“The unexamined life is not worth living.”
A famous quote by Socrates—one of the founders of Western philosophy. The philosophers of old thought life was worth examining in order to gain an understanding of it. What a wonderful time we live in, we have thousands of years of knowledge and examining to build our understanding of the world.
Examining life means to look at the universe you live in and to use the understanding you gain from this to choose your direction in life. This could be through looking at religion or philosophy and adopting teachings to use in how you approach the world.
Given there is so much knowledge from which we can draw upon, once you start to examine life it can become confusing. You could look at so many options to give you your compass in life, The Bible, The Tao te Ching or the Upanishads, Western philosophy from the likes of Seneca, Nietzsche or Plato.
It is difficult to decide what to take on board from the various sources available. There is no need to be attached to only one method of looking at the world; if we are, we could limit our learning about ourselves and the world around us. Through the wealth of knowledge that has come before us, we can make decisions about all aspects of our lives from a number of teachers. We could study physics to learn about the laws of nature, psychology to learn how our minds work, Buddhism and meditation to increase our awareness and we could also look at the doctrines of Stoicism to learn a different point of view on how to live a good life.
Examining ourselves is how we come to recognise our part in the cosmos; to find what is right for us. Without this evaluation, we do not get to know who we are. It is like a ship sailing without a captain—a sure way to disaster. There are plenty of things that we can learn from this; such as the difference between me and I—to recognise our egos as separate from us. We can quieten the voice in our head that creates separateness, allowing our real selves to be the guiding light in our lives.
We can learn about moral values, which can often be a subjective matter; different people have different views on contentious subjects. We can inherit these opinions from cultural or religious dogma, while all too often these dogmatic approaches to life lead to situations being judged in a very black or white—good or bad—manner. If we only look at the world around us, the limitless possibilities of our universe, it is apparent that some of the most difficult questions are more colourful and more fluid.
Whatever you hear, question it, look at the opposite to gain a fully rounded opinion. Keep an open mind, many times throughout history society has held on to longheld beliefs only to be proved wrong, some of our most insightful scientists faced severe punishments for suggesting things that went against the culturally accepted norm. Scientist like Copernicus were labelled heretics for going against the Church a dangerous situation to be in—one that could lead to severe punishments including death—but his vision and intelligence lead to us seeing that the earth revolved around the sun and not the other way round.
What I’m getting at is to not accept anything as the utter truth; science which tests hypotheses until they are proved or disproved demonstrates a good method for us to examine ourselves. If we constantly look to improve upon and better our understandings of the world we can start to really adapt ourselves to what we see around us. By never remaining too rigid and being open to flexibility we are more able to go with the flow. If we can be open to change, which is the only inevitable thing in life, then we can minimise the damage the bumps along the way do to us.
Learning to adapt, take on board teachings, forming our own opinions and determining our place can be very rewarding experiences for us as human beings. Understanding ourselves and our role in life allows us to open up and achieve our highest potential. Reaching decisions on everything in life is impossible. However, through studying where we are, we can form an overall perspective and compass that can lead us through this life.
Learning about the world and ourselves helps us to work out our point of view and enables us to create our own philosophy of life, rules to live by and a method for living a life that is true to us.
What do you think?
What do we have to gain by looking?
Is it easier to not examine life?