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John W. Travis, M.D. & Regina Sara Ryan
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The Unexamined Life

The unexamined life is not worth living. —Socrates

In our modern, materialistic, media-saturated society, few people take the time to ponder the questions of meaning, yet doing so is crucial to creating a balanced, purposeful, and rewarding life. If such questioning seems important to us, then making it a priority (at least now and again) is a good way to start. For many people, consciously setting aside time for reflective contemplation - a subject we will consider in greater depth in later - is a must. Journal writing can be an invaluable tool in moving us to greater insight and even clarity. When we attempt to write about something as integral to our lives as What am I here for?" or "What makes a difference?" we are forced to make our fleeting ideas into something solid, tangible. We take the ruminations and scattered fragments of thoughts and feelings and form them into words that we can look at, read back to ourselves, and ponder.

Talking in depth with a trusted listener, one who encourages us to explore rather than to come up with answers, can be tremendously rewarding. We get to form new questions. If we can hold these questions without judging ourselves as inadequate for not being able to answer them, we increase the breadth and depth of our soul.

Looking at our priorities and values is a much more immediate process. Values and priorities essentially show up in how we live, not in our concepts about how we wish we could live. This is a hard truth to face. If we say that spending quality time with our children is a priority, but we continually put dozens of other tasks ahead of spending time with them, then our priorities are skewed, and our values are questionable. While there are millions of good excuses about why we aren't getting to do the things we say we want to do, excuses don't build satisfying relationships. Acting in line with our values and priorities creates personal integrity and gives meaning to our lives.

Although we may never be completely sure of our purpose on the planet, and may find very few answers to our questions, we must nevertheless be willing to ask such probing questions of ourselves. Then we must be willing to live in the gaps between how we would like our life to be and the reality of how our life presently appears. We have to endure the pain of our misplaced priorities and unlived values before we will make a natural change. We can make being compassionate with ourselves a value and priority throughout the process. Learning to live with our eyes and hearts open in the gaps, filled with uncertainties and questioned priorities, is probably more important than coming up with any definitive answers once and for all - for there may be none. Meaning may be found in the process, not in the result.

The Work is with you and in you in such a way that once you find it in yourself, where it always is, you have it always, wherever you may be, on land or sea. —Hermes Trismegistus

In contemplating what is truly meaningful to them, many people discover that experiencing and expressing love are central to their fulfillment in life. The challenge is to transform the fear that is so rampant in our culture (often expressed as anger or impatience) into love. This can be a lifelong project that propels meaning and direction into every moment of life. Often, just when we think we may have mastered the lesson, the bar gets moved a notch higher - perhaps to keep us from getting bored?

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