Like many in the New England area, I recently endured a 9-day power outage. After the initial shock, the first few days were like an adventure. Light, heat, boiling water and hot food were all provided by a wood stove. No lights, no television, no phone, no computer, no running water, no modern conveniences to clutter the mind. It was quiet and dark.
After days became a week, primitive living seemed endless. What had been novel became drudgery. As the days went by, however, I came to a realization. In those long hours of silence, I could hear myself think. The business of life gave way to a time of contemplation and peacefulness.
No matter how unwelcomed, the power outage gave me the opportunity to allow other “circuitry” to come back to life. I was thinking again. I was not just sitting back and watching or listening. I had the time to think about my dilemmas and dreams, my conflicts and comforts, my jealousies and joys. I was examining the very fabric of my existence.
Socrates once proclaimed an “unexamined life is not worth living.” What is an examined life? As adults, we are controlled and influenced by our experiences beginning in the very earliest stages of development. Our brain takes in whatever our environment teaches us, and these “lessons” become chemically “hardwired” over time. Perceptions, or as Robert Gerzon would describe them, “toxic voices,” take up residence, make themselves at home and begin to influence how we feel about ourselves for many years to come.
These are well rehearsed and powerful thoughts that are always with us, often tricking us into believing that we are flawed, incompetent, stupid, inferior, less than, and defective. We feel guilt, a lowered self-esteem, in short that we don’t matter as much as others. We begin to believe that we must keep our deformed and hideous selves hidden from others, often from ourselves.
When I once asked the participants of a men’s group what was so hideous that they needed to hide it from others, there was a long pause.
· I got teased for having a smaller chest than the other guys in gym class
· I was overweight and had to wear glasses
· my father always yelled at me
· teachers refused to deal with me and banished me to the hall
· my father made me cry and then ridiculed me for crying
· I wasn’t smart enough
“Who taught you to see yourselves in these ways?”
“And who encourages you to see yourselves in these ways now?”
Then, at that moment magic begins to happen. There is, even if for only a brief moment a light that shines down on the prison cells they are held within. With illumination comes the insight that they are both the prisoner and the prison guard, the punished and the punisher. Then, and only then, change begins to happen. Men begin to see themselves anew, often because of the perspective of their comrades, they see themselves as not so flawed, not so damaged, not so hideous after all.
And so, perhaps inspired by the ever-present glow of the wood stove, I took the time to illuminate my own prison walls. Within the surrounding silence, I examined my life and decided to free myself from anxiety and worry. As a result of the power going out, I discovered the power within.
An unexamined life is not worth living. Truer words were never spoken.