Some sweet philosophical thoughts to start another week…

Think of the term ‘pick and mix mentality’ and you’ll probably conjure up images of idleness and superficiality. Not good images.

‘Pick and mix’ is the outlook of the person who is unwilling to put in the hard work that goes with concentrating on one thing and seeing it through to completion, or someone who turns up when there’s free food to be scoffed but not when there’s washing-up to be done.

The custodians of traditional religion dismiss as ‘pick and mix’ the New Age seekings of people who have apparently turned from the traditions of their upbringing to investigate eastern spirituality or a disparate smorgasbord of philosophers and thinkers. These searchers of meaning in life, in the eyes critics, pick up the bits they like and reject what doesn’t fit into their preconceived ideas or requires having to give up worldly pleasures.

But life is essentially pick and mix. Choices lurk at every corner, like it or not. In our relationships with other people, we have to choose – often instantly, so by necessity superficially – whether to trust others fully, or keep them at arm’s length; to regard them as friends, or mere acquaintances; to be open, or circumspect; to be professional, or personal, in our dealings with them. We try new things and then drop them, but it’s only by the actual doing that we can test something’s worth. If we never try, how can we know? Many a successful person’s road to the top is littered with past failures and discarded ideas.

I sometimes think life would be easier and simpler if I could only swallow whole the wisdom and advice of one super-guru. No need to question his (or her) thinking: if he says meditate three times a day, I can just go ahead and do it, without worrying about what I could be busying myself with instead.

In a similar vein, I’m sometimes envious of people who belong securely in a religion, through conversion or upbringing. They have that framework in place.

So when choosing my philosophy of life I have to adopt the pick and mix approach. As with the strange sweets I see in the dispensers of shopping centre pick ‘n mix stalls – red stretchy string, luridly coloured boiled sweets, pillow textured marshmallow confections, bonbons labelled as sour raspberries – I don’t always know what I’m getting or whether it will do me any good. But I can sample a bit or this or a bit of that, and decide what goes down well.

Shoe stand outside temple

Organised religion? Scene outside a temple in Puri, India.