Perhaps, you have heard the maxim “Know Thyself.” It has been around for a long time and likely originated in 6th century BC in Ancient Egypt from the proverb of the External Temple that said “Man, know thyself, and you are going to know the gods.” The pushing, prodding and innate desire for man and woman to know himself or herself could be said to be from either or both our nature and nurture. One might believe that even God is very concerned about our knowing ourselves…so much so that He wrote a book, sent His son and gave us The Holy Spirit to help us.
Regardless of where the saying originated, it is easy to see that from The Garden of Eden to Oprah, history is full of intellects, sages, gurus, experts, books, literature and personality tests that offer us insight, formulas, programs, plans and pathways to knowing ourselves. We live at a time when we are swimming, I mean drowning, in a culture inundated with tag lines, catch phrases, mantras, advice and maxims that tell us to know ourselves.
If we take a moment to look back, then it is quite easy to see how and why a short pithy statement has been taken and used to manipulate and control millions of people to get fame, fortune and power. For the most part, our entire world is built on telling human beings how, when, who, where and what is needed to be bought and consumed (an ungodly amount of information, products, journals, books, courses, classes, apps and webinars) to “Know thyself.” Even worse, we have been misled to believe that we need to hire a life coach, counselor, trainer, nutritionist, personal guru or expert, who can teach us how to make lists, listen to podcasts, crush the Enneagram and do the right program/formula in order that we will get the answer… of knowing who we are.
In our Adam way or shall we say our American way, we get busy and we work very hard at trying to piece together the weirdest most artificial way of knowing ourselves. Consequently, our clothe ourselves in fig leaves, pull ourselves up by our bootstraps mentality and our formulaic approach to know ourselves does not lead us closer to knowing our true selves but to knowing our false selves and who we are as consumers; and we discuss ad nauseam our likes, dislikes, superficial wants, ever changing taste and opinions.
Perhaps, the real reason why these things have never gotten us any closer to knowing ourselves is because we hand pick people and situations to use as a means to our ends and to tickle our ears, dazzle our eyes and satisfy our own appetites. In the end, the closest we have gotten to knowing ourselves is to know what we want, who we want, when we want, where we want and how we want to consume smothered, covered and fried philosophy, theories and conjecture.
Yes!!! It is true that we need to know ourselves because it will determine everything we do, including who we are and how we live and move spiritually, emotionally, mentally, physically and relationally in the world as creatures and as a part of the whole creation.
But where do we start and what does “Know thyself” even mean and how in the world are we supposed to do it?
Truthfully, I don’t know much but I have learned a few things from doing many things the wrong way. Perhaps, the first thing I have learned is that you are never going to know yourself by being by yourself. Handcrafting a world, platform or your own kingdom is never going to pull, twist, rub or expose you in anyway that is real or true. You can sit behind your phone, alone in your room and pick your shows, music, podcast, dates, friends and curate your image but none of that is ever going to let you meet the real you. Your authentic true self isn’t what you like, what you look like, what you want and don’t want, it is who you are at your deepest levels beneath all the posturing, posting, peacocking, promoting, picking and photoshopping.
Second, you are never ever going to know yourself without being with other people. I am talking about all kinds of people, particularly people different than you. The more you can be fully present with others, the more of a chance you will have of knowing yourself. Likewise, the more honest you can be with others and give them your truth (your experience, strength and hope), the more you can get to know yourself. Tell them about what has happened to you, what is your story and how you survived this far. Say it out loud. Give others a chance to know you, so you will have a better chance to know yourself.
Third, expose yourself. Ok, hold on a minute. I mean expose yourself to a lot of different experiences (preferably with your clothes on). Go to movies, read books, volunteer, hike, play, attend plays, learn to paint or play an instrument and discover yourself. This is such a cool part. Make yourself uncomfortable, bored and vulnerable, and see what happens. How do you feel? What do you think? Connect the dots in yourself. Just go out, explore, learn something, meet people, help people and take a chance of looking like an idiot. Get off your phone, get over yourself and get out of the world that you have curated to discover your true self.
Fourth and Final (listen to me), go live your life. Stop trying to figure yourself and your life out before you attempt to be yourself and live your life. We learn many things by doing them and we learn many things about ourselves by being present in the moment of failing, succeeding, screwing up, apologizing, doing it wrong, apologizing, doing it right, celebrating, apologizing and receiving whatever the moment gives. Experience really is the best teacher.
The truth is that there is NO formula to living life and knowing yourself. You have to just put yourself out there and live. You are never going to be a perfect mother, wife, father, husband, son, daughter or friend. You are never going to do anything perfectly or figure out how to do something before you actually do something. There are no experts who can teach you what you will learn about yourself, about others or about life anymore than by being and living with people who are willing to be vulnerable, transparent, present and honest.
If we really want to know why you should know yourself, it is because it helps you to love yourself with all your heart, mind, soul and strength; and knowing and loving yourself, enables, empowers and encourages you to love your neighbor like you love yourself. Truthfully, knowing yourself is an active and mysterious daily practice that moves you to give your time, talents and truths to help others.
So, make the time to talk, walk, eat, cook, play, work, worship and struggle with yourself and others. Find 2 or 3 close friends and build deep relationships. Together, you will lose yourselves and find yourselves again and again and again. The real mystery of knowing thyself is breathing, listening, asking, looking and moving to receive and give love and truth; and it is living how you are naturally designed to be healthy, whole, holy and human.