There is living, and there is merely existing. More often than not, most of us fall into the latter. It's something we do without even realising. We often carry out our routines on auto-pilot, passively consume and become distracted, and overall let our environment and circumstances dictate the our individual timeline and story.
Statements such as these have become cliched noise which most would understandably dismiss. After all, many of us say such things without any deeper contemplation, nor determining any practical solutions. However, there's a merit to actually pondering and discussing this concept of merely existing. Perhaps one or two souls who read this may walk away with something of value. I welcome you to this post and thank you in advance for taking your time to read it.
The Elusive Comfort of Existence
It's very easy to spiral into the trap of existing, and this scenario may be one of the most insidious detriments to our happiness and satisfaction in life. First, it creeps up on us very discreetly. More often than not, we realise that we're simply existing through retrospection. Where did all of this time go? What have we thought? What have we done? What have we felt?
Secondly, it's very convenient to just exist. It takes no energy, effort and will to be like this; in fact, it's the result of not investing any energy. There is a friction and resistance that gets in the way. That resistance is exacerbated by our chronic exhaustion and chores. We don't have the energy and time, and thus our current circumstance is a peaceful and safe way to live in comfort.
Many of us won't be consciously aware of this. At most, we'd have a nagging feeling that something is missing in our lives. We compensate for it through consumerism and escapism. It's all in all a distraction, in the hopes of bringing meaning into our lives, and a filling in our the void that's caused by an insecurity, uncertainty, loss, or even trauma. Any and all forms of passive escapism - especially when mindless and compulsive - are a form of self-medication for an underlying problem.
The Cyclical Twilight Zone
Some (or many) of us will realise we are simply existing, and instead of overcoming this obstacle, we end up in the twilight zone where we are aware of this circumstance but can't (or won't) do anything about it. It's perhaps the most miserable state to be in, because being aware of our shackles and feeling like we can't break them is bound to destroy us more than anything.
We become stuck in this perpetual cycle of wishing things were different and feeling helpless to change it. Some of blame it on our current circumstances, our past experiences, our eternal disadvantages, and many other aspects of life which all have one thing in common: they're outside of our control. Others blame it on not living up to an ideal, especially one imposed upon us.
We do what we can to change that, and ultimately we don't feel any different than before. Perhaps we live in the same conditions as before, or perhaps we've skyrocketed our career and travelled the world. Either way, we still feel empty and ultimately fall back down into merely existing. We eventually reach a state where we simply can't change our circumstances, no matter how hard we try. We thus become apathetic and complacent.
It's fundamentally no different than how we started. Except we are now depressed, bitter, and likely even afraid. We are depressed for being helplessly trapped in this loop, and we've become afraid of escaping this loop. The fear stems from two factors.
The first factor is how challenging we believe it is to escape this loop. After all, we believe we've tried anything and everything. Knowing this, we believe some grand miracle or change must happen to escape this loop. Some of us are waiting for an external miracle from the right person, or the world, or some cosmic being which some of us may believe in.
Some of us know that change comes from within; however, that knowledge is practically pointless. Existence is a product of giving into the resistance, so a radical action on our part is the antithesis of how we've lived until now. Paradoxically, we are wonderful at adapting and yet many of us combat an inner resistance and fear on a daily basis.
This resistance and fear is the second factor. It goes hand in hand with the first factor – the assumed difficulty of change. Irionically, we crave better circumstances, and yet also desire familiarity and comfort. That desire for comfort induces the resistance towards change. Our subconscious mechanism is to resort back to the passive consumption.
The Essence of Living
We have discussed the problem, and we shall now discuss what's hopefully going to be a solution. The solution is the title:
Live with intent.
Living with intent is simple in principle. It's the opposite of the aforementioned way of living: passive distraction and consumption, especially when it's mindless. It's not about radical changes in who we are, where we are and what we do. It's not about being in control of everything, because if we were, this problem would not exist to begin with. Being in control and living with intent are subtly yet extremely different.
The gestalt of living with intent is to begin focusing our introspective mind on this very question:
Am I doing this with intent?
Develop the habit of asking yourself whenever you do something. You can start it right now as an exercise. You've made it this far into this post. Did you intend to do so? Or was it simply your curiosity? Is this curiosity intended, or are you conditioned to perpetually seek new and novel information? Did you come across this blog because you've actively sought a solution, or because the ambiguous titled piqued your interest?
Ideally, you should ask yourself this question every time you do something, especially if it's a habit. In practice, you'll often forget to do so, and that's absolutely fine. The state of our current world ensures that you do not ask yourself such a question; instead, it would rather you go along with the flow, especially without thought.
But you've possibly introspected heavily about your life, and you've developed a set of thought habits that perpetuate your feeling of helplessness, and thus your perpetual state of mere existence. We exist when we give into our imposed and assumed conditions, but life and happiness can only start when we act with intention.
It's no longer about anything but you. When you ask yourself if you are doing something with intent, you are truly focusing on yourself. In the long run, you begin to have influence if not over life, then at least your feelings. If you don't believe your feelings are important, then ask yourself if that belief is your intent, or a condition which influences it.
If you believe this is naive or futile, is that belief an intention, or does a condition influence it? The beauty of pondering this question is that the more we ponder it, the more it can shatter all of our assumptions and illusions. When we truly do everything with intent, nothing can be a waste of time and thus a regret; however, that's a topic worth a separate blog post.
This question won't save your life, but it will allow you to start living your life instead of going with the flow. When you continue to go with the flow, ask yourself if that's your intention. If you hesitate to ponder for any reason, then ask yourself it that's your intention as well.