If you’re trying to figure out what to devote your life to,
how to structure your lifestyle, or even what to do next, you can be choose to
be guided by a very simple yet powerful mindset: do what helps you to love
What do I mean by this? For me, it means all-around being my best. When I examine my life through the question, What helps me to best love other people?, I look to what helps me to be most clear-minded, thankful, active, and joyful. Experiencing these things is wonderful in themselves, but the fact that they better allow me to love (and vice versa) makes them even better.
When I am lead by a clear, sound, rational mind, I am able to keep from judging others negatively and erroneously. I’m not worried about who’s superior or inferior, or who’s wrong or who’s right. I’m not anxious about filling every moment with me making the perfect impression on the other person. If I don’t feel, think, speak, or act in a way I think I ought to, it’s okay.
This applies whether I’m alone or with others. Maybe the way I wish I would feel or the things I wish I had said weren’t really the best option in that moment anyway; and, if they were, then I can just choose to act in a way I deem fit next time. Maybe I missed what seemed like the perfect chance, but my world has not ended. As long as I have my world, I have a chance.
Just keep evaluating your actions in terms of what you value. Look to the thoughts and feelings behind your actions as well. If you have a general mindset that seems oriented toward helping and loving others but it doesn’t seem to be working out, there may be something else there you are unaware of. What is highly likely is that you don’t love yourself. This is the most important ingredient in the mindset of serving others. When you hate yourself you limit the extent to which you can love other people. For some this can be a very harsh reality to accept, but it is the truth.
As I love myself more over time, it naturally follows that I am able to love other people more. Why is this? Well, when I forgive or look past things in other people I have feared and hated and thus choose to love them more, I am in turn able to love myself more. Generally what seems to happen is that when I make peace with something specific in myself, I can do the same with that very thing or something similar in other people.
However, instead of focusing on specific aspects of self and on forgiveness, at this point I prefer to focus on taking a general attitude of love—toward myself, toward others, and toward life itself. I’ve come to accept that I’m not going to always do things perfectly, and instead of keep track of each time I screw up I’ve decided it is more worthwhile to be thankful that life is not always so straightforward. Certainly it is much more interesting this way. Plus, this screw-up can help to clarify my values and thus contribute to my making better decisions in the future. So, it’s really nothing to be ashamed about.
I can rest in the discomfort of that less-than-ideal decision while the effects remain, and once I am free of them I can then choose to act in a way that is more congruent, or sensible, to me (i.e. it aligns with my values, how I feel, and what I believe would be best for me right now). In this way I don’t have to get caught up in and shameful of the past: I can just take things in stride and keep going. Keeping my mind where it is- in the present- contributes massively to loving my life as it is.
I am not asking you here to accept yourself or your circumstances as they are and then stagnate, repeating undesirable habits indefinitely. Action that seems right to you, in fact, is likely to entail you changing things and growing. I simply suggest that choosing to dwell negatively on your mistakes is unnecessary. Put your time and energy into the choices you can make next, and you will find these things put to better use.
What is Truly Important?
Obviously, having a clear mind helps you to stay focused on what is important. I mentioned that when I am clear-minded I concern myself far less with trying to boost my ego or degrade someone else’s. This is because these things are not important—certainly not in conversation. When I am clear-minded I more readily remember that I and other people are all part of the same whole, which I roughly regard as universal consciousness. The universe doesn’t care whether I have just the right possessions or past experiences that might impress a few other people for a fleeting instant. These things are weak cultivators of love and of growth (i.e. elevations in consciousness); thus, these things do not matter much in the grand scheme of things. If the universe cares about anything, it is most likely the second two things: love and growth.
Do you think the universe would prefer to see its inhabitants give each other hugs, or blow each other up? That they contaminate their resources or use them with respect? That they help one another when it is needed, or ignore the weak and leave them to suffer and die?
If we are part of the universe, then it can be said that acts of love help the universe to thrive, and thus to feel good. On the other hand, acts of fear and hatred bring pain to the universe. Damage to the natural environment is an injury or illness to the universe. Damage to ourselves and to each other might look like a cancer or autoimmune disease trying to do battle with the larger body of the universe. If these disease cells don’t get their act together and change their ways they might experience some manic fun and ego boosts for a short time, but when the body they feed off of goes down they will be met with a brutal end.
Obviously the universe is much stronger and more resilient than a human body. A few evil people will not destroy the universe—not even if they nuke planet Earth. What happens to malicious inhabitants, or cells of the universe, then, is that upon death they may realize the futile nature of their actions and be overcome with the sorrow of their own insignificance. These cells could not recognize the other cells for what they are—fellow cells in a larger body—and so they lived hellish, loveless lives, even if those lives were filled with material wealth and conquest. In the end these things do not matter if they do not cultivate conscious growth or love.
Conscious growth tends both to lead to and result from a stronger alignment with love, so if the universe cares about love it would make sense that it also cares about growth. Clear-headed inhabitants who are aware of their oneness with each other can act in ways that override the destruction of less aware, less connected inhabitants—even if those unaware, malicious beings include their past selves. They can act with the awareness needed to stop polluting the Earth, and thus allow it the time it needs to recover. They can express care to people who have long been without it. They can make discoveries that help us to live even more intelligently.
Because the universe values love and conscious growth, it makes sense that people who devote themselves to these things have an overwhelmingly positive experience of their life in the universe. This doesn’t mean that things go perfectly for them or that they never experience pain. However, as they learn and grow more, they generally experience pain less and less. Conscious growth cultivates a clear mind, and a clear mind, as I explained earlier, can quickly get past things that ultimately are not important. It is these very things which tend to cause the most pain, as it is only the ego- the part of self that cares about unimportant things- that can experience pain.
As I’ve explained in the past, I don’t mean to speak badly of the ego or suggest that you should transcend it entirely. If you do that your existence on this planet will end, and you will then be unable to experience conscious growth and demonstrate love for other human beings, the two most beautiful aspects of being alive. For this reason, the ego is awesome. It is the vehicle through which we can live in this physical reality we call planet Earth, and this reality is amazing. The ego is a tool through which we can express ourselves in many different ways and have a wide variety of experiences.
However, we have to recognize the ego for what it is: (1) an entity that experiences pain, and (2) not our true identity. When the ego is mistaken for the true identity pain, which results from fear, is likely to become the guiding force for life. You cannot experience fear and love simultaneously. Thus, when you choose to identify with your ego, your ability to love is highly limited.
I mentioned earlier that in addition to clear-minded, I love best when I am thankful, active, and joyful. When you are immersed in fear it is hard to be thankful because you need things to be outwardly perfect. You can give thanks that you have food on the table tonight, but there will be fear lurking behind that thanks. You will be fearful as to whether this will be enough-- whether there will be more tomorrow. You may be fearful that this food will hurt your body, or whether you should be having it at all right now. Do you really deserve it? Fearful gratitude is thankful that external circumstances are okay-enough, but this thanks goes only so far because it is rooted in the ego. The ego, again, is ephemeral: when looking out for its own interest it is blind to what is truly important.
This is in contrast with the gratitude I described earlier for the whole of life’s experiences. In this situation I might even feel thankful for all the concerns that are arising because it is interesting to me that I am such a complex being, capable of so many different things (whether they be feelings, actions, mindsets, etc.). When I hold this type of gratitude my focus is on the bigger picture of my existence, and in so doing it is easier for me to remember and to accomplish what is truly important: conscious growth and love.
When I over-identify with the ego I tend to become paralyzed by fear, passively accepting whatever woes may come my way rather than actively choosing how to approach the situation at hand. I get too concerned with what impression I might have on other people, using up all my energy, and whether I’m getting immediately and physically rewarded. Obviously, again, I need my ego to actively engage with physical reality and the people in it, but when I think this physical reality and my reputation in it are all there is I become fearful and hesitant. When I remember, though, the bigger picture, I am filled with energy and become willing to take on whatever challenges there may be which will ultimately lead to me contributing to universal consciousness.
I think I hardly need to explain how choosing to love and to identify with consciousness is a far more effective path to joy. Honestly, I don’t see how fear-based living can yield much joy at all. Perhaps it can give occasional, brief delusions of joyfulness, but do tell me: how can you feel good in a body which, essentially, you hate? Choosing to live fearfully means that you perceive your own physically-based best interest as the highest interest there is. But that doesn’t mean you love yourself. You are downright afraid of your body and your emotions. Good god, you wonder—what will this monster ask of me next?
You cannot live peacefully because you are fighting with yourself constantly. You will become afraid of your own shadow. You will constantly view yourself as a failure, because your esteem for self is based in external circumstances which you cannot control. When you perceive that your reputation is on the rocks you will fall apart mentally, because this is the only thing you perceive as being valuable. I lived this way for a few years. You can try it if you want, but I have had my fill of it.
What is Love? (baby, don’t hurt me)
I should clarify here what love is. Love is most simply defined as service to others. This is most apparent in physical acts such as giving food to another person and teaching them new skills, though love runs far deeper than this. When you choose not to become mentally and emotionally preoccupied with what you deem to be others’ glaring flaws, this is an act of love. When you clear your mind in this way you better enable yourself to have positive interactions with this person. This means that you will be more likely to effectively help the person correct those flaws if that is really what they need. The other outcome is that you will understand that this person is not flawed, but rather that you have feared and hated something- perhaps in yourself as well as others- which need not be feared and hated. You will remove fear from your life thus, and become freer to express yourself and to experience joy.
“Others” includes not just people, but the environment, objects, and activities as well. When you put your attention, with positive intentions, on any of these things you are giving love to them. When you climb a tree out of enjoyment for the activity, you show love for the natural environment, for the tree, and for the activity of climbing. When you read a book you show love for the act of mentally stimulating yourself as well as the content you are consuming.
You could say that when you hold negative thoughts or engage in less-than-ideal actions, you are giving service to, or loving, those things as well. That doesn’t necessarily mean that you ought to continue doing those things. Rather, those things call for a different type of love, such as the complete gratitude I described earlier (i.e. being thankful that life is not so straightforward). You can be thankful that you can make mistakes and learn from them, showing love for them thus, but you do not have to show love by continuing to make them.
I suppose now would be a good time to return to the title of this article. Structuring your lifestyle and choosing your next actions based on what helps you to love other people does not ask you to be constantly surrounded by other people, as a lack of time to think independently can keep you from growing consciously. In fact, time to reflect and to be alone can help you to love even better once you are in the company of others. Use this time to clarify what you value, to consider how much you love yourself and being alive, and to decide how you would like to grow.
What this mindset asks, in essence, is to do what helps you to love and to grow consciously. These things aren’t separate: to love, in fact, is to demonstrate growth. I’ve separated simply to help make the points that I have here.
Again, what I’ve found most effective to focus on is being clear-minded, thankful, active, and joyful.
I run because it helps me think clearly and rationally. It is a way in which I actively engage with the world—and some of the most beautiful parts of it, nonetheless. Challenging myself in this way contributes to me feeling joyful. I thus am able to love better when I run.
I write because it is a way for me to actively engage with my thoughts and feelings, and it is mentally stimulating. Laying my thoughts out in front of me helps me to think more clearly. In addition, I use my writing to serve other people directly. Thus, I not only love through writing, but writing also helps me to love better.
For similar reasons I have chosen to stop going to school and to avoid putting harmful substances in my body (food and certain drugs, such as alcohol), reading news, and watching horror movies. Some of these choices may seem silly to you, but I make them because these activities make me feel badly: they put me in a state of unnecessary fear.
If I struggle to drag around an unhealthy body day after day I will likely become frustrated and lash out at others. When I am constantly occupied with tasks assigned to me by others that I view largely as a waste of time, I lose sight of what is important. If I put overwhelming attention on all the horrible ways people perceive this world- even imaginary worlds- I feel emotionally drained, and showing genuine love to others seems like too arduous a task.
If you’re okay with these things, go ahead and do them. The specific, objective choices aren’t as important as the values behind those choices. What I ask is that you stop giving power to the things that weaken you in mind, body, heart, and spirit. If you perceive that something is holding you back, why continue with it? It probably isn’t that important. The universe and everyone in it would probably prefer that you let it go.
If your job leads you to act angrily toward your family when you go home at night, then stop going to that job. If worrying about your reputation makes it harder for you to approach people you’re attracted to, then stop worrying about your reputation. If certain foods turn you into a lazy, mindless fool then stop eating those foods. I can assure you that your world won’t end. If it does, you have permission to haunt me once you reach the afterlife.
On the other hand, if you do work which serves other people in a way that inspires you to keep continuing to work every day, then keep doing it. If you are able to express your love for your girlfriend more strongly by opening your relationship and becoming polyamorous, then do so. If writing in a gratitude journal every night makes you tingle like a 10 year-old girl at a Jonas Brothers concert with love for life, then keep that right up.
Remember: the specific acts aren’t what is important. These are not what the universe cares about, and these are not what lasts. Instead, it is the principles behind the acts. Focusing on principles and values is what creates a full life—not merely certain observable actions. These principles must be realized in action for sure, but action is more worthwhile when it is endowed with value—that is, with purpose. In this case, that purpose is to express love and to grow: to serve others, to challenge yourself, and to learn.
If there is only one person on this Earth who you can claim to love right now and it isn’t even yourself, then love that person like there’s no tomorrow. Because we are all part of the same whole, and love can be transferred across different aspects of life (e.g. loving my work can help me express love for other people), your love for this person will steadily pan out and lead you to love for others.
Eventually, this will include yourself. The shift from self-hatred to self-love can be a highly emotional process, but it is worth every ounce of pain and every moment of introspection. Finding and forgiving the parts of yourself you dislike is one of the most worthwhile endeavors you can make. There are few things which will lead to think as clearly and to live as joyfully, actively, and gratefully as loving yourself. The quality of your life is most strongly determined by your love for yourself. To love, arguably, is the reason for which you live. The more you love, the better you live.
There is a choice to be made: to live fearfully or to live lovingly. I know that I will always choose whichever path will lead me to the most content, peaceful death. But the choice here, my fellow inhabitant of the universe, is yours. Choose fear, and live brutishly for yourself. Choose love, and watch your life explode.