“The unexamined life is not worth living.”
Ultimately, by living an examined life, we are giving ourselves an amazing gift. We receive a sense of freedom, clarity, and thus, peace.
Socrates further says:
“We must examine and understand the universe
that dwells within [our] own soul.”
Recently, I had the pleasure and honor of interviewing a dear friend who wrote a deeply moving memoir. In the course of preparing for the two interviews I realized that I have a way of working. I guess one could call it a “practice” that is often difficult but yet comforting. That practice is taking my time to digest a book (in this case, listening to an Audible version of Why Didn’t You Tell Me? so that I could hear the author, Carmen Rita Wong, read her own words in her own voice) and then, afterwards, I read the book in hard cover.
It is in the second stage that I take notes about my response, jot down questions, place a star in the margin, or underline a phrase. I go back with small “post its.” The book edges resemble confetti.
At that point, I usually dive deeper into some of the references noted in the book so that I become better acquainted with the content. I pay close attention to places, people, behaviors, events, and customs that are significant to the writer but may not be part of my experience.
Sometimes, while walking, a thought pops into my head and I record it in my phone “notes” just as I did years ago when I carried a pocket tape recorder. Using a variety of methods to remember my ideas helps me to access my thoughts about the material when I am not “at my desk.” In fact, most ideas come to me when I am some place other than my desk. My desk is the final place where everything comes together as I create a near-final document on the computer.
This is the way I “worked” when I was a student. Decades later, this is still my style. I have tried to be more “disciplined” and wait for thoughts to come while sitting at my desk. Sometimes that happens, but not often.
I need to walk silently in nature, listen to music, move or sit quietly with my dog, meditate, and then see what emerges. It has taken me nearly ¾ of a century to recognize that this style works for me and is no less “productive” (or less anything for that matter). It is time consuming and multi-faceted, and when I stop judging myself or comparing myself to the ways in which others work, I can happily admit that I actually enjoy the process.
By the time I am sitting in my “interview” chair I feel as if the book is part of me and that even though I hold on tight to my notes, I rarely look at them unless I am referencing a direct quote. Most of the questions come as a result of an ongoing reveal during the conversation.
Each of us has our own way of learning, processing information and preparing. It has been helpful for me to discover and ultimately stick to my process even though, historically, I have tried to change it because I did not think it was “the right way.” Whether it is or isn’t the most efficient, it works for me and I appreciate that that is enough.
So now I ask each person to examine what works for you. And ask yourself, how can you best internalize what you read and how you react to it?
It is easy to set ambitious, somewhat ambiguous goals, and then have trouble prioritizing them. It is often a very difficult balance to achieve, leaving us feeling demoralized and stuck. So how do we find that balance?
Eliminate the inessential. Cut back on the number of goals so that we can increase our attention on the remaining ones. We increase our chances of meeting our goals if we can focus on the essential ones more.
Consider the following tips as a guide:
Write down all the things you are currently managing.
Pare down the list to a few essential items.
Make sure they are goals you can prioritize.
Commit to doing the best in those few goals rather than doing adequately well in many goals.
Extricate yourself from what should never have been committed to in the first place or is no longer necessary.
Eliminate any commitments that consume much of our mind and energy but are not making the priority list.
Dedicate yourself to the essential goals.
Find a moment each day to “go on a retreat.”
5-10 minutes of refreshing our soul, each day.
Find what works for you and intentionally do it.
If I were in a “spa” I would savor the aroma and taste of a fragrant herbal tea. I would sit on a chair with low light and focus on sipping the tea. In my own home, I can try to create such a moment and savor that experience as a retreat.
When I walk around the block without my phone I focus on the surroundings.
When I have my phone I am less attentive to the sights, sounds, and I actually notice fewer things.
Without my phone I hear the wind, see different hues of color, and pay attention to other people’s faces. I am more connected with my environment when the phone is not with me.
Because I am “available” to my surroundings, this difference turns a simple walk into a retreat experience.