“The unexamined life is not worth living.”
On trial for corrupting the minds of his students, for which he was sentenced to death, Socrates defended himself by saying, “The unexamined life is not worth living.”
While many scholars may see this phrase as evidence that he meant we should sit around lost in thought, I believe Socrates was pointing to something much deeper. To examine, we must observe. To observe, we must look closely. To look closely requires us to get out of our heads and to see reality beyond thought, judgments and our own limited perception.
When Socrates approached a topic, he brought stillness to it. If he came to a topic of inquiry with a conclusion or theory in mind, the true answer would be closed off to him. Only if he approached life with openness and curiosity, presence and focus, could the answers appear to him. This is what it means to live consciously. This is what Ram Dass did when he would respond to difficulties in life by saying, “Well isn’t this interesting.”
Most of us cling to our mental stories. We subconsciously think life will be boring without them. Or, we think we will lose our mental faculties if we let go of the constant mind chatter. In truth, the mind chatter blocks us off from fully experiencing our lives. With constant mental activity, we try to create meaning instead of letting meaning flow through us, and so we attempt to grasp for that thing we already have. We’re just so busy thinking that we miss it. Often, we’re so busy thinking about what makes a meaningful life that we forget to have one.
When I was a young lad living in New York City, there was never a dull moment. I was always rushing and usually running late to some exciting event. I had a full schedule, but not a fulfilling one. Once I slowed down, started to appreciate the beauty all around me, and started creating some space to breathe, the meaning found me.
There is so much going on these days that puts our brains into hyperactive mode. From social media stress (more on “how to use social media mindfully” in my video) to money worries (more on “how to deal with money anxiety” in my latest podcast), it’s become almost normal to be in a subtle state of panic and fear. But, these chaotic times also provide us a unique opportunity to deepen our practice and show us the work we still have left to do.
Whenever you find yourself in such situations and not feeling the loving presence of oneness, remember these 3 things:
- The energy that animates me is the same energy that animates you. It is the same energy that animates all life on this planet. It has been passed onto each of us ever since the first single-celled organism came into being. The more you look past people’s physical surface, the more you will see the oneness in all living things.
- We all have an inexplicable drive to live, to love, and to be loved. Every animal – and even plants we’re now learning – strives to live, takes care of their young, and lives in balance with each other. Generosity, kindness, and compassion are survival mechanisms we each possess and can help us witness the oneness of this universe.
- Every single person at some point in their life is either in need of someone to help lift them up, or is in a position to lift up others. The most important gift we can give another human being is joy in whatever form that may be. When you have joy, give joy. Help others experience it so that they may be able to pass it on to even more people. This is how the world changes.
Getting Stuck in Polarities of Life
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