The Trap of Man Know Thyself

(Wo)Man Know Thyself – that’s where the greatest power lies, right?

But what does ‘Knowing Yourself’ mean? Can you Know Yourself? How can you be the subject of your own knowing?

I found that I have always known myself, I only believed myself not to.

I thought I did not know myself and needed to associate myself with words, as definitions, knowledge and information – that I had to find the right ‘labels’ to place on myself, and that in doing that: I would know myself.

Most of all, I wanted to know that ‘I am a good person’ and looked for many ways to get this confirmation from my environment and the people within it.

When I did not get this confirmation, I assumed that ‘I am a bad person’ – and that me placing this label on myself, was me ‘knowing myself’.

I tried to understand and ‘know me’ as how an outside observer would gather information through observation.

Looking at it now, as a child – the imagery that comes up is that of a flower trying to know itself through others’ observations as knowledge.

I imagine myself being a flower, having certain experiences and expressions – and someone coming up to me saying:

Your name is Rose, you are a Flower. 

You are a woody perennial flowering plant of the genus Rosa.

You are thorny, you are deciduous.

You’re a symbol of love but also of pain because of your thorns.

You’re worth 6 dollars in that shop over there.

I imagine myself responding ‘Oh okay, I didn’t know that’. I imagine myself accepting some of these definitions blindly while rejecting others because I don’t want to be associated with them, yet they’ll keep nagging at me in the back of my head ‘what if I really am a symbol of pain? What people’s experiences with me may start off positive but always end up in some kind of hurt?’

As children, we do the same. We go through events and experiences, where we experience reality one way and then are offered meaning about the situation and ourselves (Also see my blog on ‘A Miser of Meaning’). We have fun playing with blocks until someone comes by and tells us ‘You’re stupid! You’re not supposed to stack them like that!’. 

In that moment, my experience and expression of myself was not: I am stupid. I did not experience myself as intellectually challenged in any way. Intellectual accomplishment was not part of my consideration in that moment.

In fact, my ‘I am’ as the expression and experience of myself was: I am enjoyment

But this person here insists that my ‘I am’ is stupidity. They’re bigger and older than me, they’ve been around for longer, they must know more and be more adept at living (which is also a form of assigning meaning) – and so I assume that ‘I must be missing something’, there ‘must be something about myself that I am not seeing’. Now I accept their definition of me as my definition, I hunch my shoulders and continue playing within the expression and experience of ‘I am stupid’.

The next day I am playing with my cars in the hallway. “Brooom,broooooooom!” I am being super focused on where they’re driving and how fast, making sure they’re not crashing into one another.
My experience and expression of myself is: I am focus.

One of my siblings comes down the stairs and crosses the hallway to get to the kitchen and steps barefoot on one of my cars. ‘Aww!!! Why are you playing here? You’re so annoying, get out of the way, go play somewhere else!’

My experience and expression of myself was: I am focus. The definition that’s being given to me is: I am annoying. By this time, I may instead decide to reject this definition and be rebellious. ‘I’m not going to move away from my spot, they must just be more careful where they place their feet!’

These experiences and events go on and on. It is through these events and experiences in the first seven years of our life, that we built and gathered data about ourselves. Some definitions we accept, others we reject. Within that, a picture starts to form about ‘Who I Am’, an identity and self-image starts taking shape according to the different words we identify ourselves with, as well as the ones we distance ourselves from (reject). We then believe that ‘this is Who I Am’, that this is what makes us ‘us’ and we protect and defend it at all cost – even when this identity as the conglomeration of words we’ve defined ourselves by, do not serve us.

Within my own process of self-realization, this took me on a wild goose chase. I was forevermore trying to ‘get to know myself’ through various interactions with people and institutions, to give me an inkling of ‘Who I Am’. This was and to some extent still is – a highly conflictual experience – as I would get many different meanings and definitions offered. Within myself, I wanted to just KNOW who I am as one or a few definitions that are set in stone. I wanted the matter to get settled, so that I can ‘once and for all’ know who I am relative to everyone else, so that I know ‘how to behave’ in a set and predetermined manner that is always right and appropriate for the situation at hand. 

But this I found impossible. I found it impossible to pin myself down to just one or a few words. Because my experience and expression of myself would change from moment to moment. Additionally, what was deemed as ‘right’ and ‘appropriate’ for one person, would be ‘wrong’ and ‘offensive’ to another. I couldn’t be a good person. Because everyone gathered and accumulated different definitions and meanings about themselves and the world, everyone’s definitions of ‘what’s good’ and ‘what’s bad’ differ. It didn’t matter what words I tried to associate myself with and live up to, I was always losing in one way or another. Either in forcing myself to be something for the sake of ‘being good’ or being met with scorn because ‘I wasn’t being good’. 

Back to the drawing board.

I looked back at my childhood experiences and moments where there was no knowing about myself involved. In those moments of expression, there was no knowledge present. There were no ideas or beliefs present about myself or other people. The only point that was here was Who I Am which could not be known. It was unpredictable, it was ‘chaotic’, it was organic. It didn’t follow a predetermined structure. I didn’t look at my day and scheduled ahead what I was going to do and who I was going to be. There was no knowing, only a being. If an expression is here as me, then it is here. It’s not something I have to think about, it is only something that can be expressed and lived. In every moment, I was a part of the moment, as much as the moment was a part of me – by virtue of me being ‘in it’. There was no ‘space’ or ‘time’ in my head to mull things over, to calculate, to consult memories, emotions and feelings – which are all byproducts of knowledge and information as definition and meaning accumulated over the years. I could only speak and act, directly Here, instantaneously.

The Trap of Man Know Thyself comes into play when we define ourselves according to knowledge and information as meaning that we either blindly accept or blindly reject about ourselves. There is no ‘Self’ involved, there’s only reaction. 

The Solution of Man Know thyself comes into play when we take a moment of intimacy of into-me-I-see and check how, what, when and where the meaning that is offered to us is relevant to us or not.

Let’s take for instance the moment where I was playing with the cars in the hallway. The meaning and definition I was offered was ‘I am annoying’ which I swiftly rejected. What I could have done instead was ask myself within being Here and Honest with my Here: Am I being annoying? I would have seen that no, I am not living the word Annoying. I am not deliberately and with intent wanting to cause irritation and annoyance. What I can see, is that the spot I chose to play in, in retrospect, may have not been the best spot, considering the foot traffic that takes place. With this new awareness and insight, I could have moved myself to another spot, where I can play exactly as I was and express myself exactly as I was. This would be me living the word Consideration by taking my reality into account. Me moving to another spot is then not an admittance to the definition and meaning that ‘I am annoying’. But I did not have to reject it either. Instead, I would have used it as an opportunity and moment of reflection as to What is Really Here within myself and my physical reality – which did have an aspect of consideration that was missing that I hadn’t noticed before. The other person was in some way pointing this out, even though it was overloaded with Meaning that was not actually relevant to that specific moment. That was an add-on of their own choosing. 

The Journey to Life, back home, back to ourselves – is not so much about ‘doing more’ and ‘knowing more’ about ourselves — as it is an ‘undoing’, ‘unlearning’. To chip and chisel at the fossils of the past we’ve identified with, to bare the multifaceted diamond that was at the core all along.

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