Know thyself, until you don’t

by | May 3, 2006

It occurs to me that one of the most maddening beliefs in contemporary western society (at least in the US) is the belief that we should know ourselves. Plutarch attributes the maxim “Know Thyself” to the Delphic Oracle. I suppose he would know; he was a priest of the oracle in the first century A.D.

I have no argument with the Delphic Oracle, but there is a vast difference between Knowing Thyself as a static entity and Knowing Thyself as an unfolding mystery. It seems that at a certain point in adulthood, we expect ourselves to know who we are, as though the “self” exists as a stable, enduring, entity.

Well, it doesn’t. Look at your life. Think of a time when you felt in tune with yourself. When you felt, in my current favorite image, as though you were swimming in the sweet slipstream of your natural gifts supported by the current of the river of Life. Great feeling. Give yourself a moment to reconstruct that time, what you were doing, your isurroundings, your body sensations, your emotions, your relationships. Drink deeply. Enjoy.

Now tell me, how long did that sense of self last?

In my case, the answers range from a few minutes to several years (punctuated by occasional brief bouts of confusion, insecurity, and anxiety). Then sooner or later I go into what I term the fog bank. I don’t know who I am, I don’t know my purpose, I don’t know what I “should” do.

Just today I had the thought: perhaps the fog is generated when the cool air of reality moves over the warm ground of my belief that I know myself and that, since I’ve been liking it, my self has agreed to hold still. If my self-concept and reality are colliding, the harder I look for me the foggier it’s going to get.

Eventually, the fog disperses, and I emerge and begin to reorient. In time I again taste the yummy ambrosia of self knowledge. I know from my toenails to my scalp that I am living from the heart of my authentic being. And I suppose I am, until I’m not and the fog reforms.

I’m not about to suggest that there is anything wrong with this (if this fanciful model is even approximately valid). I have grown to love the fog. I love knowing that I can be safe when I can only see as far as my outstretched hand. I love discovering that I always have enough information and guidance to take one tiny step. I love how simple life gets when I realize that one tiny step is all that is possible or required at any time.

The reason I’m sharing these musings is in service of authenticity. What does it mean to be authentic when we are always morphing? What is life asking from us as we begin to witness these changes and even to participate in them with some degree of awareness? What are we being called to?

I suggest that we are being called to respect ourselves. We are being invited to take the audacious and indefensible position that who and what we are in each moment is exactly perfect. We are being invited to observe the perfect self that is being mirrored to us by everything and everyone we see and to respect that self by owning it without reservation and with complete humility.

What does this mean when we don’t like what we see in the mirror? This is where I love Katie’s work. Every time I take my most twisted and painful thoughts to The Work for the love of truth, I fall in love with me. I discover that welcoming every image that comes at me and questioning my thoughts when they are painful or stressful respects me at the deepest level, at the level that is unchanging.

I love that we can meet ourselves with profound respect and love and all we need to do it are four questions and a turn around. I love that the questions invite me to notice the self I am right now and to work from the truth that lives in me in this moment. I love that falling in love with myself frees me to see how much I love all of you.