Historically, the idea of ‘knowing yourself’ was fundamental to the way that people lived their lives. Sages, wise people and gurus all wanted to understand what made them tick and why they had the impulses, emotions and behaviours that they did. It was a central feature of their thought.
As time wore on, though, the pursuit of self-knowledge waned. From the industrial revolution onwards, there’s been less introspection and more concentration on the world ‘out there’. We don’t focus on our inner lives as we used to, even though the inner issues still dominate us.
The Value Of Self-Knowledge
Self-knowledge and non-duality, however, are both making a comeback during the lockdown. All of a sudden, we have an ocean of time to think introspectively and evaluate our lives. This episode is a once-in-a-generation chance to get to the bottom of what we’re about as individuals, and how we can live the ‘good life’.
There are a lot of furloughed people out there who are coming to startling conclusions. They realise that there are aspects of their lives that they have neglected. Clearly, there is more to existence than the pursuit of money and power — or, indeed, activism to take both of those things away from those who’ve earned it. Other aspects of life are fundamental, like the intimacy of relationships and personal virtues, like courage.
Introspecting isn’t easy. You have to have a kind of ‘third eye’ and be able to look at yourself the way that other people see you. Gaining that perspective is a challenge. It requires considerable powers of empathy and an ability to put your personality in context. You have to erase your biases somehow and take an objective look at what you are.
Understanding The True Self
Self-knowledge, though, isn’t just an exercise in self-rejection. You’re not trying to undo the person you are. You’re shooting for understanding. Every one of your thoughts, feelings and personalities should have a seat at the table. But it’s a negotiation. Which bits of yourself are you prepared to feature in your life and interactions with others? And which do you prefer to change?
Moreover, what emotions are driving your life right now that are the result of your true self? And which are just the afterglow of past trauma?
These last two questions are critical for entertaining a throughout reevaluation during the lockdown. There are a lot of people who trudge through life, pursuing careers and relationships to palliate their trauma. It has nothing to do with their true self. It’s just a process of appeasing the scar tissue that grew over the person that they could have been, had the abuse never occurred.
Through self-knowledge, many of us will discover that the original personality — the person who we were meant to be — is unrecoverable. It is lost to the sands of time. But that doesn’t mean that we can’t begin probing ourselves and trying to figure out whether our impulses are authentic or if they come from traumas inflicted in the past. Knowing that distinction is critical for charting a future course.
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