Living An Examined Life
During my freshman year of college, I took an introductory class in philosophy as an elective and was so inspired by what I learned that I ended up making philosophy my undergraduate major. To this day, I remember the exact words my professor said that caught my attention and that still speak to me now. They were the well-known words of Socrates, "The unexamined life is not worth living."
To positively restate the ancient Greek philosopher's words, taking the time to examine our lives is what makes our lives fulfilling and worth living. I whole-heartedly agree with this sentiment and believe this wisdom applies not only to individuals, but to couples, families, and organizations as well. A commitment to regular self-examination is a cornerstone of health and wellness in all aspects of life.
The benefit of taking time for self-examination is acknowledged by all of the world religions as well. Every faith tradition has days and seasons that invite followers to focus on self-examination and committing to living a renewed life. The season of Lent, which for Christians started this week, is just such a season of self-examination and renewal. Just as an annual check-up with the doctor is good for one's physical health, Lent provides an annual check-up for one's emotional and spiritual well-being.
Lent is often thought of as a time to give something up, a practice which is derived from a long-standing tradition of fasting during Lent. When a person takes on the practice of fasting or giving something up, it is not done in order to experience pain or deprivation, but rather to practice the discipline of delaying gratification, which is an essential factor in all dimensions of wellness. Fasting helps to heighten the awareness of the nature of one's real hunger, helping to clarify one's need or hunger for spiritual, emotional, and relational wellness.
An approach to fasting that many people are now adopting, as they expand the idea of fasting to include more than avoiding certain kinds of food or drink, can be seen in this list of possible things from which one can fast.
Fast from hurting words, and say kind words.
Fast from sadness, and be filled with gratitude.
Fast from anger, and be filled with patience.
Fast from pessimism, and be filled with hope.
Fast from complaints, and contemplate simplicity.
Fast from pressures, and be prayerful.
Fast from bitterness, and fill your hearts with joy.
Fast from selfishness, and be compassionate to others.
Fast from grudges, and be reconciled.
Fast from words, and be silent so you can listen.
Here is a simple exercise any of us can do to put into practice Socrate's wisdom of the importance of self-examination. Reread the list above slowly and take a moment to examine how you are doing with each of the recommendations. Is there one "fast" that speaks to you, one that "has your name on it" as something that needs your attention right now?
The observance of Lent, along with many other forms of regular self-reflection, are reminders that the examined life is well worth living.
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