3 Tips on Living in the Modern World

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Kurt Vonnegut on the modern world

I’m a modern youth.  It sometimes seems challenging to live in this world without an influx of technology and seeming inanity at my fingertips. The latter is a bit of a judgment but I am definitely not alone in thinking our culture perpetuates stereotypes and silliness while discouraging free, independent thought and action. We’re conditioned to behave in a culturally appropriate manner.  The rules of society are the rules we base our moral and governmental laws upon, and anything other than strict adherence to them is deemed reprehensible, either silently or openly, depending on the situation.

It seems frustrating at many levels to behave in such a manner and to feel constrained in these roles if they feel unnatural to us as individuals.  We’re gradually losing all sense of ourselves as they exist in relationship to our own uniqueness.  We’re favoring cyber connectivity over physical connectivity.  We’re favoring fashion over character.  We’re favoring immediacy over persistence.  We’re slowly losing touch with the pristine nature of ourselves as interconnected parts of the whole. We’re falling into a deeper sense of anthropocentricity and a lack of regard for all things “other.”

This more complacent, more sensible path feels easy because of the confirmation received from everyone around us.  If this is what everyone else is doing, then it must be right.  From the outside it looks great, but somewhere inside, very often, not many people are content following the status quo.

Why Do You Do It?

This is a very important question when ascertaining your values.  We each have a set of values and beliefs that propels us towards our choices and ultimate goals in life.  One of the best ways of examining those concepts is to ask yourself why you behave in such a way.  What is it about your relationship to the world that propels you to think in the way that you do?  How is your past shaping your future?

This is the Buddhist idea of “karma.”  It’s much less esoteric and impersonal than other religious interpretations and instead puts the power directly into your own hands.  Your way of thinking is a habit pattern that, for many people, goes unnoticed.  It keeps bringing what it’s looking for, and if the thought’s habit is a tendency towards un-pleasurable things, that thought’s habit will perpetuate itself and keep producing un-pleasurable things and more un-pleasurable thoughts.  This becomes the cycle and the more it happens, the more it reinforces itself, and the harder it becomes to stop.  This is usually referred to as an, “addiction.”

Examine the Addictions

But the word addiction is not reserved for criminals and drug users; we are all addicted to something in our lives, and in varying degrees.  In trying to reframe this word, I implore you to examine your own addictions with absolute, brutal honesty.  You may not think that your 8am cup of coffee is an addiction, but what would happen if you didn’t get it?  Could you not drink that cup of coffee (or tea, or other caffeinated beverage) for a month? For a year? Or maybe you are hip to all the latest fashionable trends; what would happen if you stopped buying clothes for a few months?  For a few years?  Or maybe you are in a long-term relationship and are never far away from your lover.  What would it feel like to be alone?  Are you infatuated with the person, or are you dependent on the relationship?  What would happen if you two were just friends, and there was no sense of monogamy holding you two together?

You could be addicted to money, to sugar, to arguing, to skateboarding, to playing guitar, whatever. I obviously don’t know what your addictions are, but I assure you, you have them.  We hear often in our culture about “breaking the addiction,” but I don’t feel like this is useful. Some addictions are very beneficial to our health and well-being.  For example, the typical westerner has an addiction to cleanliness.  Many bathe themselves at least once a day.  What would happen if you didn’t bathe for a month?  Could you even do it?  What about our addiction to technology?  You wouldn’t be reading this, and I wouldn’t have a platform to write this without it.  Is that a particularly bad thing?

The key here is to examine the addiction and see the perpetuations and the rationale behind them.  If you approach them with the idea that nothing can be bad, and everything just is, then honesty should prevail.  And nothing is right or wrong either. Everything is a unique expression and reflection of who you are and why you do the things you do.  The only barrier towards accurate examination is dishonesty.  Deluding yourself into a more “acceptable” answer is not going to be helpful.  Be honest and accept everything you find out about yourself with love and compassion.

Practice Trial and Error

I don’t know if this fledgling blog is going to have any readership, but I’m still writing with inspiration and intent.  I didn’t know I wanted to write a blog six months ago. I’m not even sure I still do now.  I didn’t know I was going to forgo a complacent life in the Rocky Mountains and come to a smoggy city to play guitar and write.  Every day I sit and I question the direction I’m going, and continue on the path regardless of outside circumstance.  The best advice I’ve ever received regarding this process: “No decision is still a decision.  Either way you’re doing something.”

The point is that there is no possible way of knowing.  Even if you did somehow know, the journey is still callously uncompromising and draining.  The only way to gain knowledge and life experience is to courageously step into the world and live with an ideal, or concept, or lack of concept, or confusing thought pattern, or hardship, or carefree attitude, or whatever else you want to try for a little bit.

Trial and error is just another practice.  It gets easier over time as the practice of displaying courage and confidence becomes stronger, and the practice of utilizing wisdom becomes stronger.  Eventually, failing at something won’t be a big deal anymore because even if there are many failures along the way, the successes tend to shadow the less pleasurable situations.  You can’t know if you don’t try.  I never would’ve known I enjoy scented candles if I didn’t courageously challenge my own views of masculinity.  I never would’ve known I don’t like drinking alcohol if I didn’t courageously face my addiction to social validation.  I never would be writing this if I didn’t decide to try out writing a blog.

We all have very specific and unique experiences that shape and define our ways of life.  Until we examine them, we won’t know if they are in our best interests, or if they are in someone else’s best interest that we’ve accidentally inherited.  Within these storehouses of our beliefs, we find things like our deep-seated habits, our values, and our sense of purpose.  And when you find them, test it out and see if it still rings true.

Often, in this world of gadgets and stimulation, we forget to examine how we got here.  The journey is hindered by the goal.  Taking a moment to stop and explore ourselves in relation to the world is the most effective way to manage the stress of living in a modern world, and finding your truth as a modern living being.

 

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