The phrase “Know Thyself” is engraved on the Sanctuary of Delphi and it is a phrase that Socrates used often; it means, “get to know yourself.” The aim of the journey to self-awareness is an improved relationship with yourself as well as with the people you relate to. Knowledge of self is a particularly solitary journey and it calls for certain skills which I will reference briefly.
An increase in self-awareness leads to an increase in self-respect and self-confidence. Because of that, we can enjoy inner calm, spiritual and mental peace, and happiness. It is a long -lasting process that demands patience and persistence and it helps us discover the reason for our existence and the meaning of life.
Self-awareness is the knowledge of our conscience, the tireless exploration of our self, the refusal to give in to the deception of appearances and the discovery of the essence of virtue.
Socrates used to say that people believe two things in their ignorance: 1) They are certain about everything they know, even about themselves; 2) They know well how the world is and how life itself is.
For someone to get to know his real self and the way in which the world exists, one must cease to be certain or convinced about the things one knows. Only by relinquishing these two forms of ignorance can one enter into inner examination and travel the road to knowing the self and its strengths and capabilities. Socrates used to say that truth and virtue are identical. Virtue is following nature and its laws. In his modesty, he used to say, “I know one thing: that I know nothing.”
There are three types of people in the world:
- 1. Those we consider “evil” because in their ignorance they haven’t developed the feeling of goodness and they are indifferent to others’ experiences.
- 2. Those we consider “good” and have developed conscientiousness and who are frustrated and infuriated with the injustice and drama in the world ignoring the laws of nature.
- 3. Those whom we consider unperturbed, who comprehend the principles that guide life and don’t enter into conflict with reality. They respect the process of learning for all people and they are willing to share their wisdom at the right time.
There are many people who use morality to justify their actions and their behavior. Morality, however, is little more than a subjective perception of reality, its positive and negative attributes. And morality itself leads people to want to change reality refusing to accept certain things as defacto according to the perfect natural order.
Being unperturbed is a gift which allows you to see good in evil and evil in good by adopting a far more objective and neutral view of life.
We humans are all flawed, of course, and we need courage and determination to face our shortcomings and accept them rather than condemn them. But we don’t realize that it’s our failings that will point us toward the path of personal development. They are the compass that point out our true potential because they indicate that something is lacking in our character. If we look at shortcomings with a sense of guilt because of the prevailing value system or the social milieu, we will become immobilized. We will enter a depressive state of mind which may eventually result in self-destruction.
There are three matters to consider in society:
- · Our personal affairs, i.e., anything that depends on our actions to examine and change it so that we may become happy.
- · The affairs of others: a great deal of our fears, our stress and our disappointments stems from our involvement in other people’s business, thus forgetting to deal with our own. It is important to clear up whose business each affair is so that it may hone our skills in our relationship with ourselves.
- · Reality itself: these are affairs whose change does not depend on our interference whatsoever.
Unfortunately, we live within a socio-economic framework that makes us believe our happiness rests outside ourselves: it is things we can obtain with money, material things, and by impressing others. We often settle for substitutes for happiness, too, like pleasures, comfort, and entertainment. This self-delusion is clearly a lack of honesty towards ourselves. It is far more important to devote our energy on getting to know ourselves than others. We are all trying to interpret a life script written by others and directed to the fulfillment of the expectations of others.
A prerequisite to knowing ourselves is loving ourselves. Christ said, “Love thy neighbor as thyself.” This indicates that one cannot love anyone or be loved unless one has learned to love and accept oneself first.
From this self-knowledge, we learn responsibility. Realizing our mistakes (what we label as mistakes) is the only way to start changing our position and attitude and rectifying it. We must take care not to blame ourselves nor become victim of circumstance because that way we only shake off responsibility again.
Those who know themselves and truly love themselves have learned to be happy and be at peace with others. They love life as it is because they never cease to learn from it.
Spyros Metaxas, Psychiatrist/Psychotherapist