Perhaps you have heard the maxim, “Know thyself”. It has been around for a long time time and likely originated in 6th century BC Ancient Egypt from the proverb of the External Temple that said “Man, know thyself, and you are going to know the gods.” The prodding and desire for man or 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 was and still 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 Moses 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 where we are swimming/drowning in a culture inundated with tag lines, catch phrases, mantras, advice and maxims that tell us to know ourselves.
In today’s world it is easy to take a short pithy statement that’s generally true and use it to manipulate and control millions of people. Before you know it, an entire market is built on telling human beings how, when, who, where and what is needed to be purchased (an ungodly amount of journals, books, courses, classes, apps and webinars) to “Know thyself”. We are misled to believe that we need a life coach, counselor, trainer, nutritionist and a personal guru; and that by making lists, listening to podcasts, crushing the Enneagram and doing the right program/formula that we will get the answer... and know who we are.
In the American way or the Adam way, we get very busy and we work very hard trying to piece together the weirdest most artificial way of knowing ourselves. Unfortunately, our pull ourselves up by our bootstraps mentality and our formulaic approach 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. 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 appetites. We believe the answer to knowing ourselves is to know what we want, who we want, when we want, where we want and how we want.
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 humans, neighbors and cohabiters. But the catch is what does “Know thyself” even mean and how in the world are we supposed to know ourselves?
I don’t know a lot but I have learned a few things from doing many things the wrong way. One thing I 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 in your room and pick your shows, music, podcast, dates, friends and image but none of that is ever going to let you meet the real you. Your authentic self isn’t what you like, it is who you are at your deepest levels beneath all the posturing, posting, peacocking, promoting, picking and photoshopping.
Second, you are never ever 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 have of knowing yourself. 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 and take a chance of looking like an idiot. Get out of yourself and the world that you have created 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. No book, podcast or expert is going to teach you what you will learn about yourself, about others or about life more than by being with people and being willing to be vulnerable, sensitive and present. And most of all, by being honest.
To “Know thyself” is to love yourself with all your heart, mind, soul and strength and love your neighbor like you love yourself. Knowing yourself is an active and mysterious daily practice of nourishing yourself and then giving your time, talents and truths to love and encourage others. Walk, play, work, worship and struggle with yourself and others. Find 2 or 3 close friends and build deep relationships with them and enter into a place of rest. Together, you will lose yourselves and find yourselves again and again and again. The real mystery of knowing thyself is living. It is breathing, listening, asking, looking and moving to receive and give love and truth; and live how you are naturally designed to be healthy, whole, holy and human.