In the fall of 1976 I entered Regis College, a small liberal arts college in Denver, Colorado run by the Jesuits since the late eighteen hundreds. The Jesuits, the order of gentlemen whose Spiritual Exercises I wrote about recently, were founded in 1540 and have since opened over 176 institutions of higher education around the world.

I welcomed the small “Leadership Scholarship” that was provided, the cash accolade for having been Class President during my senior year in high school, and I was motivated to engage in this new community. We were required to earn six college credits in philosophy prior to graduation, so I dutifully signed up to get these credits knocked out early. Little did I know that my professor and the course content would have such a riveting grip on me, both then and now.

Awakening to an Examined Life

My professor for Philosophy 101 was a white-haired Franciscan priest named McBriar, who very compellingly introduced me to many ancient systems of thought that are still alive today. I did not know at first that his gift to me, the enlightenment and the challenge of seeking the “more” in life and questioning within, would reverberate far into my adult life.

Throughout that first semester I marveled at his insights. McBriar gave words and meaning to my restless thoughts. He helped elucidate the experiences of my life thus far and provided a new framework to understand the experiences yet to come. I sometimes found myself uncertain about the meaning of many of his teachings, but I do not recall ever feeling so alive as I did in Philosophy 101.

Professor McBriar wrote on the chalkboard:

The pursuit of philosophy is best answered in the question

“How best is it to live?”

Through his teaching, philosophy became a verb, not a noun. It was not a rote exercise in reading old books, but an active engagement of mind and spirit in pursuit of the answer that fits best for oneself. He knew that we could benefit from these ancient thinkers to better answer the questions for ourselves, but it was our answers in our lives that we were responsible for.

A Resounding Energetic Imprint

It’s now 40 years later, but I am mindful of the energetic imprint of McBriar’s lessons as though the first day of Philosophy 101 was today. When I remember my feeling of wonder as those philosophical mysteries unfolded, my body produces a host of liberating chemicals; emotions, the juices of angst or intense awareness. Angst is replaced with excitement, energy, love of life. As I recall these emotions by reliving those moments, my body once again feels liberated. The memory of my emotional recall recreates the very same chemicals I felt then.

I find that people generally are unaware that emotions have memory. It is not our brain’s memory that recreates happiness or dreadful fear, it is our emotional, hormonal system that does so. Perhaps sitting in Philosophy 101 evoked an emotional memory of my Creator, of the unbridled love and creativity I brought into the world with me, the very energetic imprint of my cosmic reality. I learned in that classroom that I am so much more than I had considered myself to be when I quietly permit an “in the moment” experience.

Finding Freedom from Self-Deception

By asking the question “how best is it to live?” and by searching deeper for “something more,” we open the gate to possibility, for freedom from the vice of self-deception. When I drift from feeling whole or being real, I remember that I hold the key to an awareness of those days when an awakening began to take hold. Time collapses as I am reminded of the inner truth that this professor and the content he so eloquently delivered to open my mind, that there is a power and peace within each of us.

Why then do I forget? Why do I drift again to “less than” thoughts? Why do I sometimes see others as enemies deserving of hate rather than unbridled love? What grasp do thoughts denouncing the very liberation of my heart and soul hold over me? What is this nagging self-deception that creates an “other” from which I view myself, so in contrast to the self aware, “in the moment” experience and visceral joy of Philosophy 101?

If I had the answer I wouldn’t be writing this, still committing my search to the page! But perhaps it is the pursuit of the answer, philosophy as a verb, the inspiration of Professor McBriar in the fall of 1976, that compels me to continue this journey.