“The unexamined life is not worth living.”
I’ve always been intrigued by this statement from Socrates. The moment it first touched my ears, it had the sweet, clear ring of truth to it. Perhaps it’s the reason I became a therapist. I routinely examine my life and willingly examine the lives of my patients. But it’s a ballsy statement, don’t you think? Couldn’t he have just said, “The examined life may be a good alternative,” or perhaps “For some, the unexamined life is not worth living?” I mean, can’t you lead a good life, work hard, raise your children well, maybe even donate money to charities, perhaps cook for homeless shelters now and again? Isn’t that enough? But Socrates didn’t say that, instead his words are staunchly uncompromising.
So what exactly did Socrates mean by the unexamined life? Unfortunately, I can’t begin to know what this great Greek philosopher was actually thinking, but for me it’s about a human being. Yes, being, not doing; the kind of being that’s distinctive to us humans above all other animals. The kind of being that allows us to transcend hardwired, genetic instinct and desire and make conscious moral and ethical choices. The kind of being that allows us to think first, not just react. And it’s the kind of being that allows us to assign meaning to our lives, to find and understand our place in this world. But how many of us in this fast-paced, technology driven, got-to-have-it-now world of ours actually take the time to just be? Because yes, in my opinion, to fully examine our lives, we must first take the time to be.
Perhaps I’m a bit biased as a therapist, a therapist who finds so much richness in the stories of others. But the examined life is exactly that, rich! It deepens and widens the depth and breadth of your very heart and soul, allowing it to hold so much more. When you really take the time to examine yourself and your life, the filter on your perception irrevocably changes and life is, thankfully, never the same. Suddenly you see, really see the little things, all those thousands of daily moments with renewed meaning and gratitude. And time slows down just a little.
Those are the kinds of moments we should strive to string together and weave richly into the tapestry we call our lives. But it’s not easy. If it were, I’d suspect we’d all just naturally do it because the rewards are tremendous. But it’s not. It takes effort and courage and a willingness to be vulnerable. For some, it may come easy, for others it may be gut-wrenchingly hard. But aren’t we worth it? Aren’t you worth really knowing yourself, your life? Because the most important relationship you will ever have is the one with yourself. You will never spend more time with anyone in this life than you will with yourself and it would be a shame to never really know you, don’t you think? The real beauty of an examined life is that the more you know yourself, the more you know and understand others. That’s a win-win, in my opinion.
And the beauty of my job is that I get a first class seat as my patients set out to examine their lives and discover themselves. People think therapy is just about dealing with the mentally ill or those in emotional crisis, but it’s so much more than that. No matter what brings you in, the end game is always the same…therapy is about you and at some point, you’ve got to learn to just be if you’re ever going to figure out where you lost yourself. But that’s where I come in, privileged to be your guide and ready to facilitate your way out of the darkness. And when the crisis has been managed, when the valley has been traversed, I’ll still be there as you climb the next peak.
So does one require therapy to have an examined life? No, of course not. But it’s your unexpected reward for having made it to the finish line, for struggling courageously on whatever life challenge started you on the journey in the first place. And a good therapist will see that you get there, happily.
So invest in yourself, allow yourself the luxury of a guide along the way if you can or forge through the unchartered waters all on your own, either way, you are worth it. An unexamined life is not.