“The unexamined life is not worth living.” – Socrates
The Search for Meaning
Many of us sail through life impervious to the choices we make each day. Such decisions are often made without even second guessing ourselves.
We discover that many of these choices are programmed, that is they are devoid of conscious intent. As time goes by we may pause and reflect how such choices were made, perhaps realising that we have not been as present after all.
Socrates, the Greek philosopher and founder of Western Philosophy coined the phrase, “The unexamined life is not worth living” circa 470 – 399 BC.
There have been countless explorations of this passage over time. Whilst I do not wish to analyse the phrase in this article, I do however wish to offer my thoughts on how we can live a virtuous life through regular self-examination.
Self-awareness is one of the key attributes humans possess, which distinguishes us from the animal kingdom. The notable mirror test developed by the psychologist Gordon Gallup Jnr. is used an indicator of awareness in animals. In this experiment, animals are presented with an image of themselves reflected back via a mirror. If they recognise the image reflected back (often a marking is made on the animal to determine if they identify it), then it is deemed that they are self-aware. Interestingly, children tend to fail this test until they are at least 1.5 to 2 years old.
Therefore self-awareness is the bedrock upon which we identify with our beingness. It allows us to interact with others and our environment through our experience of the world. Being self-aware not only attributes an awareness of self, it signifies an understanding of one’s personality, i.e. strengths, weaknesses, thoughts, beliefs and motivation.
In contrast, there are many people who sail through life oblivious to their behaviour. They rarely learn from their mistakes, since they are programmed from early childhood to disregard the impact of their actions. It might be said that their self-awareness is limited. Such people are unaware of the mental and emotional prejudices accrued over time. It has been said that we spend the first half of our life accumulating knowledge and the second half letting go of that knowledge.
Devoid of our capacity for self-examination, it may seem as though life is acting upon us as we fall victim to the forces of life.
Alternatively as we let go of the distorted thinking, we appreciate that as free choice agents acting within the container of free will, we are indeed co-creating our life’s circumstances.
“There is no greater delight than to be conscious of sincerity on self-examination.” – Mencius
Awakening the Authentic Self
It posits favourably that since we have free will, we should strive to make decisions that are in line with our best interests. Our aim should be to uphold the essential virtues of human existence: wisdom, justice, fortitude, self-control, love, positive attitude, hard work, integrity, gratitude and humility.
Authenticity then is used to describe the act of living in congruency with our highest nature. Rather than abide by our external environment, we become blissfully aware of our inner nature as we strive to uphold the human virtues.
Self-examination in this context becomes an expression of knowing oneself. Fundamentally, our aim at this level is to overcome our mistakes by refusing to invite them into the future.
Two vital ingredients then are required for self-mastery: personal growth and self-awareness. Much like brushing our teeth to keep them clean, attending to our personal growth on a daily basis is like exercise for our mental well-being.
Moreover, self-awareness coupled with personal growth may be akin to a gardener pulling weeds while simultaneously harvesting new crop. In time, not only have we cultivated an entire garden devoid of weeds, we have simultaneously allowed our authentic self to emerge.
In my book, The Power to Navigate Life, I invite the reader to consider two ideas dutifully essential to the mastery of life. I affirm that you are either Navigating Life or Parked. A Parked state may be characterised by the metaphysical relationship one experiences while in a motor vehicle when stationary: stopped, stuck, enclosed, stagnant, not moving and trapped. Navigating Life on the other hand denotes a movement of outward energy: expansive, moving freely, navigating, exploring, discovering and expressive.
These two states represent the metaphysical relationship we have with ourselves at certain times of our life. As we learn to master life and reclaim our internal state, we move from a Parked state to Navigating Life.
It must be said that even while you may be Parked, it serves as a valuable opportunity for self-reflection so you do not carry those mistakes into the future.
A deep and meaningful life is only worth living if we become self-aware and strive to lead an authentic life.
Through regular self-examination we come to appreciate that there are no rights or wrongs, only consequences. In order to reduce the likelihood of experiencing untoward outcomes, we must connect with our deepest self which is the essence of our authentic nature.