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A creative blog by Philip Horvath on The Whole 9

Philip serves as a catalyst working with individuals and organizations on turning change into transformation, and ultimately creating meaningful experiences and relationships. He combines his years of experience architecting and running projects for Fortune 500 companies with over twenty years of studies in yoga, alchemy, various esoteric systems and transformational psychology.

What makes a meaningful life?

Most of the time, we do things habitually: We get up, brush our teeth, put on clothes, commute to work, do what we know how to do all day, get ourselves some entertainment, undress, go to bed, sleep. Rinse. Repeat.

Habits are the foundation of existence. Habits of thought, emotion, deed. If we had to rethink how to brush our teeth, how to walk, what we do everyday all the time, we would go insane – and we probably would not be able to function all too well in this reality. Most of the habits we have serve us. Otherwise, we would not have let them become habits in the first place.

Cha-Cha-Change

Growing up happens

But things change all the time. While we still carry the five year old and the twelve year old we once were inside of us, some of the habits and beliefs that served us then, do not serve us any longer today. Our environments have changed, our relationships, our activities.

Crisis of Meaning

Most of the time, people will still stick to their habits and beliefs, even if they do not actually have meaning anymore. Only when things break down do we experience a crisis of meaning. Often this does not happen until later in life, when we have actually accomplished the things that were supposed to be meaningful to us, or when we realize that we hit a half-way point on the journey toward death.

Time runs out for everyone...

What is meaning?

Meaning comes from the verb to mean, which comes from German meinen, originally meaning “to think” or “have an opinion”. “Mein” in German is also a possessive pronoun and translates to “mine”. It’s your unique point of view not that of someone else.

Your meaning is and can only be your own. It’s about your opinion, your thoughts, your values.

MaMa-Mine

Many of our values are adopted from MFPT (mother, father, preacher, teacher – all in the most encompassing sense). If we simply adopt them, without questioning them, they are ultimately meaningless… and you are not living your own life. You are living the life “other” is expecting you to live.

Whose values are you living?

Make life your own

Only if you reflect on your values, beliefs and habits, only if you decide to indeed make them your own, do they gain meaning. When you do things in accordance with your values, it becomes meaningful to you. When you take the time to ask for the motivation behind your actions, you begin to fill your day with meaning, make it meaning-full. You stop being reactive and start becoming proactive about your life.

If it ain’t broke, fix it anyway

As pointed out above, if you had to consider everything all the time, you would have difficulty functioning in this reality. There are habits that serve us. Some obviously don’t, while with others, it’s harder to tell. Get started on the low-hanging fruit. Find the habits that you engage in and don’t even know why anymore. Start filling that space with new habits that you would like to experience, so that the old ones can go away. Then hone in on the more subtle dynamics.

Practice, practice, practice

That is why it is important to take time out to reflect. Similar to sports where you practice and practice, and practice: refine subtleties again and again. Then, when you hit the field, all you can care about is being in the moment. At that point, there is not time for reflection. At that point, you simply shift into being and doing.

Reflection time again

meditation

Create that space in your life. Whether weekly or even better daily, take time out to reflect. You can do it in the mornings, looking ahead at your day, or in the evenings, letting the events of the day pass by while asking yourself which values of yours the activities of the day served. Ideally, do both. And keep record. This will help you see your own progress and help remind you why you do all this in the first place:

To live a life of meaning…

  1. Excellent advice, Phillip. It is well worth reflecting on the habits we have developed and identifying he things we do routinely and unconsciously. That way we can begin to eliminate the bad/destructive habits we’ve adopted and if it makes sense, replace them with good, healthier habits.

    Habits get a bad rap. Changing it up just for the sake of novelty isn’t necessarily something to be prized. Nor is our ability to do things habitually, without thinking, intrinsically bad. There can be great advantages to cultivating good habits. For myself, doing so allows me to focus my mental and physical energies on more important things than say, what I’ll eat for breakfast, what time I’ll go to lunch or what color t-shirt to wear. There’s no great advantage or freedom of spirit likely to result from excessively exercising one’s time and mental facilities over inconsequential stuff, unless those petty things are in some way dragging you down, hampering your spirit or damaging your body (or acting in destructive ways on others).

    The realization that having healthy, reliable routines can be an asset was driven home for me during a time when I was undergoing some major medical treatment. During that time, I had to concentrate all my energies on healing while at the same time continuing to work at a demanding job that was anything but routine. It was then that I really came to appreciate the value of having good habits to fall back on and the relief they provided me with when it came to making the thousand and one trivial decisions we all must make every day.

  2. This is a wonderful reminder Philip — causing me also to think about the habits that I see my daughter forming and realizing those will be the foundation of her life.

  3. Thank you for the inspiring comments. Having been a monk for 15 years, I know what you mean about routines that serve us. Shaving my head once a week removes me ever having to worry about what my hair looks like, wearing pretty much the same clothes most of the time makes those decisions easy…

    As you said, the key is to know which routines do serve us, and which don’t. A few years ago, while I was working on a project, I ate tuna fish sandwich for lunch every day as I don’t like wasting brain space on thinking about what I am eating for lunch while I am at work. Next thing I knew I was starting to have symptoms of mercury poisoning and it took about six months to clean that back out of my system…

    In http://thewhole9.com/blogs/appliedesoterix/2011/04/14/now-thats-a-fact/ I had written about the example of Yoga as a bird. The head looking ahead at ever new horizons, the right and left wing representing our ability to introduce new habits and let go of old ones, and the tail being our tendency to form habits in the first place – and the source of our stability.

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