There is a phrase you are likely to find in most serious philosophy text: “Know Thyself!” The phrase has some serious philosophical pedigree since Socrates’ time. It was considered more or less received wisdom though a form of the phrase reaches back to ancient Egypt too. And ever since, a majority of philosophers have always had something to say about it.

But “Know Thyself” possesses a self-help appeal. Is your aim to accept yourself? Well, you need to know thyself for that first. Isn’t it? Or is it to make good decisions in life – decisions that are right for you? Again, this would be very difficult to answer unless you knew thyself. The problem is that none of this is based on a realistic picture of the self and of how we make our decisions. 

“Know thyself” – our great object in time is not to waste our desires and passions on all the external things that we must leave behind when we die, but something that we tend to cultivate within us all that we can carry into the external world for our own progress beyond our imagination. 

We all have fairly stable ideas about the kind of people we are. And that is all for the best – we don’t have to think very hard when ordering coffee every morning. These ideas about what kind of people we are might also be accompanied by ideas about what kind of people we are not.

Some wise thinkers say that the important elements to pursue in life are the essential attributes of God—we must focus on what is good, true, and beautiful—because these are life giving and affirming aspects of life that lead us back to God. 

Do you know yourself?

It is an annoying question for sure as we feel the answer is obvious too! Of course I know myself and you know yourself. We have been with these personalities our entire lives and have had that amount of time to learn about ourselves and how we operate too. However, do we truly and deeply know what keeps us going, what we are ignorant of and why so.

There is a reason self-improvement; psychology and philosophy are such pertinent topics. It is because humans do face the barriers for our subconscious interpretation of ourselves and how others actually understand us.

It is something we can never truly understand unless we are able to step out of our own shoes. We may imagine what that might be like; but we can never do it to the fullest extent. That allows us to learn an outside perspective of our self. So what is the limit of actually getting to know ourselves?

We might just never know that. Yet that is one of the elements in introspection to consider. What we may believe about ourselves may not be true to the slightest. But reaching that realization is good enough to give an insight on self operation.

It is something that can never be achieved to its entirety that we want it to be. However, that should not stop us from wanting to know and wanting to learn more about ourselves and how it can apply for us today. 

According to legend, inscribed on the walls of the temple on the sacred site of Delphi in ancient Greece were two premier injunctions: nothing in excess, and know thyself. All such worldviews are based upon presuppositions. Atheists begin their way of seeing by presupposing “no god.” Christians come to the table of reality believing there is a god. So the light that is in them is different, profoundly. You can go over each worldview and you will find that the light guiding each one is so different from the other!

There are many worldviews i.e. Atheist, Islamic, Buddhist, Hindu, Secular humanist, Post modern, Nihilist, Existentialist, and various mixtures. They all have a syncretistic worldview and hardly know where their beliefs came from. Among these worldviews is also the Christian or Biblical.

A good worldview, which is well thought out, will answer the following questions:

1. Who am I?
2. Where did I come from?
3. Why am I here? What am I supposed to do?
4. How do I do it?
5. Where am I going? How do I get there?
6. What is wrong with the world?
7. Where does the universe come from?

How you tend to answer such questions determines virtually everything about your life and the quality of it as well. It is most likely that you will have friends with same worldview and you will be influencing those who look up to you, rightly or wrongly. So it is best to choose a worldview that offers reasonable answers to such questions maybe Christianity yields the best answers.

Know thyself to heal thyself

Truth, and more specifically moral truth, is the foundation that enables us to actualize our potential for engaging in the wisdom of right-action.

To know-thyself is important. Philosophy is philo-sophia, the “love of wisdom”. Wisdom is not simply knowledge or understanding, but acting on that understanding and producing right-actions. Wisdom is especially living a certain way based on moral truth that produces those right-actions and not wrong foolish actions. 

True philosophy is based in moral truth and determines our conduct in life to act rightly. A way of living not based in truth is not a proper philosophy, but an ideology that leads one’s astray into foolishness and of course suffering. The “love” of wisdom to behave and conduct our lives in a way that is instrumental in producing rightness, and reducing wrongness, is how we heal ourselves and the world from its current condition.

The “spiritual”/consciousness journey and search for truth, knowledge and understanding is also a search for answering the question “who am I?”/”who are you?” (know-thyself). What we do as we manifest our consciousness through action and behaviour is a part of who we truly are.

Wisdom is doing something with what we know. If we don’t act on what we understand to be right, then we don’t really understand the responsibility that comes with the knowledge and understanding of what is right to do.

“To know and not to do, is not to know.”
– Wang Yangming

There is a big difference between having internal knowledge and understanding, and properly applying that knowledge and understand to externally act upon it. The knowledge and understanding gained is meant to be applied as action which is right-action.

Understanding must be unified with action at some point in order for something to result from that understanding. This is the basis of the trivium methodology comprising of knowledge, understanding and wisdom. Otherwise, understanding without action leads to nothing in the end. Then nothing will end up changing or being healed in the world.

Action through conscious will-power is required for things to change around us. The change and healing that first occurs is internal within, through knowledge and understanding of our attachment to falsity, lies, deceptions and immorality. Then change can happen in the world through external action that needs to be applied. Having accurate understanding of what ‘is’ in reality is the definitely the first BIG step. 

That is possible only once we know, what are we going to do with what we already know?

Knowledge and understanding is not power in itself. Right-action that is developed through accurate understanding will impregnate knowledge with power. Knowledge alone has no power. Our will-power makes knowledge powerful because we act upon it.

Knowledge and understanding can be used irresponsibly to create falsity, deception and manipulation, to keep people ignorant and under control. Or it can be used for good to elevate, expand and evolve consciousness. We must know the truth in order to not be fooled, conned, manipulated, and finally tricked.

Accepting the idea that there is “negative” information you should not learn, reject and refuse to acknowledge, prevents one from embracing the truth in all its beauty and horror, light and dark, positive and negative, good and evil. Refusing to look at the shadow, darkness, “demon” and negative that dwells inside each of us (consciousness, psyche, mind and “heart”, “spirit”, which are the same thing), will halt the journey and path towards truth and prevent us from getting to the “heart of the matter”, that is the core foundational root cause of our current condition. 

The only way out of the problems we have created for ourselves is by confronting them. In the end, the source of the problem is us, humanity as a whole, that chooses to live in a certain way and create what we want to create as our human way of life.

The only way forward to overcome a problem and correct it, is to face it and go through it, not ignore it. The only way to overcome the darkness is by shining a light on it. Knowing ourselves by looking in the mirror, into the “heart of darkness”, allows us to face that which needs to be transmuted, transformed, healed or even purified.

Turning our backs to the hard uncomfortable truths is not a solution. We can learn and develop the wisdom to know what the right-action is to take. We can continually self-renew who we are. We can definitely change for the better.

Empower yourself with the care, courage and will-power to face the truth, do care for moral truth. Accept the personal responsibility and take the time, energy, effort, dedication, determination, persistence and perseverance required to learn and understand what is going on in the world and inside you.

We can heal ourselves and the world if we all work at it. Truth takes time. Healing takes time. There is no time like now to start the journey forward and to heal. If not now, when?

 “Always do what you are afraid to do.”
—Ralph Waldo Emerson

Taking “baby steps” through the trial and error of learning is growing, and growing is thriving, and thriving is indeed wellness. Because we haven’t risen to the challenges that enable us to build our character and our constitution, we really don’t know who we are and that causes even more doubt and fear. We lack trust and confidence in ourselves, so our personal growth, wellness, and well-being remains in the hands of others, and we are forced to trust their power and their moral character instead of our own. Thus, we are more likely to be oppressed, manipulated, and even victimized.

Life begins at the end of your comfort zone

When you avoid discomfort, distract yourself, pretend, or run away from pain– one of your greatest teachers, you lose the opportunity to actualize your potential and build your resilience or flexibility. Like unused muscles, your mind, body, and spirit remain static and weak thus causing additional unnecessary suffering.

When you learn to grapple with challenge, voluntarily through practice, you will build character and confidence. You will learn more about what you are made of and who you really are, so that when the unexpected tragedies of life hit, as they inevitably will, you will be the stability and comfort for yourself and others, thus minimizing any unnecessary, additional suffering. You will be the hero of your own life story.

Know thyself and then build yourself up with self-esteem and courage. The key to increasing your self-esteem is to build up your image of yourself, creating new neural pathways in your brain with your desired self-image and by weakening the old negative self-image that you don’t want any more. 

You can do this in a few different ways but some of the most effective and proven strategies are:

Daily guided meditation focusing on building new neural pathways in the brain…thinking about the desired outcome.

Positive Affirmations that you write yourself in order to create new neural pathways.

Stop caring about what other people think and just be you. Ignore the naysayers.

Stop comparing yourself to others!

You have to believe and trust in yourself and your abilities in order for others to believe in you. Once you know yourself it is now more about “aligning” to your true self. When you go off track, you will know it (you will feel out of synch and disconnected) and it will be up to you to know yourself well enough to get yourself back on track where things just flow for you.

Do not limit yourself: remember to be careful of labelling yourself based on past performance. “Self-analysis can trap us if we don’t learn to let go of the past.” We cannot base our decisions of what we think we are capable of doing based on what we have done in the past. 

Create a morning routine: creating a morning routine will simplify your life and warm up your brain. When you wake up, the oldest part of your brain begins to drive you towards your goals that have rewards attached to them.  You can make it easier on your brain and eliminate decision fatigue (where you waste energy unnecessarily) or set yourself up for success with some careful planning the night before. You will be able to do much more, with less stress.

About the writer:
Trishna Patnaik, a BSc (in Life Sciences) and MBA (in Marketing) by qualification but an artist by choice. A self-taught artist based in Mumbai, Trishna has been practising art for over 14 years. After she had a professional stint in various reputed corporates, she realised that she wanted to do something more meaningful. She found her true calling in her passion that is painting. Trishna is now a full-time professional painter pursuing her passion to create and explore to the fullest. She says, “It’s a road less travelled but a journey that I look forward to everyday.” Trishna also conducts painting workshops across Mumbai and other metropolitan cities of India.