The Examined Life
by Bram Levinson

Introduction

How do you feel about your life up to this point? Are you getting somewhere, closer to where you want to be, or are you just maintaining, staying alive, going through the motions? What matters to you? What's your take on spirituality? What do you believe in? Are your beliefs those that have been handed over to you by others? What about happiness? Are you happy? Is happiness something that you strive to incorporate into your life at every possible moment, or is it something that once achieved, feels less satisfying and freeing than you expected? Do you even know where to look for it?

There are countless questions that we could and should be asking ourselves throughout our lives. As one who continues to seek answers to countless questions, I also know that the process of searching can be overwhelmingly demanding and frighteningly timeconsuming. Millions of people ask themselves questions every day that could lead them to a higher state of being, but abruptly stop the process when the self-reflection brings them to a place of challenge, self-confrontation and fear. This book, in fact, my entire career, is about making that process easier, more user-friendly. It's about helping people look at life differently and knowing where to start in the examination of who we are, why we're here, how we relate to each other, and how to live a life steeped in happiness, peace, strength, clarity, and hope. This is not about giving you concrete answers or solutions, but rather pointing you in the right direction so you know where to look. It's about providing insight and information that you may not already have been exposed to.

This project started out as a workshop, one given to yoga students at studios and conferences around North America to serve as a starting point or ongoing tool for their personal development. My inherently inquisitive nature led me to yoga relatively early on in my life when my own personal development started to demand my attention, and it was through my yoga studies and teacher training that I found so many answers to the existential questions I found myself reflecting upon in my daily meanderings. As typically happens, those answers led to more questions as I began to understand the limitless boundaries within which we live, and so this book helps keep seekers on the right path to discovering what they're searching for.

Much of the insight in this book stems from personal reflections based on my experience, but much of it also stems from the yoga teachings, most obviously the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, the Bhagavad Gita, and the tales from Hindu mythology. As any teacher with an ounce of good sense will tell you, the elements that The Examined Life is comprised of don't start and end with me. I have learned through my observations, from my teachers, and by ceaselessly challenging norms and asking questions. My interpretation is offered, absolutely, but to coin a phrase I've always been fond of, I'm not making the news, I'm just reporting it. What's being reported will resonate with everyone, regardless of whether or not they practice yoga.

I still give The Examined Life workshop and find that it grows as I do, expanding to include morsels of insight and thought-provoking concepts that can only appear through life's endless lessons and their practical application. I find that when applied, these concepts have brought me closer to a place of truth and clarity. There have been moments when I didn't want to take my own advice, when I had to hear it from those around me who were familiar with my teachings and were forced to relay them back to me. But ultimately, I always found my way back to them, facing my own fears and apprehensions, and battling through them. It is because I have experienced these shifts in perception and clarity that I feel compelled to share what I've learned, originally through my classes and the workshop, and now through this book.

What The Examined Life essentially strives to be is a call to the present moment. It is about letting go of what lies in the past, understanding that the more we dwell on what has already happened, the more we end up dragging the past into the future, over and over, until we have exhausted ourselves. It is about shifting from a life spent immersed in mediocrity to one lived beyond all hopes and expectations. It is about understanding that mediocrity is the most effective camouflage for the uncertain, and that those unable to identify what's not quite right in their lives, who simply exist day-to-day with no real direction or passion, have become masters of uncertainty, begging for life to pull them out of their slump. It is about letting ourselves off the hook for what we've been beating ourselves up over, understanding that the punishment has already happened. What lays in wait is never as bad as the suffering we inflict on ourselves when we dwell on the past. It is about letting go of our semblance of control over the future, knowing that we don't really have control over most of it. It is a system of tools that allows us to ask ourselves why we're alive on earth at this present moment in time, how we have lived our lives up to this point, and how we want to live the rest of the time that we are afforded. It is a detailed reminder that happiness is not defined by what you have or want, but rather by how you think. It not only serves as a touchstone for those going through massive upheavals in their lives, but also for those who find themselves unable to find happiness despite having followed the generally accepted protocols. It also offers direction for those who, like me, simply feel that there's much more to life than the obvious.

Many people will read this collection of thoughts and find its contents straightforward and obvious. Others might find real insight into who they have been, or wish to be. And, hopefully, others might find the subject matter revolutionary, a practical collection of tools that when put to the test serve to bring about positive change. Regardless of how and if it affects you, I believe that this book has found its way to you for a reason. I urge you to never accept anything blindly or at face-value, including the words in this book. After you've read a chapter, put the book down and reflect on what you've read and what sensations, emotions, thoughts or reactions the subject matter has elicited. Take notes. Meditate on it all. Take everything in and take your time. Absorb what speaks to you, and then practically apply it to your lives. See if it changes anything.