A Mathematical Analysis of Experience

I’ve come up with a simple formula for life.

life = choices + circumstances

People disagree on what kind of ratio of choices to circumstances there should be in this equation. I think it’s all about balance, and that the difference comes out of people’s attitudes about agency.

Some people think it’s all about circumstance: nothing is ultimately under our control, all things are circumstantial, life happens to us and there’s zip to do about it.

Other people would argue that it’s all a matter of choice. I tend to be this way more than the other, because I think we all have agency in our lives. However, I’m learning that sometimes it’s equally dangerous to take too much responsibility as it is to take too little. Some circumstances, in fact, are insurmountable.

This first few months, I’ve encountered many an insurmountable circumstance. That’s arguably one of the biggest lessons I’ve learned from living abroad — shit happens, sometimes all you can do is make the best of it.

Some other times, there isn’t even a “best” of it. There was nothing positive about my ex-neighbor waking up and waking me up every morning at 3:30 AM. There’s nothing positive about having long, drawn out gaps in my teaching schedule during which I can’t go home. There isn’t anything good about confronting innumerable bureaucratic hurdles every time I want to do anything “official” here.

In light of this, it’s time for me to revisit one of my favorite quotes/ideas:


The most consistently positive times of my life have been characterized not by extreme highs or unparalleled excitement, but by a constant feeling of profound contentment. Peace. Feeling stable and secure.

What I’m reminding myself of now, as I’m feeling unsettled and upset and uprooted, is that I can’t always control WHAT I experience, but I can control HOW I experience it. I can’t control what I feel, but I can control my response to my feelings. In short, I can control how well I take care of my internal sanctuary so that I can better weather the entirely circumstantial woes.

inner peace = self-care + perspective

Why do I need an internal sanctuary? Because my internal world is the only consistent world there is. How I see the world is how the world is for me. A lot of times I think we cling so hard to objective “reality” that we forget how much power our subjective view of the world has to shape our reality.

If I think life is always going to be fun, or always going to be hard, it will be. If I have “peace in my heart,” there will be peace in my life.

A Mathematical Analysis of Experience

5 thoughts on “A Mathematical Analysis of Experience

  1. Everything in this post is resonating with me so much right now. (We’re going to have some especially good conversations this weekend–I can tell.) I’m having a hard time adjusting to my external circumstances right now and am also trying to focus on my inner sanctuary.

    Today I went to l’Orangerie to just sit and look–really look–at the paintings, and to think deeply. And I learned that this was exactly Monet’s vision for the paintings and the space:

    “Les nerfs surmenés par le travail se seraient détendus là, selon l’exemple reposant de ces eaux stagnantes, et, à qui l’eût habitée, cette pièce aurait offert l’asile d’une méditation paisible au centre d’un aquarium fleuri.”

  2. Anne, I so agree with you. I have been reading a book called Soul Keeping which is all about us being the only keeper of our soul (will, mind, body). If we learn what makes our soul ( I think of it as the inner sanctuary you mentioned) healthy and do it, think it, choose it, then we do have peace that does pass understanding because that peace is not controlled by our circumstances. Sorry for the long sentence. Karyl

  3. All i have to say is that you have such a way with words . You are so inspiring and all of this is 100% true ! Just hang in there- we all love you <333

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