| | What is the Best Way to Live?
How do you define right and wrong in your life? How do you know which beliefs are correct and which are incorrect? How do you know objectively what the best thing to do in your life is? How do you know what the best workout is? The best career? The best spiritual and moral beliefs? The best way of thinking? The best way to communicate with other people? Essentially these are all part of the same question that we all ask ourselves at some point – what is the best way I could live?
Some people meet this question head on – other’s shrink from it. For those who try to answer it, what happens is that they often get a big mess. Not because they’re answering the wrong question – but because they go about answering it the wrong way. They might buy a couple of books or spend a few weeks thinking about it. They intellectualise. They ponder. They try and consider all the alternatives and from this figure out what they should do. Should I be Roman Catholic or Buddhist? Should I go running or get some weights? Should I start a blog or become a journalist? Should I develop my proficiency with HTML or learn how to write?
What these people often discover though is that they get stuck. There are just too many alternatives to consider. There are too many career choices, too many exercise plans, too many belief systems, too many skills to develop. To actually stand a chance of choosing the best; they have to consider all the alternatives. And of course this isn’t an easy task to undertake because the alternatives are nearly limitless in their scope. Try listing all the careers that you can think of – once you’ve done that, objectively consider each of them and logically show to yourself which is the best for you. Logically prove to yourself that running is better then weight-lifting, that journalism is better then dentistry, that Buddhism is a better choice then Scientology. You will fail miserably. Either you’ll fall into the trap of over-intellectualising, where you spend your time trying desperately to find an answer and never coming close, or you’ll list what society has conditioned into you as a natural reflex.
The alternative to the objective method of answering the question is the subjective method; you go with your gut-feeling, your intuition. You look at the alternatives available to you and choose the one that looks the best from the outset. So if you think running would be a good idea – you do it. If you think vegetarianism would be a good idea – you do it. You don’t think about the logistics and technicalities attached to the situation – you do what feels right. The problem with this method though is that few people are at the level of thinking where they can go through this procedure effectively. They’ll list what they’ve previously been conditioned to believe, so if they’re parents and friends insist that vegetarianism is a stupid idea they’ll avoid it. They then become a product, not of their own choices, but of the various influences that they have been introduced to throughout their life.
The subjective method and the objective method are both problematic models to answer this question under – you’ll either end up as another conditioned peon of society or as a tortured philosopher with an endless mission for proof. So how can we answer this question? How can we find out what is true for us? We can’t answer it objectively and we can’t answer it subjectively. What options do we have?
The answer is the third alternative – the evolutionary answer. This is a mixture of the objective model and the subjective model. This basically means that you find something that both subjectively and objectively makes sense to you. You pick a diet that you objectively think will improve your health and which you subjectively feel good about. You go running because intuitively it feels like a good idea and you know it will make you fitter. You begin to take some writing course because you know, deep down, that is the career you want to chase and you know that going to those courses will help you to improve your skill. You mix the two approaches together.
And you don’t stay in a fixed position. You evolve. This is one problem with the previous two models – you try and find the best option from the outset and live that one all your life. Humans are developing creatures though – there are no continuous principles in your life. There are no constants that you consistently abide by. Instead you enter into different situations and circumstances throughout your life. You change all the time. And trying to pin this change down just undermines your very nature as the human being that you are.
With the evolutionary model the concept is simple – you choose something, try it and then go and explore for an alternative which you might consider to be better. You try the alternative and if your expectations are proven correct you implement it into your life and dump the old choice – if not, you dump the alternative and stick with the old choice.
This dipping in and out of the different choices we have in our life is one of the best ways to grow. It balances out objectivity with subjectivity so that we actually find something that works for us and we don’t pin ourselves down with trying to find the best one available to us. Instead we simply choose where to start and grow from there. The start is always the most important part of anything. A business only comes into existence if it had a start. You only become healthier if you begin to exercise. You only become smarter when you start to read. From my own experience the evolutionary model is the best way to go about making decisions. It allows you to make a decision, but make it in a reasonable timeframe with a reasonable amount of sense. And also it strips you of attachment so instead of becoming overly preoccupied with any one stage of your growth you can see it as the unfolding experience of life. Even when things aren’t at their best – you take joy and satisfaction in the knowledge that you are consistently growing towards a better state.
Imagine if you were born into life with everything. You had a wonderful house, financial abundance, a great partner, kids, terrific friends, emotional control, physical fitness and a career that you loved. You had it all. What you don’t have in this situation however is experience. You haven’t earned these things realistically. And that takes away a lot of the excitement of life. You’ve reached a stage of perfection. There is nowhere else to grow – no improvements you could possibly foresee. Where is the life in that?
Life is meant to be a series of challenges. Life is meant to stretch you, take you beyond your limits and sometimes even break you. This is where we earn the right to lead a good life. When our first business fails, we earn the right to set up one that will be a success. When our first long-term relationship ends in tears, we earn the right to find our soul mate. When we humiliate ourselves publicly, we earn the right to be respected. All of the greatest successes of our life come from our greatest failures. The problem then of over-intellectualising is that it tries to skip a stage. By searching and trying to implement the perfect life from scratch we have no basis to found it on. There is no experience to help us when a problem occurs. The ideal life then becomes realistically impossible to achieve. We think we know what we want but we can’t see any way to get to that point. We haven’t run the gauntlet. All we’ve done is sat at home and thought our lives away. Our conclusion sits in our head, a glowing example of perfection and idealisation. Meanwhile our lives spiral out of control.
You might not know what you want at this present moment. But the solution to this isn’t to start trying to find an answer to the question “What is the best way I could live?” There is no answer to this question or at least, no objective answer. Instead there is a plethora of possible options that can never be objectively compared because there are too many of them. What there is however is the option to simply dive in and try to find an answer as you explore the question. As you gradually improve your experience of reality two things will happen.
The first of these is that you will find the answer to the original question. But the second of these and the most important is that you will start to develop the strength and the experience to make your answer a reality. You’ll have set up a business and failed. You’ll have tried a new diet and failed. You’ll be stronger, more confident, more committed, more self-disciplined. Your sense of capability will have expanded greatly. Not only will you be closer to the answer – because you were already moving towards it in the first place – but you’ll be in a position to be able to make the transition to this answer.
And yet something even stranger might happen. You’re answer might already be the life you are living. “What is the best way I could live?” – With exploration; with courage; for experience and texture, no matter how harsh or how sweet; without expectation; without attachment; constantly expanding; constantly growing.
Ultimately your answer might be different to mine. But you’ll never find your answer if you succumb to the objective or the subjective model of exploration. Instead you’ll pin yourself down into paralysis analysis or simply reiterate what you’ve been conditioned into. You need to evolve yourself before you answer the question. You need to make yourself stronger, more experienced, more capable. And maybe, when you finally realise what the answer to the question is – you’ll be in a position where the place you wish to be is already in sight, or you might even already be on the path of that life itself.