Provision #399: Avoid Unexamined Thinking

Laser Provision

Socrates may have said it best: “an unexamined life is not worth living.” Yet many people go through their days with mindless attention to their thoughts, feelings, actions, and intuitions. No wonder so many people suffer from a dearth of both knowledge and wisdom! That is not the way to spiritual wellness. Through regular practices of self-reflection and self-examination we can turn this around for life.

LifeTrek Provision

Many people ask why we put so much time and effort into the weekly production of LifeTrek Provisions. After all, it represents a serious piece of original writing, many pages in length, that takes hours to write and even more hours to distribute and upload to the Web, all of which is given away, free of charge, to more than 65,000 people in 146 countries around the globe.

Why do we do this? Well, for one thing, because you read them. That fact never ceases to amaze and bless us. Hardly a week goes by that we don’t hear from someone, usually a total stranger, who begins his or her note, “I have been reading your Provisions for many months (or many years). They have truly become a staple in my life that I look forward to each and every week. Thanks for all that you share with the world.”

It doesn’t take too many replies like that to keep us writing. The knowledge that we are touching the lives of thousands, if not tens of thousands, is at once humbling and inspiring. On occasion, it’s also good for business. Putting our wisdom out into the world is the primary driver of our contacts for coaching. People read what we write and request our assistance, at least for a time, on the trek of life.

But our reading public and paying clients notwithstanding, there is another reason, more profound and fundamental, for writing these Provisions each and every week: they represent a spiritual discipline and create a weekly rhythm. The discipline, simply put, is to think and express ourselves clearly about the meaning and conduct of life. LifeTrek Provisions is little more than a very public journal, as we examine our thinking in order to discover what new things we may have learned along the way.

The weekly rhythm of writing Provisions is all part of that discipline. It is usually sent out at the same time, early in the morning, on the first day of the week. Everything revolves around that publishing schedule. Although I’m continuously collecting ideas and illustrations, Friday is my designated writing day with everything having to be done by Saturday evening at the latest. That is the life we’ve come to know and love.

One of the more amusing reasons for creating and maintaining this publishing schedule, as I like to tell the story, is what led to the creation of LifeTrek Provisions in the first place, back in 1999. For the 20 years before that I had served as a local church pastor, during which time I would often prepare a weekly sermon or message to be delivered to my congregation in worship. After leaving parish ministry in early 1998, I no longer had the same impetus or reason to write. This reduced my reading as well as my engagement with life.

By 1999, my wife was noticing the difference. “You know, you’re getting boring,” she said. “You used to read, write, preach, and constantly come up with new things to talk about. You don’t do that as much any more, and I miss the richness that brought to our relationship.” That’s when we came up with the vision of a weekly newsletter as part of our fledgling coaching practice. “I started Provisions,” I usually say with a chuckle and a smile, “to save my marriage.”

In reality, however, I got this going to save my soul. Without the occasion for rigorous self-examination, my spirit and presence in the world was starting to languish. And that’s no way to live.

People have known this, of course, for thousands of years. About 2,500 years ago, Socrates, an ancient Greek philosopher, observed that “the unexamined life is not worth living.” Around the same time, Lao Tse, the first Chinese philosopher in the Taoist tradition, noted that “to know others is to be learned, to know oneself is to be wise.”

500 years later, in my own tradition, the apostle Paul made clear what my spiritual discipline and LifeTrek Provisions are all about: “Whatever is true,” he wrote in his letter to the Philippians, “whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”

So that’s what we do through LifeTrek Provisions. We examine life. We come to know ourselves. We think about things that are true, honorable, just, pure, pleasing, commendable, excellent, and praiseworthy.

These are the things that make for spiritual wellness. And if you are sailing through life without thinking much about them, if you are living an unexamined life, then you are setting yourself up for spiritual illness and, since you’re not doing it, you don’t even know what you are missing.

Unfortunately, unexamined thinking is a common phenomenon. Thoughts are handed down and passed around, from one person or place to the next, without people spending much time in reflection and critical self-appraisal as to their veracity and import. Take Nazi Germany as an example. How else can one explain that terrible tearing of the fabric of human life? An awful lot of people were thinking and doing an awful lot of things without examination.

This happens, of course, on every level • all the way down to the trivial. You have perhaps heard the story of the woman who was cutting off the ends of a piece of meat before roasting. When her daughter asked why she did that, she said that was the way her mother taught her to do it. So they asked the grandmother why she did that, only to receive the same reply. When they finally asked the great-grandmother, she replied, “Oh, I did that because it was too big for my  pan.”

Old habits, especially unexamined old habits, die hard. And as we saw in the example of Nazi Germany, or in any other case of racism, sexism, jingoism, prejudice, and stereotypes • let alone of genocide and ethnic-cleansing • unexamined thinking can do great harm. Blind faith and adherence to any idea, from any source, is not something we can afford to entertain. Not even the monotheistic world religions insist upon such submission.

That’s what I take from a poem called “Happiness,” by Saadi Youseef, originally written in Arabic • the language of Islam, the “religion of submission to the will of God.”

To fill your eyes
there are rose shrubs
and branches of a lemon tree.

The stone houses
you once hated
rise higher and higher,
wet with rain.

Thinking is not enough.

O happy is the person
who opens a window
unto the morning!

Unexamined thinking, to be more specific, is not enough. To be happy, spiritually well, and zestfully alive we must “open a window unto the morning.” We must examine our thinking in order to fill our eyes love.

Doing so requires more than just an occasional flirtation with the morning window. It takes a regular commitment of reading, writing, and thinking (note the order of those words • so often I find that my reading and writing generate thinking, rather than the other way around). In our case, we have the regular discipline of all that’s involved with the publication of LifeTrek Provisions. It generates its own daily habits. But that is hardly the only way.

Julia Cameron, for example, author of The Artist’s Way books, has become famous for her practice of “morning pages:” three pages written in long-hand, every morning, no more and no less. Morning pages are quintessentially stream-of-consciousness writing, examining whatever comes to mind. There is no right or wrong way to do them. There is no agenda. Rather she encourages us to capture our thoughts as though they were pieces of art, seen for what they are, and for whatever revelations they may present.

Other people use coaches and the discipline of a weekly coaching conversation to examine their thoughts. Here too, as we saw in our study of coaching metaphors, there is no right or wrong way to converse. Here too the life of the client is approached as though it was a work of art. By staying with the conversation over a period of weeks, months, and even years, we enable more truth and light to break forth than we had perhaps thought possible.

Sitting meditation and contemplative prayer are two other ways that people avoid unexamined thinking. It’s not that we sit or pray to examine our thoughts; indeed, we often sit or pray to empty our thoughts. But doing so opens us up • like Cameron’s “morning pages” and Youseef’s “morning window” • to the very examination thoughts require in order to make life worth living.

So that is my hope for those of us who would seek to be spiritually well. Avoid unexamined thinking! Question every external and internal voice until you clearly hear their wisdom. Raise your conscious awareness of what you stand for and how you carry yourself in the world. Become mindful of those things that are true, honorable, just, pure, pleasing, commendable, excellent, and praiseworthy. Make a contribution in life if you want life to make a contribution in you.

Coaching Inquiries: Are you prone to unexamined thinking? What are your routine practices for self-examination? How can you strengthen them? Is there one thing you can do this week that would expand your awareness and move you forward in wisdom?

To reply to this Provision, use our Feedback Form. To talk with us about coaching or consulting services for yourself or your organization, Email Us, use our Contact Form, or give us a call in the U.S.A. at 757-345-3452 to request a complimentary coaching session.

To reply to this Provision, use our Feedback Form. To talk with us about coaching or consulting services for yourself or your organization, Email Us or use our Contact Form on the Web for a complimentary coaching session.

LifeTrek Readers’ Forum (selected feedback from the past week)

Editor’s Note: The LifeTrek Readers’ Forum contains selections from the comments and materials sent in each week by the readers of LifeTrek Provisions. They do not necessarily reflect the perspective of LifeTrek Coaching International. To submit your comment, use our Feedback Formor Email Bob..

I just wanted to let you know how much I enjoy LifeTrek. I’m in the retail industry and our whole philosophy is that we as managers are not managers, but coaches. What a concept…huh?! I wanted to thank you for making LifeTrek available for my PDA. I sync it and take it with me!

I appreciate Erika’s reminder in last week’s Pathway to pay attention to our gut feelings for guidance. Throughout my life I have often lived to regret it when I overrule those leadings with logic. But I wonder what role superstition might play in causing us to have fearful feelings about things we don’t really need to fear?

Can you tell me more about The Road Less Traveled. Is this something I could recommend to my book group? We are church members who read both religious inquiry books and general topics as well. (Ed. Note: The Road Less Traveled, by M. Scott Peck, is one of the better books of the 20th century, with sales of more than seven million copies and translations into more than twenty-three languages. Although it is approaching 30 years old, it is not out of date and I recommend it highly.)

May you be filled with goodness, peace, and joy.

Bob Tschannen-Moran, MCC, BCC

President, LifeTrek Coaching
CEO & Co-Founder, Center for School
Immediate Past President, International Association of
Author, Evocative Coaching: Transforming Schools One Conversation at a TimeOnline Retailers

Address: 121 Will Scarlet Lane, Williamsburg, VA 23185-5043
Phone: (757) 345-3452 • Fax: (772) 382-3258
Skype: LifeTrek • Twitter: @LifeTrekBob
Subscribe/Unsubscribe: Subscriber Services