What does it mean – truly examined life? I used to think that it is an accumulation of knowledge, analysis, comparison of ideas and concepts and finding the one, true viewpoint. Finding a description of the world that explains it all, gives all the answers. I thought if I read, memorize, analyze enough I will finally get it, solution for the dissatisfaction, lostness, and confusion, feeling of unreality and meaninglessness. And yet, three degrees and thousand books later, I was still dissatisfied, I still felt like I’ve missed something crucial.
The unexamined life is not worth living Socrates
It started dawning on me only after reading some Zen books and came into focus after bumping into J.Krishnamurti’s book “Freedom from the known”. It is like my mind was running in circles for many years never noticing something quite obvious.
What is important is not a philosophy of life but to
observe what is actually taking place in our daily life, inwardly and
outwardly. If you observe very closely what is taking place and
examine it, you will see that it is based on an intellectual
conception, and the intellect is not the whole field of existence; it is
a fragment, and a fragment, however cleverly put together,
however ancient and traditional, is still a small part of existence
whereas we have to deal with the totality of life.
We use abstract language for convenience, and then somehow start to take abstractions of our mind for the true reality, narrowing our perception of life to a series of abstract labels. Generations and generations passing “the words of wisdom” down the line, our parents, our teachers, our peers repeating what they heard, what was hammered into them – fears, judgements, self-definitions, goods and bads, “should” and “shouldn’t”. Repeated again and again until it all, quite reasonable and applicable in some situation – became a jumbled and confusing mess when taken as some general and abstract “truth”.
“Do this and you will be happy” – how often we hear and read this in all kind of forms, bold or subtle. When we young, we tend to believe, especially if it comes from someone we consider an authority. Then we rebel and fight against this authority and follow some other “do this and be happy” from some other “authority”. Hopefully, at some stage we start to think and observe – really, did it make people happy? Always, 100% in every situation? And what is this “being happy” actually means? What is actually going on?
Life is something ever changing, a flow of forms, sounds, smells. We talk about “moments”, “being in the moment”, but try to capture this “moment” in your perception, put a boundary, timing on it. Can be an interesting exercise! There is a moment and there is an idea of “a moment”. There is life in all its unlimited, eternal, paradoxical fullness and there is an idea of “life”, or “my life” which is even more limiting. The ideas of “my life as it should be” puts you completely into self-made prison.
How do we know how what our life should be? From the same “words of wisdom” of our parents, peers, teachers, media, etc. And how do they know what our life should be?
In Zen, they often talk about the Moon and the reflection of the Moon. It’s exactly about it – the real thing and its reflection.
Socrates understood this very well, he said “I know that I know nothing” – in other words: “I can see the reflection (I know) and I know it is not the real thing (I know nothing)”.
When something in us stops following a never-ending cycle of thoughts and opinions, we discover new depth, new forms of guidance, a new sounding of life, new perception. Perception of silence and peace, unexplainable and illogical from the point of view of intellect. Perceiving something that existed always and yet, was unperceived before. Sounds paradoxical, until it is actually experienced, then it is totally natural!