Begin the Examination
Most of us spend our brief lives chasing after the elusive goals of success and happiness. We educate ourselves as best we can according to our talents and our resources. We immerse ourselves in occupations designed to provide comfort in the form of material possessions and esteem in the form of public recognition. We honor our responsibilities to family and community. We distinguish ourselves as good citizens. And when our lives are nearly done, and further contributions to society no longer seem viable, we console ourselves with the promise of divine rewards.
This is the template of modern life. We fill our planners with endless series of appointments. We multitask, rarely devoting our full attention to any particular activity. We are efficient in relationships. We stockpile material possessions and enjoy brief interludes of gratification before beginning the quest for more satisfying ones. The attainment of any recognition or influence immediately initiates the pursuit for more.
We rarely question the beliefs that we inherited or the norms established by those who govern the social order. Our ambitions are subject to external benchmarks. We compare our progress in life to that of our peers. Our self-worth is based on the opinions of others. We are afraid to measure ourselves. Although we may have accomplished everything we set out to do, and have performed according to everyone’s expectations, we are discontented. Despite all of our achievements, there is something lacking. But rather than confront our anxiety, we busy ourselves.
Our frenzied pace precludes any time for reflection, except for momentary pauses of anguish or flashes of rage. Only temporary diversions are permitted. When not preoccupied with routine obligations, we distract ourselves with endless to-do lists. Occasional respites are enjoyed with an artificial connectedness provided by technology. We choose mind-numbing entertainment or chemical addictions to escape from our thoughts, or we succumb to depression.
We lose ourselves. We fear that we have wasted our precious time, that our energy has been squandered, and that it is too late to adjust the center of our being, or even consider what adjustments may be necessary. We fear that we have exhausted the possibilities of life. This is the universal anxiety of futility.
A very fortunate few confront this fear. They awake one day, survey their accomplishments, and judge them to be sterile. They despair. Despair is the absence of hope, and hope is a negative quality inasmuch as it implies that favorable outcomes are not within our control. Despair is a positive first step that helps us recognize the mismanagement of current affairs and the power of the individual to take control of life.
Socrates said, “The life that is unexamined is not worth living.” Begin the examination.