The examined life: For everyone, or just a few?

In a fit of pique, I said to my dear loving husband, “I guess I’ll just have to accept that I’m married to someone who isn’t interested in insights into his own behavior or living the examined life.”  And having said about the worst thing I could imagine (yeah, that probably says a LOT about me right there) I flounced off.  I don’t remember what the disagreement was about, or (confessionally), how I was wanting to change him.  But I put a lot of credence in being mindful, and intentional, and insightful, and indeed, have at times in my arrogant way been known to suggest that it is a mandate of being alive.  That it is a responsibility that comes along with being kind and doing unto others, etc. etc.

I just finished reading “The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P.” by Adelle Waldman.  It’s making the rounds right now, but SPOILER ALERT:  I didn’t like how it ended.  Basically, the guy takes the easy way out, and instead of making a go of a relationship with a woman who challenges him – Not only intellectually, but to his very core – He settles (note my disparaging tone) for the flightier, more conventionally beautiful, let’s face it, shallower woman.  Revealing, I suppose, a certain “shallowness” himself.

So here’s my question:  Is everyone, regardless of Myers-Briggs or temperament or enneagram or vocation, called to live a mindful life?  We Presbyterians say we are called to live a “holy and joyful life,” which to me implies intentionality.  But maybe I believe this only because it is woven into the core of my being, to want to uncover meaning, and go deep, and be mindful of how I am interacting with myself, my God, and my world.  Maybe it isn’t for everyone.

But what do you think?  Does this responsibility come with this life we’ve been given?  Or is it more that some are artists, some mystics, and some engineers?  


2 thoughts on “The examined life: For everyone, or just a few?

  1. Amy,

    I love this question. My first reaction is to say that we are certainly all called to live the examined life (my apologies to your husband :))–it seems like it might be difficult to love others or love God if our thoughts and actions aren’t mindful. It seems like when we act without mindfulness or awareness we tend toward self-preserving thoughts and actions. Here’s my hypothesis: Not only are we called to live an examined life, but we are also all naturally pretty bad at it. Carefully examining our own thoughts, feelings, and fears requires vulnerability. I read a blog about shame and the examined life a while back that has stuck with me. I’m not sure I agree with all of it, but it certainly has made me consider the connection. Here’s the link if you are interested:

    An excerpt from the author: “There is an unavoidable ambivalence connected to the path of self-discovery. We’re drawn to the unexplored within and also frightened by it. Accepting the call to an examined life is heroic, because it is a call to go beyond fear to freedom. Refusing the call means remaining, in some sense, a slave…Considering our attraction to the examined life, and the dreadful consequences of refusing the call, why do we feel any resistance to seeking and embracing our true and free selves? One explanation concerns the experience of human shame, common to all. Shame feelings are a torment to the soul. If self-examination threatens to reveal agonizing shame, then resistance to this process begins to make sense. Felt shame is an enemy to personal freedom because it squashes the impulse for the examined life.”

    I can’t wait to see where your post goes…


    • Marie – I haven’t clicked the link yet, but I love what you say about the connection between vulnerability – shame – and the unknown. (And with apologies to my husband, he actually is quite thoughtful. It just made a great example.) And what you say about loving others / God is impossible if we aren’t mindful. And I’m going to say that it’s impossible to figure out how to have compassion for our selves, especially if we don’t sit and figure out the “back story.” Which brings me back to meditation & prayer & going deep. Ah, things to think about!

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