You wake up, and the first thing you have to do, perhaps, is get yourself ready for the day. You are a biological being and a social one, born into a tangled web of bodily functions and social functions. You will have your own way of having breakfast, of dressing, of structuring your day.
This is your everyday life. You can live it without thinking too much – some people call it ‘doing what comes naturally’. You can live without challenging your animal instincts. Occasionally you will fight; occasionally you will be selfish; occasionally you will be kind; you will follow what everyone says, until it challenges you too much, and then you will go your own way. When going your own way becomes too challenging, you will rejoin others in a quest or two.
The social and biological thrust of everyday existence will certainly give you a life. But you may feel that something is missing. In particular, many people find that they lack contentment, peace of mind.
This can be because there are a large number of conflicts and inconsistencies in everyday life. We want safety, but also adventure; we sometimes want possessions, but not the hassle they bring; we want relationships, but not the difficulties that inevitably occur. Everyday life is painful, perhaps, without a coherent way of dealing with it.
Our minds are capable of operating at a different level, at which we can somehow see beyond our everyday concerns. While we are arguing with someone, perhaps, we become aware of a wish for them to be happy; we are capable of stepping out of the conflict to a higher level of thought and behaviour.
While we are anxious, perhaps, we become aware of an understanding that the object of our anxiety isn’t real in the way we think it is, that we are imagining things; we are capable of stepping out of our emotional point of view to a more universal perspective.
The first example above (overcoming conflict) is an example of a compassionate level of existing. The second example (overcoming anxiety) is an example of a wise level of existence.
This is the spiritual plane. When you enter it, you are stepping out of your everyday concerns, or rather showing your ability to move beyond them, in order to experience and share a more peaceful, accepting outlook. Compassion is how you escape your personal selfishness. Wisdom is how you escape your own narrow perspective.
It is all very well to be able to use our minds to step out of our everyday existence, and reach a spiritual plane. But, once there, we may notice that different people have different ways of approaching life spiritually. There are different structures of thought, different methods of application, and even different ways of dressing and socialising.
The ability to dip into, and consider, these different ways of living mindfully, is a major aspect of philosophy. Even if you are part of a spiritual body, such as a religion, you will notice that there are different priorities, and different practical interpretations. When those differences become too hard to reconcile, parts of a religion can splinter off into segments or sects.
Your ability to consider, reconcile, and tolerate all these different religions, sects, and ways of thinking, is a big part of your philosophical ability. If you can’t do it at all, then you may shut down to anything but your own view, and you may even seek to destroy ideologies you disagree with. This can cause some major hypocrisies: for instance, members of religions that preach compassion and non-violence, can end up negating compassion and acting very violently towards their perceived enemies.
Eventually, those with different ideologies need to return to everyday life, and find ways of living together. This is a major part of politics.
One of the principles of democratic politics is the assumption that, given an appropriate system of voting and discussion, we can all live together under a common framework. Even if some people disagree with the framework, there is a chance to change it periodically via elections. In an election, a population decides whether it wants to keep, or change, its current government. In this way, the practical test of a political approach, in a democratic setting, is ‘do enough individuals want that political approach to happen?’
This doesn’t prevent you from operating your own preferred spirituality, philosophy, and politics where you can, but it does mean that you won’t always get your own way when it comes to group thinking and organised events.
Politics is a strange world. Many political groups start with ideologies that sound pure, but then, in the execution of those ideologies, human rights suffer. Once of the key challenges of politics is to keep aware of how much you are sacrificing by way of human rights. If a political movement completely forgets kindness towards a whole section of the population, then things may be going very wrong.
Perhaps there are four levels to your life:
Everyday life (your ability to go along with the life you are born into)
Spirituality (your ability to raise your mind above petty concerns, and to be compassionate and wise)
Philosophy (your ability to contemplate, understand and tolerate other people’s thoughts and views)
Politics (your willingness to participate in the practical social implementation of ideas)