Thursday 1 March 2012
An examined life
I saw a poster on the tube this morning - I forget now what it was for - that included a quote from a classical philosopher which said 'A life unexamined is a life unlived'. The words have stayed in my head for some time today - as a volunteer counsellor and someone who has reaped the benefits of therapy myself, I found them particularly interesting.
I think perhaps it is a little extreme so suggest that a life where people don't reflect or ponder on what they've done or what has happened to them is not a valid existence. I believe some people don't need to spend a lot of time thinking about what has gone before, and can live perfectly fulfilled lives being happy in the moment with no cause for concern. But for me - a little bit of examination has gone a long way.
When I look back over my life it's mostly with those lovely rose-tinted spectacles these days because I write now from a very happy place, but there have been some turbulent and unhappy times. There were indeed a number of years in my 20s when I felt trapped in a pattern of disappointing repetition and I was unable to find or sustain rewarding relationships with my family, my friends, and the opposite sex. While I was never diagnosed with depression, I believe I know very well what it is to be unhappy, to be alone, to be frightened, to fail, and to wonder if it is worth continuing or if there is another way.
What changed for me was having the courage to look at myself and my life, and to begin to determine what was going wrong, why mistakes were being made, and where my unhappiness was stemming from. As soon as I took that step, I was no longer the passive victim who things 'happened to'. I realised my part in the equation and how aspects of my behaviour and my personality were inherently contributing to my downfall - it quickly became obvious that I was well skilled in the art of self-sabotage.
I think it can be very difficult to really look at yourself, to study your faults and failings and to admit into your conscious the parts of you that aren't perfect and you don't like. There is certainly some truth in the phrase 'ignorance is bliss'. But having the resolve to take yourself to task was a real turning point for me - learning from experience is incredibly powerful and by examining the past and making changes, my present became very rewarding.
For the first time I felt what it is to be happy, to be confident, to feel safe - and I think it is of no insignificance that within a short space of time after I found that strength to do this that I bought a flat on my own, met the Boy, started volunteering as a counsellor myself, and began the full-time job that I still hold. I knew myself and I liked myself - so other people did too. And while there have of course been dark times - you only have to be a reader of this blog to understand that - that is a part of life, and having a fairly competent understanding how I work has helped make those bad times a little more bearable.
For me at least, an examined life is certainly a life lived.