First Principles


view from just above my new home; more of my recent photos here

One of the discoveries I’ve made as a result of retiring from paid work, and living alone for the first time in decades, is that I now have the freedom and responsibility to make my own decisions. When much of your life is tied up with work (collaborative or hierarchical) and the schedules and priorities of others, most decisions are made for you, or at least restricted by the constraints of society. It is a bit startling to realize that, suddenly, almost every decision I face is mine alone to make. Each decision may have repercussions for others, which I of course have to think about, but ultimately my decisions are now driven by principles, not by accommodation.

As I’ve made these decisions, I’ve started thinking about What are the principles that are driving them? So far they boil down to just three, which I’m calling First Principles — I wish it hadn’t taken me a lifetime to discover them.

  1. Being Generous: This principle is about realizing that we’re a part of all-life-on-Earth and that, contrary to what we have been taught, we are neither ‘alone’ nor ‘individual’. Paying attention to others, listening, giving, caring, sharing, ignoring one’s illusory ‘self’ and focusing on collective — community and planet, now and generations to come — not only makes sense, it is, I think, the essence of being human, of being alive, really here, now.
  2. Valuing Time: Much of what we do is a consequence of what we (are taught to) value. Too often we end up valuing money, or what it buys (security, we think, and even love) instead of realizing that our time has far more value than any ‘currency’. That doesn’t mean ‘saving’ time, or hoarding it, or seeing it as a scarcity to meted out selfishly. It means enjoying its passage. It means not giving it up for money (or even love). It means taking every moment as a gift. It means living Now, not in the past (regrets, nostalgia) or the future (dreams, fears).
  3. Living Naturally: We’ve lived so much of our lives in artificial environments, distracted, that we’ve forgotten how to see how nature makes decisions, and realize that those decisions, based on a billion years of evolved knowledge, are inevitably more sensible than any we might make ‘independently’. Nature shows us how to live: to adapt rather than trying to control. To love, abundantly. To see and enjoy beauty. To be honest, always, even when it hurts. To imagine and to improvise. To learn by doing and by watching, not by being told or even by reading. To let go of outcome and of what is past or might be in future, and just be.

That’s it. All the decisions I’ve made in the past couple of months, since I’ve been freed from having others make decisions for me, have been driven by these three First Principles: Be generous. Value your time. Live naturally.

My life used to be so complicated.

Now, suddenly, it’s merely complex. So much easier.

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7 Responses to First Principles

  1. This is very good.

  2. Steve Bean says:

    Through clarity you’ve found simplicity, it seems. What’s the next step beyond three “principles”? Might it be one reality? One truth? How have you gotten there and how will you proceed? That is, what was/will be the process, not what were/will be the steps? (Rhetorical questions, all.)

    I’ve similarly simplified by examining my thoughts, using the simple process that Byron Katie teaches, as I’ve shared with you previously. In my experience, there is confusion and there is love and we just put various labels on each of them.

    When the confusion is stripped away through inquiry (i.e., questioning untrue thoughts), what’s left is love. Rather than try to remember principles (the ‘what’), I find it easier to ask the four questions and turn it around (the ‘how’.) (By the way, I did spend many years searching for the ‘right’ principles myself, only to keep forgetting them in daily life.) In other words, I find it easier to practice how to think than what to be. The ‘what to be’ takes care of itself, as I am what I am, and that is love. As a result, I am generous, I live in the present — what’s the value in valuing time when the past and future don’t exist?, and I do live naturally — is there any other way? If you believe there is, you might do The Work on that thought and find (what might be a surprisingly abundant amount of) your own truth.

    Thanks for continuing to put it out there for us, Dave.

  3. John Graham says:

    Ah, nice Dave…yeah living simply in complexity is so much easier, isn’t it. It can be humbling, though…if life is complicated, it’s possible to get a lot of mileage out of feeling too far ahead…in complexity, though, there’s no such thing, it seems.

  4. alinda says:

    I like. thank you. we’re heading to Uruguay where living is much simpler.

  5. Thanks Dave for this wonderful post.

    Simplicity…. that’ what I aspire too here

  6. Ed says:

    Well said… I have been unemployed, under-employed and then, two years ago, medically disabled (all is well). This has enabled me to work on projects of my choosing, including research, writing, living, loving, etc. The quote attached to my wall for a long time comes from Kahlil Gibran: “They deem me mad because I will not sell my days for gold, and I deem them mad because they think my days have a price.”

  7. Andrew says:

    You’re an advance scout, Dave to where I imagine we’ll all have to go. Might as well go happy and smilin’, making it work.

    The generosity will help us see that us against them . . . is a description of the problem, not a prescription for better.
    And time to not be involved in unnecessary work. And lives more in balance with nature . . . think we’re maxed out on the imbalance anyway. Keep it up!

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