35 Years of Thinking

When my birthday approached last July I was inspired to attempt a summary of my outlook on life after 35 years. I’m pretty sure I’ve been thinking for most of that time, so I asked myself, “Have I reached any conclusions yet? Do I have any idea what my life has been, or what I want it to be?” Then I got busy living again and never wrote a thing, but continued thinking, as always. Maybe it was too scary to risk revealing how little I had to show for so much cognition. Tonight, though, the subject got in my head again and is keeping me awake, so perhaps it’s time to settle it. The smallness of it actually seems like an accomplishment at the moment. I think I can boil my vision of my life as a human, past and future, into a few concise stages of progress:

  1. Learn to survive in an environment.
  2. Discover what I value most in my environment.
  3. Pursue my values to maximize them in my life.
  4. Contrast my values and environment with others.
  5. Learn how my environment is shaped.
  6. Promote an environment that maximizes and nutures my values.

That’s it! So simple. Granted, some of the stages are tantamount to unraveling the meaning of life. Maybe I’m yet to find some better way to spend my time!

At 35, I think I’m more or less at stage 3, exploring stage 4, and able to guess what the next stages might be.

At best, I feel like this little list could represent something like the Maxwell’s Equations of my life. I can write them on the board, and they may very well be true, but reading them may raise many more questions than answers. That’s the nature of summaries, generalizations, and conclusions, I think. The whole story of Maxwell’s equations can only be told by a universe of light, and the whole story of my list can only be told by spending 35 years in my head. Which makes the short list much more attractive, doesn’t it?

Maybe I’ll get the urge to expand on some of the stages. Tonight I feel relieved to have written them down. Will I be able to sleep now?

5 responses to “35 Years of Thinking”

  1. I feel like some kind of congratulations are in order. To be confidant enough in yourself and all of the decisions and repercussions and opportunities and regrets that make up 35 years of life to be able to write them down as 6 little phrases is definitely impressive!

    I’m curious about this new stage 4 you are exploring. “Contrast my values and environment with others.” If you have already found out what you value and have dedicated yourself to a life which maximizes those values, why do you care what other people are doing? If it were important how others lived, and how they were or were not able to pursue happiness, wouldn’t that be information you’d want in choosing which values to pursue in the first place?

  2. Thanks!

    I’m prone, as most people are I suspect, to the perception that the environment I’ve learned to survive in is the only valid one. I don’t think it’s possible to learn how my environment is shaped with those blinders on. In fact, I find that plopping myself into a completely foreign environment that I don’t know how to survive in provides the best insights into my usual familiar setting, and gives me a clue whether my values have any relevance outside it. This kind of exercise also develops better abilities for dealing with unexpected or uncontrollable changes in my environment (provided I survive it – that’s what guides are for :).

  3. It’s probably mostly your dad’s influence, this careful thoughtfulness you have about your life, but I also feel that it is important to try to articulate one’s spiritual path and values, try to find metaphors that work to express your life force and path. You do that so well.

    I work at the same but I find it exhausting and exhilerating at the same time. I’ve taken a long vacation from articulation, the enormous effort of focusing my fuzzy awareness of the motivations that move my big and small choices. I’m inspired to get back at it.

    I love your list. Seeing life through your eyes helps me see my own, which is what poets do for us. I’d love to see you go nuts with it, tell us more, with examples etc, about each step. I want to know more!

    And I could say about Kate’s question about other envirnments that Dylan was brought up in contrasting environments—-his Dad’s love of the wilderness and mine which, which loves woods and nautre but tends to be more urban. And both his parents grew up abroad, has did Ann. So Dylan is unusually aware of diversity and the challenges and gifts it brings.

    I love this discussion!

  4. Hmm. I suppose what I’m thinking about is how you seem to want to impose linearity on what I see as an intrinsically recursive process. The cycle of learning, growth, and evaluation (learning through that evaluation, growth through that learning, …) continues constantly through our lives. Today I apply the cycle to my Master’s Thesis, perhaps you apply it to climbing a 14er. Then reapply it to “the rest of your life.”

    What you see as a straight branch from a large tree is actually a self-similar fractal, built from the recursive application of the same rules on smaller and smaller scales, all the way out to the edges of the leaves or the organization of stomata.

    Perhaps it is because I’ve spent so much time thinking about cycles in our physical (global) environment lately. Is the moisture increasing because the clouds are getting bigger or are the clouds getting bigger because of more instability, caused by increased moisture? Our world and lives often feel so recursive and cyclical to me.

    Mom B has a great point though, this is your life through your eyes, and I’m certainly not trying to correct you. Perhaps this is a contrast from somebody living in another environment… the world of being a female. My mom always told me that she thinks men think in straight lines, and women think in circles. I think she is closer to the truth than she may have ever imagined.

  5. Nice have Mom chime in! There’s a cycle right there, of mutual inspiration.

    The progression is linear in my model, but the fact that it starts with “an environment” hopefully suggests that it can happen in multiple environments. “An environment”, for me, is basically a semi-stable set of circumstances in which the journey through the progression is made. There are constant adjustments for minor environmental changes, and I move backwards and forwards in the progression. Any change that threatens my survival takes me back to stage 1, and might as well be considered a different environment.

    When I seek out a different set of circumstances, maybe by going backpacking or climbing for instance, I’m exploring a new environment in which I’m at a different stage in the progression. If I’m just discovering my values there, I don’t do much comparing and contrasting until I return to an environment where I’ve reached that stage. It’s sort of a parallel universe model, where the universe is based on the circumstances on which my survival depends.

    I don’t feel like I understand any environment I know well enough to cultivate it and help my values to grow there. For me, just recognizing that prospect has been a lifelong process.

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