Gnothi Seauton: that’s Greek for Know Thyself; this endeavor is not new, it’s been encouraged and practiced long before the tunic was in fashion. Buddha encouraged his followers to learn from the inside. He outlines an eight fold path that is an individualized approach to life achieved through a quest into the far reaches of one’s being. Today, the information age is so fast paced that you can fall behind if you don’t keep up with the latest distractions. Each year there is a new gadget that we spend months saving for; a new fashion trend; a new diet; a new you. We often get so engrossed in our daily routines or patterns of behavior that we completely forget to examine ourselves. Then, the following year, we’re changing again. So what exactly are we changing? How can we know what to change if we haven’t completely studied ourselves?
The average person probably has an average of 7 masks that they wear and that number can increase over the course of one’s life. I am a daughter, a sibling, a friend, a student, a blogger, a girlfriend, a niece, a granddaughter, a volleyball player, a gamer, and the list can go on and on. Of course there is also the me that exists when I am completely alone: the authentic self.
In the past, I’ve felt as if I had to be a different person according to the situation. There were sides of me, which my parents weren’t aware of. That might still be true. I’m sure there are also aspects of my parents’ personalities that I haven’t witnessed and may never witness. This doesn’t matter, we wear masks because that’s what suits the situation. It is how society operates. Similarly, we dress differently when we’re at the office than at a dance club. What matters is our awareness of these masks and how we can maneuver between them in a manner that suits the situation and doesn’t do harm to ourselves. In a manner that doesn’t interfere with our daily functioning. It’s one thing to show different sides of your personality on different occasions but it’s another to hide different parts of your personality. Hiding means shame and if you’re being true to yourself, if you completely knew yourself, there would be nothing to hide. Over time, there will only be one being, YOU.
I encourage my readers to spend quality time alone. You only discover your own secrets after you’ve spent some time alone and inspected your being, the authentic you. Mark Twain once said “every man is a moon and has shadows which he never shows anyone”. Shadows are the collection of negative or undesirable traits we keep hidden. These are things we don’t like about ourselves, things we are ashamed of, or are afraid to admit (David Richo). These shadows can be uncovered through introspection. It can be done whenever and wherever; all you need to do is open your heart to yourself.
I am not an expert on introspection but I know how questioning my behavior and my responses to other people’s behavior has given me great answers to my life. Here are some examples of our shadows and how we can become aware of them and transcend them.
Whether you’re frustrated at your new phone because it keeps hanging or you’re sitting impatiently in a traffic jam, anger will creep up on you. Before you know it, your heart clenches and you are on the verge of aggression. You’re so focused on your frustration that you don’t even realize what it’s doing to your body and soul. Let’s use the traffic jam scenario. This is what you will focus on, the external: you’ll start to notice everyone else’s face and how you may loath them even though you don’t know them. You’ll honk your horn, hoping that all the drivers before you will magically disappear and let you pass. You’ll shift and twist in your seat. Basically, you’re uncomfortable but you haven’t realized it yet. You tug your hair and bang the steering wheel. What else can you do? You can’t change the situation, you must understand this. You don’t know what’s causing the traffic and even if you did, it’s unlikely that you can do anything about it.
“If you want a great life, ask great questions”
Samma-Sati — Complete or Thorough Awareness works well here. It involves a shift in thinking and it is about developing awareness of things, oneself, feelings, thought, people and reality. I’ve always emphasized a shift in focus.
– Instead of asking “why is there traffic?”
– Ask yourself “what can I do in this amount of time to better myself?”
Note that you aren’t excluding the reality. You’re still in traffic. However, you have the option to live consciously and treat every moment as if they’re miniature lifetimes. Instead of wasting your time on your vices, use the time to improve your virtues. Create space for patience, good temper, and acceptance. Cultivate an openness to study your shadows and make each waking moment count. It’s really that simple. It’s so simple that its quite difficult to believe it works. I use this method all the time when I’m gaming; ask not why or who shot my character but instead what can I do to improve so it happens less often.
Another painstaking emotion that is greater now than ever because we live in the most material age yet, that emphasizes the tangible over the invisible. We are constantly comparing ourselves to anyone and everyone. This is why we often crave changing ourselves: we want to change our bodies because we want what someone else has. Envy works such that we confront someone who has a quality that we lack. In turn we desire that quality for ourselves. We gossip because most often we are jealous of others. Let me remind you to not waste your breath and the energy of your heart on this emotion. Ask not what is wrong with you but instead what can you do to be the best you! You’ll always find people who are better in some aspect or another. Yet you haven’t taken the time to examine the qualities that makes you special. Let’s not think of this as a competition, you are simply part of the greater whole. I hope you believe that you’re meant for something greater. Maybe you haven’t uncovered it yet. Study your shadows, they’ll help you uncover your light.
Samma-Vayama — Complete or Full Effort, Energy or Vitality works well here. Also called right effort or diligence. When you’re consciously directing your life energy to the transformative path of creative and healing action, it fosters wholeness. It’s a conscious evolution.
Extrinsically, we all must work to make a living. Intrinsically you must work on yourself to live truthfully. If you wish to flourish, you must nourish your seed. I can’t stress enough how simple this is. The self is an incomplete being so there is always work to be done because it’s really easy to slip into old negative habits. Self-actualization is an active process that can only be achieved through your personal effort.
Samma-Ajiva — Proper Livelihood or right livelihood can be practiced here. This is a livelihood based on correct action in the work you involve yourself in. This encourages a pursuit of your passion. Do something that is
synchronized with who you are inside (Idene Goldman).
Here in lies another paradox. I’ve stated before that you are part of the greater whole. Hence, we cannot truly know ourselves without the help of others. What can you do? Observe your reaction towards other people. That will be the point where you become aware of yourself.
I tend to repeat myself a lot. I hope that by the 7th time, you grasp what I mean.
“Your perception of me is a reflection of you. My reaction to you is an awareness of me”. – Anonymous