A Life Examined vs. A Life Lived

My mind was blown when I came across this article in the New York Times titled “A Curious Case of Writer’s Block” by Irvin Yalom. In conversation between a therapist and his patient, the patient requests the therapist read an exchange of letters between himself (Claude) and Paul, his former professor. From the perspective of the therapist:

Then I saw an exchange of letters that gave me pause. “Paul,” wrote Claude, “your excessive glorification of sheer experience is veering in a dangerous direction. I must remind you, once again, of Socrates’ admonition that the unexamined life is not worth living.”

Good going, Claude! I silently rooted. My point exactly. I identify entirely with your pressing Paul to examine his life.

But Paul retorted sharply in his next letter: “Given the choice between living and examining, I’ll choose living any day. The drive to explain is an epidemic in modern thought and its major carriers are contemporary therapists: every shrink I have ever seen suffers from this malady, and it is addictive and contagious. Explanation is an illusion, a mirage, a construct, a soothing lullaby.”

I read this passage a second and third time and felt destabilized. My resolve to posit any of the ideas fermenting in my mind wavered.

Do you ever find self-examination getting in the way of simply being? I find myself falling into this line of thought all the time. Especially in creative work. Sometimes I am so hyper-aware of the “creative process” I am going through that I forget to just let the process happen. To simply be creative.

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