Lessons learned from an examined life – Part 1

In Plato’s Apology, which is a recollection of speeches of Socrates at his trial, he quotes Socrates for having said:

ὁ ἀνεξέταστος βίος οὐ βιωτὸς ἀνθρώπῳ
Vita nec scrutata vita nequam est.
“An unexamined life is not worth living.”

Socrates would have much rather given up his life than given up philosophy – and his wish was granted. While I still live, I would like to take the opportunity to reflect on some of the greatest lessons that have helped me live a fuller life – this will be written in parts. Lets begin.

1. Slow down to go further.

This is something I learned in practice whilst running, which can be applied to the rest of life, and has been for me. The world is working so hard to get more things done in less time, everything wants to be sped up. We have so many tools for alarms, for reminders, for time keeping. There is never enough time in a day.

Whilst running I learned this important lesson that if I wanted to go further the best way to do that was to slow down… you do this often enough, consistent enough, and you will find that your body learns and adapts and you can go further and further every time. Haste makes waste, as the old adage says.

I used to put a lot of effort into running a certain amount of kilometres in a certain amount of time. I was quite consistent and it quite consistently took a lot of the energy out of me. One day I decided that I would just listen to music and run slower instead of trying to make ‘time’. It was the best run I had. I enjoyed the beautiful scenery. I got to take in the sights around me, the dogs playing, the kids in the park, the beautiful blue sky and the setting sun. When I was done and checked my time, I was only 6 minutes longer than my previous consistent time – 6 minutes extra that gave me joy and I was barely tired. Slow down to go further.

2. Postponement is the greatest waste of life.

The things we regret the most in life are not the things we have done but the things we haven’t. While I am in my early-mid twenties, I look upon teenagers and little kids and wish that I did more when I was their age and had more time, less responsibilities, and higher energy levels. The trouble with doing this is that someone older is looking at me and wishing they did more when they were in their twenties.

Not doing the things that would bring us joy while we still have the ability to do it is the greatest waste of life, not doing the things we wanted to when we could is the greatest regret of the dying.

Do the things you love, do them often.

3. This above all: to thine own self be true.

These immortal words as said by Polonius in Hamlet have been part of my greatest source of contentment – my Eudaimonia as described by the greeks. We so often go through life trying to sacrifice who we are to please others, to keep the peace, or to be liked – all this ever brings us is suffering or displeasure.

What is the point pleasing someone else by causing suffering to oneself? What is the point in ‘keeping the peace’ when doing so creates an inner battle? What is the point being someone that others would like when we don’t love who that makes us?

Deathbeds and graves are built for one – let that be a place you go to having lived a life you are proud of. There is no one that its worth being untrue to yourself for – not your parents, your siblings, your spouse, your lover, your kids, or your friends. You alone will live with who you are, you alone will die with who you’ve been.

For many years I was false to myself in order to be accepted by others, and to be liked. Changing this and being true to myself has costed me most of the people I believed were my friends. It hurt, but it is amongst some of the best things I did for myself. These people who left my life simply vacated a position that would be better filled by someone who would love and appreciate who I really am not whom they wish me to be.

4. Question Everything.

Everyone has their own version of the world. Each version is made up of each persons own perceptual biases and self-inflicted limits. When presented with something in life that should be seen as an accepted truth, ask yourself if there is sufficient evidence to believe it before you make it part of your own reality (this does not apply to the laws of the universe though, the universe is how it is whether or not you believe it).

Questioning everything has allowed me the freedom to be true to myself and to actually know who I am. It has freed me from the shackles of other peoples limiting beliefs and ideas about the world. It has free me from indoctrination and allowed me to lose my religion. It has allowed me to judge what is right and wrong for myself without the delusions of others offering their own flavours into the mix.

5. This too shall pass.

The Romans would say this in good times and in bad. Everything is temporary. Understanding this allows us to not get too attached to good times and to happiness as well as to not be too affected by bad times – This too shall pass.

When I was younger and something would bother me, my brother would tell me:

“If you worry, you die. If you don’t worry, you still die. Why worry?”

In the grand scheme of things, whatever is getting you down today will not affect you in a week, month, or a year from now. In fact, it will grow you. This is an exciting way to view adversity, each new turmoil of today is shaping the beautiful you of tomorrow.

6. Let go of expectation.

Expectations are limits you set to life.

Letting go of expectations opens you are to fuller version of life without the limits you set on it. If you give someone a gift and expect reciprocity, you may get joy from the giving of the gift but will be disappointed if it is not returned – remove the expectation and all you have is the joy of your gifting. In relationships, if we remove all expectations from the beloved to behave in a certain way in relation to us we will have no disappointment if they act differently – we are left with all their little acts and gestures of kindness giving us immense joy.

Most disappointment arises from expectations that are not met. Little happiness is gained from matched expectations.


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