Who am I? What is the examined life? What is the wisdom of Unknowing?
By Edward Hirsch
Going back to the roots of our civilization in ancient Greece, we come upon the potent quotes, “Know thyself” (the Delphic Oracle) and “The unexamined life is not worth living” (Socrates). The Delphic Oracle declared Socrates the wisest man in Athens, and Socrates accepted this by declaring that his wisdom was that he knew that he knew nothing.
Now there are three potent points here to examine. If we let go of the historical and biographical content, it comes down to your relationship with “Who am I?” “What is the examined life?” and “What is the wisdom of Unknowing?” Everything else falls away, not because it is unimportant, since it all has its place, but because our whole lives are consumed with attending to these things while the core essentials are neglected.
Psychologically, it is important to know your shadow, to know your hidden motivations, and so on. All of that is part of “Know thyself,” but it is not the Essential. Examining your life, determining your deep purpose, what really matters and is of value to you, all of that is important, but it is not the Essential. The Essential is revealed in the wisdom of Unknowing. In this, not just the historical falls away, but your own history and biography fall away as the wrappings of the precious Gift we call the Present.
This has been said so many times, by so many religions, in so many languages (spiritual, philosophical, psychological, practical), that it might seem to be worn out by now. And yet it is that which is ever-fresh, that which cannot be contained in thoughts and words. All the thoughts, words, and actions are its expressions, applications. They are the flowers, the fruits, but without the living connection with the roots, with the Ground, they wither.
So the questions are, “Is it alive in you? Does it really matter to you?” This is not a matter of judgment but one of awakeness, recognition, appreciation of this great Gift, this Precious Present, which can also be called the Now, the Essential, the Heart, the Holy, and so on.
This gets clothed in the contents of history, in the contents of your life, of your day and the many things to attend to. But in all the content, attend to the Context, the Root, the Ground, the still small voice in the heart or the flame in the heart. Be sure that the content doesn’t drown out the voice or cover the flame. The voice, which has been called the Voice of the Silence, and the flame, which has been called the Eternal Light as well as the Shining Darkness, cannot be eradicated. When the content is not an obstruction, it can be a chalice or channel, a vehicle through which the Essential can be expressed and lived. The point of a spiritual practice is to cultivate connection with the Essential, and the point of an integrated life is to provide some relatively stable means of its expression.
When all else falls away (whether that be ancient Athens or some wise quote or ideal), and you are in the here and now, a simple and accessible means of connecting with Essential Ground is through present moment body sensing and breathing. These are generally considered irrelevant in our quest for whatever ideal we pursue, but if entered into deeply, will reliably provide an opening into the “Open Secret” of the ever-present Here and Now. And who is it who occupies this Here and Now but the Being of your being? Enter into that in the heart to enter the Heart of the Matter. However many times we forget, ignore, doubt, or lose heart, it is ever-present, the Root of our being.
Even though we are all One, each is called to connect with their root in their own being. No one can really make that connection through another, though others can serve the opening of that connection. The Good News is that the inner connection is never missing. However much you might think or feel it is missing, or that something is fundamentally wrong with you, the Truth is Present.
Edward Hirsch, M.A., teaches about the Practice of Presence at OLLI and offers free weekly Zoom meetings in the teachings and practices of Presence, 1-2:30 p.m. Saturdays, on a drop-in basis (https://us02web.zoom.us/j/84805886301).
Send 600– to 700-word articles on all aspects of inner peace to Richard Carey (email@example.com).