, in organisations around us and their intentions for our lives? Before, I’ve talked about the need, above all, to trust ourselves; in that it’s hard to see what others have in mind for us (Notes One). Beyond that pragmatic response though, what’s the picture of a trusting life?

I mean, if we could trust that all our interactions were based on concern for our best interests as well as the interests of society. Instead of this ‘dog eat dog’ approach of taking what you can, looking out for you and yours, and battling it out over self-interest. There’s a social, systemic interpretation of that but – as ever – I’m thinking theoretically here.

Really, it’s a question about motivation and values and the sentiment behind collective endeavours (Notes Two). Is community a battleground of conflicting ideas and priorities, or a place of commonality, togetherness and mutual concern? Do we have to fight, to cling, to defend, to shout, or is society already listening? It’s not listening. Everywhere there are agendas at play, very specific ideas of how to treat people ‘for the best’.

Unfortunately, modern life in the West seems to be that battleground: we’ve taken ideas of social engineering and essentially thrown everything at the feet of market forces. Culture, beauty, self-worth, environment, education, communication, infrastructure, all this is effectively on sale to the highest bidders and most strategic thinkers. It’s perhaps foolish to trust in that reality.

But, if we could? If those operating in all areas of our lives held each individual in the highest regard? If the scenarios about to play out were firmly and compassionately held in the hearts of those pulling the strings? If injustices and difficulties were sympathetically understood, with life-affirming solutions being offered? If society were fed with nurturing rather than destabilising forces? If paths were chosen out of constructive optimism, not cold calculation.

Writing that, I see it’s actually a deeply depressing train of thought. Because it highlights the disgusting ways companies are profiting off our lives: friendships, uncertainty, knowledge, democracy, all these fundamental human realities seemingly being sold off, plundered, exacerbated rather than relieved or encouraged in healthy directions.

I’d not anticipated ‘imagining a trustworthy world’ would be almost too naïve yet depressing to write about. What does that say? Surely, as humans, we’re entrusting ourselves to the community surrounding us, to the forethought contained there. Isn’t life built around a degree of trust? As opposed to worrying we’re in the hands of those who pretty much couldn’t care less.

It’s sad to think we can only trust ourselves, but also empowering: this call to know our minds, our wounds or weaknesses; to trust your judgement and understanding, viewing life against that backdrop; to base choices around the best wisdom we can find, leaning only on the certainty of our convictions. Hopefully then, such qualities might find their way into the fabric of society itself.

Notes and References:

For the Tibetan Buddhist perspective on managing the realities of human existence and establishing principles of trust and compassion, there’s: “Living Beautifully with Uncertainty and Change” by Pema Chödrön, (Shambhala, Boston), 2012.

Note 1: Who should we trust?
Note 1: Freedom, what to lean on & who to believe
Note 1: Need to stand alone & think for ourselves
Note 2: Community as an answer
Note 2: Concerns over how we’re living
Note 2: What holds it all together

Building on this, ideas around the bigger picture behind social realities made up a large part of The power of understanding.

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Working through mind & society

With life, there’s how things are then what we make of them – what we think and feel; the picture of the human being that’s emerging from social structures and relationships; how we adjust to those often-flawed realities; and what we offer by way of our responses.

Essentially, to my eyes, societies are these embodiments of certain ideas or patterns of thought. Arising from that, Western society is what it is: this quite specific understanding of life, the value of our lives, and the activities needed to sustain a human community. It’s the principles, values, priorities, and structures put in place that’ve been working themselves out over the years alongside our evolving humanity.

It’s just ideas, then the practical realities engendered by them through the worlds of politics, law, social systems, and the like. This project whereby the finest or most persuasive minds of their time have shaped, reshaped, and projected their views onto the collective endeavour of people co-existing for mutual benefit and support (see Notes One).

Over time, of course, that might’ve drifted, speeding up quite dramatically with the adoption of technology, veering this way or that through the powerful freedom of market forces; until, at times, it can seem a contorted echo of what were presumably quite fine ideals.

Which, again, is what it is: often in life we walk into situations and attempt to make the best of them, drawing on our understanding of what things mean and what matters most within all we find around us. Education hopefully prepares us to see rightly and act freely; the media hopefully keeps us abreast of necessary insights; life itself hopefully doesn’t distract us too greatly from what’s fundamental to the whole project (Notes Two).

And then we each emerge into these realities, touching upon them in different ways, and learning lessons about how we’re valued and the expectations others have for us. If society is embodied ideas, we’re effectively discovering those ideas through our encounters within it.

We learn how others see us, the judgements or assessments they might make based on their own values, understanding or priorities. We learn how society’s set up, the opportunities we’re offered, the values currently in evidence through economic or cultural realities. We learn how people are relating to one another, the level of honesty or manipulation at play, and what’s considered acceptable there.

In all these ways, we’re trying to find that place within society where we feel free, capable, appreciated, recognised for who we truly are, and able to be ourselves without fear of attack, rejection, or coercion (Notes Three). We all have something valuable to offer, and hopefully society is adaptable enough to make space for all those who fall within its parameters.

Hopefully life within society makes sense and honours the valuable presence and contribution of all its members. If not, I’d imagine people will struggle, both inwardly and outwardly, to make peace with and find places of belonging within a community that perhaps doesn’t value us rightly?

Notes and References:

Note 1: The conversation of society
Note 1: Human nature and community life
Note 2: What we know to pass on
Note 2: Writings on Education
Note 2: Value in being informed
Note 2: Freedom, what to lean on & who to believe
Note 2: Desensitised to all we’re told?
Note 3: Complexity of life
Note 3: How we feel about society
Note 3: The philosopher stance

Related to this, both Mental health as a truth to be heard? and David Bohm, thoughts on life explored ideas around how well the mind meets with the realities surrounding it.

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Strange arrogance of thought

It’s strange to think how thought can just sweep in and cause so many problems. It’s almost too easy to spin together some convincing narrative around any sequence of events, casually brushing things aside to move in a new direction without giving much thought to what that might mean.

Thought can fairly easily downplay some things and prioritise others without much concern for consequence. But in life’s realities, such expressions of logic often risk being at least a little careless as we ‘pick up’ complexities, string them together as we see fit, then pronounce our judgements. Surely reality doesn’t quite work that way?

Obviously, it’s how we’re generally taught to operate within the world of ideas: dispassionately fighting our corner, wielding reason as a weapon we somehow feel causes no harm (see Note One). And in a way it’s true that in the abstract world of thought we ‘can’ act that way: within the realm of pure concepts we could argue nothing’s to be taken personally.

But in real life nothing’s entirely impersonal. Opinions on government, history, injustice, prejudice, or inequality might ‘just’ be words, but they’re weighty. As are many others. Words carry with them our personal, social, emotional, intellectual past, present or future. Anyone with direct or indirect experience of any situation rightly bears their response to it, their hopes or wounds (Notes Two).

We might happily wade into weighty discussions, waving words around more-or-less intelligently or considerately, but it’s likely someone’s going to get hurt. And while we might insist there’s only one solution, it’s also likely almost any such attempt may entail some very human realities getting swept away without due recognition.

Which approaches the question of how thought meets reality (Notes Three). We see what’s going on around us and, naturally, form ideas of how life and society fit together: what it means, what’s good or bad, what’s considered acceptable in the short or medium term in order to realise ideals we or others have about longer-term social and global outcomes.

But, in reality, ideas chart their path through our lives. Whole generations or groups might effectively be being asked to sacrifice any hopes they may’ve had for advancement, respect, or equal recognition so others might reap benefits and pave ways toward a future they’re hoping to create. Is it OK to ‘fold’ people’s lives like that into some other form of ‘progress’?

And while we might get impatient at ideas we see as ‘obvious’ not gaining traction with those around us, reality often moves much slower than the mind: logic might be able to deconstruct patterns of behaviour and conclude we should act otherwise, but that thinking still has to work its way gradually, insistently into human nature before it’s one day considered ‘normal’.

That said though, surely thought is what’s needed? As intelligent beings it’s arguably our responsibility to understand the life that sustains us in natural, social or economic forms, then operate as wisely and considerately as we can within it all.

Notes and References:

Note 1: Pick a side, any side
Note 2: Living as an open wound
Note 2: We’re all vulnerable
Note 3: Dealing with imperfection
Note 3: What if it all means something?
Note 3: David Bohm, thoughts on life
Note 3: Plato & “The Republic”

Navigating flawed realities or ideas was also the subject of Dystopia as a powerful ideal, How things change & Is anything obvious to someone who doesn’t know?

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What are we thinking?

Sometimes I wonder what we’re thinking. Not in the sense of frustration at where society’s headed (although there’s an element of that here at times too), but simply what it is that’s running through all our heads.

Are we tending towards this ongoing commentary of what we see out there, taking it all in, appreciating things or judging them in varying measure? Are we entertaining completely different thoughts, unrelated to what’s around us but springing forth from something else we might’ve seen or be preoccupied about? Are we synthesising what we see into a narrative, seeking meaning and the arc to our existence?

It’s interesting, because clearly all that goes on in someone’s mind is pretty much hidden from view. They might be aware of it, but they might not. We might sometimes be quite absentmindedly thinking without knowing what’s going on up there, unaware of where we are or how we appear to others. We might not know where our thoughts come from, as if they arise from nothingness but take us along for the ride.

After all, we have a lot of input. There’s our senses with all the messages they bring, memories they can stir up, and our sensitivity to all those things. There’s the physical spaces we occupy, with all the social and cultural relationships we have to navigate and find our place within. Then there’s the broader sense of life itself, our collective existence, and how precarious or valuable that all might be.

The options for what might occupy our minds are seemingly endless (see Notes One). And, with that, surely we’re running a few risks? The mind must have limited capacity, with a point we’ll get overwhelmed and be unable to process things wisely or reach appropriate solutions. There must be a stage where we want to shut off all the information we’re having to deal with, where it’s affecting our feelings and sense of inner peace.

At what point do we draw the line? If everything is real and everything is meaningful, how do we decide what actually matters? Were we to put filters on our minds, what criteria would we set and can we be sure of not tuning out something of absolutely crucial significance? And why are we living in such a way that this becomes necessary?

And ultimately it interests me because I care. About individuals, how they view themselves and their value in life. About our communities, whether we understand them rightly or if our actions might inadvertently be causing intense strain to something we rely upon. To my mind, the ideas we take in – the meanings we hold to and act upon – shape and sustain the world we all share in (Note Two).

Whether it’s a problem how we use our minds, the content running through them and what we let spill out into everyday life, seem like important questions. Because taking it all in hand, let alone communicating it with others, is becoming quite a massive undertaking.

Notes and References:

Note 1: What if it all means something?
Note 1: Nature tells a story, about the planet
Note 1: The web and the wider world
Note 1: Complexity of life
Note 1: The need for discernment
Note 2: What is real?

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The philosopher stance

Approaching life, in the general or the specific, we can stand back to think, dive into action, or some degree of the two. We might become paralysed by the complexity of trying to understand; or swept up by reality, carried along with its preconceived notions. Finding the right balance, the best way to honour our capacities for thought while actively participating in the life of society cannot be easy.

Life isn’t straightforward: this blend of ideas and actions; intentions, impacts and conclusions; relationships and patterns of behaviour. Then there’s chance or luck thrown into the mix. In a way, we’re born into situations that bear with them history, consequences, responsibility, guilt; social and personal circumstances we have to work through, make our peace with, or rework as we see fit (see Notes One).

Then, in terms of modern life, there’s the unique and almost overwhelming change brought about through technology and all the ways it’s altered how we live, relate, and understand the world around us (Notes Two). The volume of what can now be known and cared about is of a vastly different scale from what’s gone before, as is the means by which it’s communicated.

With all these things, it’s easier to question the value of taking time to think. Where are the boundaries to your thoughts; where do you draw the line between what concerns you and what you don’t have time for? And where does thought lead: can it change anything, does your understanding matter, or are you engaged in futile contemplation while others act to their advantage?

So often we’re told, “This is how it is”. This is society, the paths it’s taken, the values initially at its core (even if their application has drifted so far as to be almost unrecognisable, at times), and the things it has to offer. We might be largely shaped to fill the roles society has in mind for us through education, culture, advertising, and the like; and it may well be that philosophy or ethical concerns don’t sit easily with it all (Notes Three).

Of course, social systems must be based on a degree of certainty in what we’re doing. That’s their essence: the idea of being the right way to organise our lives, and the benefits that offers us all in the long run. That conversation happened a fair while back, when the great or influential minds of that time battled over their ideas and the power to execute them.

But then do we just sit back and trust in how things are, accepting the outworking of their original understanding? Surely an intelligent society should seek our intelligent involvement, rather than our passivity. Maybe these systems are clunky, filled with inherited patterns of behaviour, seemingly difficult to shift from the trajectory on which they were set, but where does that lead?

In the face of life, the balance between action and contemplation in forming a useful, valuable and wise response seems so crucial for our shared realities.

Notes and References:

Note 1: The human spirit
Note 1: Responsibility in shaping this reality
Note 1: Ways of living & those who suffer
Note 2: The potential of technology
Note 2: Modern media and complex realities
Note 2: The web and the wider world
Note 3: Ideas around education & responsibility
Note 3: Culture selling us meaning
Note 3: How it is / Selling out

Somewhere between thought and action we find the release that is humour, as explored in We may as well laugh.

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