In approx 1400 B.C., these words were inscribed on the entrance of the Temple of Luxor as a proverb, guiding those who entered in search of knowledge and insight. Echoing through the centuries and rippling across the reaches of western thought and philosophy, these words have influenced and helped guide the most ancient of sages. The early Greek philosophers, Socrates, Plato and Aristotle referred to “knowing thyself” as long established wisdom, emphasizing the importance of knowing what is and what is not your True Self before even attempting to know or understand anything else. Standing up to the erosion of time, through the millennia, countless empires, cultures & countries, this maxim has shown up consistently in public and private literature.
So what does that even mean, it seems like it would be self evident, knowing yourself. Is there more to myself than I know? Does this mean what we think we know about ourselves has the possibility of being untrue? Does this insinuate that we have forgotten who we are, or somehow who we are is something completely different altogether?
When I was a young man, I thought I knew who I was. I accepted my faults as a part of me, and blamed my sub optimum life circumstances on them. I made decisions and based my actions ignorantly on the subconscious premise that I was either superior to or inferior to those around me. I swaggered with unearned pride, and my consideration seldom extended beyond my own selfish perspective. I essentially made a box to put myself in based on how I defined myself, and you know what… I hated myself. I drank and abused substances to excess doing everything I could to forget that person, who I thought I was.
Over a decade of living in this dysfunction had left me very unhealthy, physically and spiritually. It was as if I had forgotten who I was, and had totally given up on pursuing any better version of myself. I had forgot that I have the choice to become the person I want to be, by being the person I want to become. That choice, whether consciously made or not, directly influences life circumstance; many aspects of our lives, be them health, relationships or finances, are all direct results of who we choose to be, in the present moment, every moment. Upon completely embracing this, one then quickly realizes what they are not.
In the process of letting go who I am not, or unfolding, I am met with an ever evolving resistance, one that puts off addressing self serving “glitches” and prohibits free growth in the pursuit of contentment. This resistance takes all kinds of forms, from ignorance to denial, reasoning to justification, feeling powerless to stubborn pride; there is always the constant pull of the ego. It wants to define us, to separate the connection we have with everyone, through judgments and selfish perspective. It comes in the form of thought; the seemingly endless involuntary stream of thought, labeling, judging, telling us our perspective and opinion for our every experience. It uses emotion and gains amplitude, we feel it, we hear the thoughts, then checkmate… we identify with it as our own, mistake it for our authentic self, and call it truth.
If you knew the person I was at that troubled age, it would be easy to say, “What was he thinking?” I too have asked myself, looking back, “How did you let things get so screwed up?”. Now, I realize that it was just ignorant, unconscious behavior; yes I was a legal adult within capable psychologic condition, but I just didn’t know what I didn’t know… the world outside of my perspective was just more than I imagined, plus, I had this whole badass image thing to keep up. Who I am now, who I choose to be, is repulsed by selfish attitudes that were once ‘par for my course’ as well as the lifestyle and person that accompanied it. But I am awake now. I would never be that person, because it would be a conscious, intentionally going against “thyself”. When I was that person, I was so and acted as such, because it was unconscious & unintentional to my, to our, true nature. From where I stand now, the value & importance of rising out of the depth of that ignorance dwarfs all of the material belongings I possess, all of the comforts and security I enjoy, each undertaking and every commitment. Anything else to me seems blasphemous. I knew this feeling in my heart and needed no confirmation for my true north… but upon reading Christ’s words in Hebrews 10:26, the warmth of reconciliation stirred my heart.
“For if we sin willfully after that we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins”. “‘in’, the word, as we know it today, meaning an immoral act, originates from the Early Greek’s ‘syn’, and was an archery expression: the act or state of missing the mark. It wasn’t until the New Testament in the Hebrew dialect, that sin canto began to mean failure, or being in error. Christ reiterates in James 4:17, “Whoever knows what is right to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin.”
For by willingly being in error, missing the mark of our true self after receiving knowledge of the truth, we intentionally leave behind the foundation of our real self, and are adrift, eventually losing the hope of escape from the depths of ignorance. This reminds me of a Navajo proverb I heard as a child, that in the heart of every man, there is a small triangle, that turns when one is in action they know is wrong, or, ‘sin’. This turning, obviously cuts the heart from inside; the pain is our conscience, pleading for our attention. The more one causes the blade to turn, the more dull it’s corners become, until eventually it just spins and spins, the heart is too calloused to notice.
Standing on the foundation of your true self, being selfless in thought, word and action does something remarkable to who we are and how we see the world. For in listening to your heart, using your conscience to navigate your actions, and striving to be your best, you shift away from everything you are not, and are given the invaluable opportunity to “Know Thyself”. Here, on this foundation, suffering vanishes, our perceived imperfections are no more, and the burden of judging everything we see as well as the fear of being judged by everything we see, simply fades. You have the shield of right action standing beside you. You are never alone, because the person you thought you were, that person we dream up, who is separate from everyone and everything, with all those definitions and expectations dissolves as you realize that you are a part of The All. Never forget this, in being present, in showing up for your life, in being selfless and using our forgotten power of choosing our every thought, word and action, we escape the slavery of the ‘personal self’, knowing & being our ‘True Self’
“You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free”