Foundations of a Life Philosophy (1.1)

Note: This article is one part of a series, "How to Rethink Your Entire Life | Foundations of a Life Philosophy"

“Thinking life through” isn’t really something we often hear about.

As we mentioned in the previous section, while we usually think all kinds of things through, from dinner plans to vacations, we rarely hear about thinking through life itself.

But it’s understandable.

After all, this kind of thing is deeply personal. Plenty of people “think life through” on a small scale, at least, and to some degree – but it often happens in solitude.

It can also be sensitive. When something is this sensitive, it’s often easier to talk about sports, politics, or celebrity gossip, or basically anything other than that.

All of this can lead to a strange situation where the most important things in life are also the least talked about.

All of this can lead to a kind of taboo-by-default.

It isn’t that anyone is roaming around telling people not to talk about this or that. (That didn’t used to happen, in certain places, at least.)

But sometimes, nobody brings it up, and nobody wants to be the first to bring it up, and everyone is taking cues from everyone else.

So it’s never brought up.

This also competes with floods of distractions these days. We’re often lucky/unlucky to have a virtually limitless supply of apparently enjoyable activities that consume our time and energy in ways that are seemingly more pleasant, entertaining, or flattering.

All of this leads to a situation where the entire idea of “thinking life through” might never even occur to us. We’re often encouraged to enjoy, distract, or amuse ourselves, but rarely to know ourselves.

Reasons like this could go on.

But even if we do push through all of the above to where we really decide to really dig in to this stuff, the process can easily become overwhelming.

It can be tough to even know where to start. It can feel like being ambushed. Hordes of ideas can swarm us, flooding us with just “too much” of everything.

It can all seem confusing, and “too big.” The issue of “life itself” can seem like too much to wrap our heads around.

It’s all understandable.

That said, at the end of the day, there are good reasons for thinking it through that are ultimately pretty simple.

It can be as basic as being given a simple task – “Live!” – and asking how to do it well.

It could come up because someone’s life isn’t working. It might be as small as a subtle feeling of dissatisfaction. “Something isn’t right.”

Or, it could mean that someone’s life is working, but they might ask, "Is this all there is?" Or, they want it to work better.

Why does anyone want to study martial arts or self-defense? Either because they don’t feel that they can defend themselves well enough – or they can defend themselves well, but they want to be able to do it even better.

We might avoid the whole matter because it seems overwhelming. But it doesn't need to be. If we approach it properly, this process can be broken down into a series of relatively simple, relatively commonsense steps that any of us can take.

And if this line of thought is on track, they’re steps worth taking.

This effort can yield fruit.

This “fruit” can be like a reliable map we can use to navigate life.

Setting sail with no map, compass, or destination in mind can easily lead to drifting aimlessly, lost at sea or wandering through the wilderness. The same can happen when someone navigates life without a solid life philosophy.

What does it mean to be without a solid life philosophy?

The result isn’t nothing. “Nothing” isn’t an option. It defaults back to something.

Often, that default is a philosophy of vagueness.

But what might a “philosophy of vagueness” look like?

It could look like someone sleepwalking through life. Dozens of contradictory ideas might float in and out someone’s head, each vague, incomplete, and half-developed. This can mean someone heading in one direction one day and another the next, and the reverse the day after that. It can mean ultimately wandering in circles, ultimately going nowhere. It’s existential vertigo.

Our aim here is the opposite.

The contrast to that bleak image means getting our bearings.

This means establishing north, south, east, and west, and getting a map and compass. It means building a foundation on bedrock that’s trustworthy. It means charting a course, and learning to navigate with the skill of a salty old sailor toward a destination that’s worth all the trouble – somewhere abundant with food, water, fun, and more.

That is our objective.

This means making our “life philosophy” conscious.

Our life philosophy is often unconscious.

We can give our entire lives to ideas we’ve hardly examined. We often make certain assumptions, and then proceed from there without ever checking those initial assumptions. Small mistakes early in the process can lead to much bigger mistakes later. These “mistakes” can lead to unnecessary suffering.

But done properly, this process of “thinking it through” can free us from becoming unwitting captives to unconscious, unknown, potentially unfriendly forces. It can put us in the driver’s seat of our own lives.

Again: we all have a life philosophy. We can either be aware of it, or unaware of it.

Being aware of it is better.

Carl Jung once said, “Whatever is not conscious will be experienced as fate.”

Examining a life philosophy means taking fate into our own hands.


But what does all this really mean? What would actually doing this really look like?

What, after all, really is a “life philosophy”?

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