The Unexamined Life

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um-030612-emailA guest post from Michael Davis

Socrates spoke one of history’s most enduring statements at his trial for heresy, when he was accused of encouraging his students to question the established beliefs of the day and think for themselves.

He said, “The unexamined life is not worth living.”

I have thought a lot about that statement through the years. What does it mean to examine your life?

Why would Socrates choose death (he was given the alternative of a life in prison) if he were not free to look, with his students, at what is important and true?

It seems to me that an unexamined life is one that accepts, without question, what others believe to be true. In many ways this is the easier path. You find someone, or groups you admire or believe in, and let them tell you what is important and true.

They do your thinking for you. All you have to do is believe it.

The road less travelled is the path of direct awareness.

When you examine what you value, what you love, and what you want to do with the rest of your life, you come into direct contact with what it all means to you. In our training programs we used to call this the conversation behind the conversation.

One of the most potent areas to examine is your reaction to the events and circumstances of your life.

When I get angry for instance, if I can have the presence of mind to look within myself for the source of that anger, rather than assume it’s the other person’s fault, a rich new world opens to me, and I realize that behind the anger is the meaning I give it.

The situation doesn’t make me angry, but what it means to me does.

Another great area for examination is to look deeply at what you love. I discovered, not too long ago, that I love writing fiction. I am 200 pages into a novel that I started over 30 years ago and put on the shelf. Now, every day I get up and write another chapter. I get to say all the things that mean something to me, through the mouths of my fictional characters.

So, this week examine what motivates you to do what you do, and think what you think, and say what you say. Use direct awareness to look at your reactions and their source. Look behind the meaning you attach to what happens in your day, and see if it is important and true, or a holdover from the past.

And most of all look at what you love… and then make your life about that.


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