Thursday, September 12, 2019

The examined life

I must have been 9 or 10 when it dawned on me that it’s not a bad life if you know how to live it. Where this wisdom came from to a 10 year old boy, I have no idea. I don’t remember anyone telling me this. It seems to have been just something than dawned on my awareness, and it has stayed with me my whole life.

As I matured, I became aware of the perennial wisdom, the wisdom that overlaps and comes from all major faith traditions and humanistic philosophy. There have been many attempts by various philosophers, and religious teachers to teach people how they should live their lives. The best advice that has been beneficial to me my whole life is Socrates statement that an unexamined life is not worth living, Jesus statement that the way to the kingdom is to love as I have loved, and Buddha’s 4 noble truths and the 8 fold path.

Living an examined life requires discipline and what Lewis Andrews calls intuitive self-reliance. Intuitive self-reliance means that we are listening to that little voice within that allows us to know whether we are on the right track or the wrong track. It can be ignored for so long, and is repressed so deep in many people, that they can no longer hear it and don’t even know that it is there. But the failure to examine one’s life regularly leads to psychological symptoms of depression, anxiety, fear, delusions, negativity, and poor social functioning. Lacking discipline and intuitive self – reliance causes great distress, negative consequences for the individual, and the people that that person is in relationship with. But that still small voice is always there and if we listen we can hear it.

One of the greatest spiritual revolutions has been the development of 12 step programs, the oldest and largest being Alcoholics Anonymous. AA makes it clear that it is not a religious program but it is spiritual and people who “get the program” start living examined lives and become some of the greatest spiritual, wisest people I know.

The epitome of the mature soul is being true to oneself, deep down, in one’s heart, at the core of one’s being. This is very difficult for people to do because none of us knows ourselves very well. People are like onions and we have layer upon layer upon layer upon layer until we get way down to the heart of ourselves. The layers are made up of lies, pretense, false facades, what is vulgarly known as bull shit, neurosis, and ignorance. Not being in touch with our heart, intuitive self reliance, leads to the mismanagement of our thoughts and feelings which has consequences for our behavior and jeopardizes our very soul

Ultimately, as Shakespeare taught us centuries ago, the well lived life is one in which we live so that we can be true to ourselves. With the societal pressures, the desire to fit in and not rock the boat, the desire to be popular, and make money and be “successful”, the desire to cope with stress by drinking and drugging and shopping and eating and engaging in religiosity and workaholism and gambling and watching mind numbing TV and wanting to be entertained, and attacking other people, we loose our way. We forget who we are and we waste our lives.

A life is a terrible thing to waste, and we waste it not by the things we do or don’t do, but by being unaware, by not reflecting and examining our lives, by ignoring the spiritual element and living exclusively in the material world never having really understood who we are and what our lives were about. We have not been true to ourselves, but to external forces and we lost our way a long time ago and never found our way back.

The masters like Lao Tse, Jesus, Buddha, Socrates, knew themselves and gave the gift of their state of being to the world. You have that potential too. May you realize it.

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