The call to care for, and explore our existence is not a new one as evidenced by the ancient Egyptians. The legendary king Alexander the Great was crowned at the Luxor Temple on the shores of the Nile River. The Luxor Temple was quite unique in the ancient world and covered with words of wisdom in the form of several proverbs. One such proverb was scribed above the external entrance and read “The body is the house of God” with another on the inner temple entrance reading “Man, Know thyself and you will know the Gods”.
I work with people daily on a quest to “know themselves”. Actually, I work with people on the quest to know how they can communicate better, be more effective, create more influence or create a more profitable existence. I suspect the same questions the early Greeks, Egyptians, Persians, Mongolians and any other human tribe on the planet was pursuing. In those many discussions I have discovered that in reality, our searches for outcome are in fact a deeper desire to discover the meaning in our own lives, to “know thyself”.
This work has revealed a pattern of for steps or pillars that nearly all seeking self-knowledge need to wrestle out on the journey to know thyself. Here are four practices that will give you a leg-up to better know thyself.
To know thyself… Understand Your Personal Anchor Values ©
Life offers us very few guarantees, and experience is one of those guarantees. Walk around this planet for any length of time and you are going to experience. The experiences of our lives gather in the mind and become awareness. Experiences we love and the experiences we wish to never repeat become the mosaic of our journey. From this blend of experience we develop deep connections to what we value in our experiential lives. Things like spirituality, the people we want around us, the ideals and ways of being we determine to live by, even places and things that have deep meaning, all make up the kingdom of our experience.
A deep reflection of our list of cherished items is a great start to knowing thyself. Ask yourself “what are the cherished people, places, ideals, ways of being and spiritual springs in my life?” Bring these items to written form in as much detail as you can and live them as a personal sacred document. Create and live this into your daily experience and your life will come alive with meaning.
Those who know themselves, have a strong connection to their unique values.
To know thyself… Keep Promises to Thyself
As humans we are geared to help people. We have an amazing ability to support those in our sphere. The neighbor needs a hand moving in the new couch, we are there. Kids need help with homework, we got em covered. PTA, youth soccer, extra work deadlines, painting the extra room for our partner, friend needs us, family needs us, flood victims need us five states away need help, we cover them all. We will gladly give our word to be there, we give of our time, our attention and our talents. We show up at the prescribed time, giving of ourselves and on the whole, we are very good at keeping promises to others.
When it comes to keeping promises to ourselves however, we fall terribly short. Treat ourselves to some alone time to catch up on some reading? Yea one of these days. Get ourselves to the gym, yoga studio, out for a walk? “Sure” we say “as soon as I catch up on (every other promise we are keeping)”. We will keep promises to our boss, our spouse, our community, even those we have never met. If you want to know yourself take some good flight attendant wisdom, place that oxygen mask on yourself before helping the person next to you.
Those who know themselves, know how to keep promises to themselves.
To Know Thyself… Be Real With Thyself
The reflection in the mirror is not really you, it’s just a reflection.
Human learning is based in large part on watching others. We learn to walk by watching our parents walk and eventually giving it a try, failing many times before finally putting it all together. When we take that new job, we may be given some training, but in the end we emulate what those around us are doing until we get it figured out. “Mirroring” is a critical part of learning. Large parts of brain capacity is set up to take in information, assimilate it and put it into action for us. It’s a part of what I call the big three of learning, Knowing, Experiencing and Being.
For nearly all of us, as a baby, we came to Know that we needed to walk. We watched others walk and soon enough were encouraged and helped by our parents to the Experience stage of walking. We hang on to mom’s hand, the furniture, anything that will hold us upright until one day, the Being happens and we enter the world of walking beings.
We follow this “mirroring” model in almost everything we learn and it’s a very effective learning tool. Mirroring has another aspect to it however, that fails to serve us when it comes to knowing thyself. As we are discussing here, there is another side to our human experience, the know thyself side.
Our brains can be lazy and make some assumptions when we get to the being part of things. Let’s take an extreme example. Two sisters are raised in a family of alcoholics, the girls see and learn that the family deals with stress and life, happiness and sadness through the mass consumption of alcohol. As teenagers one sister continues to mirror the family behavior and also turns alcohol, the other experiences the lifestyle as not fitting her anchor value of what a quality life is.
This example is a fairly obvious one but we fall into ways of being in many areas of our lives that are less than a genuine example of who we really are. We take on a position at work and find ourselves adopting the dress, mannerisms and vocabulary of the group. This is great if in alignment with what we value and how we want to express ourselves into the world. But, if we begin to wake up with some real discomfort with who we have become in the position we now hold, odds are very good we may be violating our own authenticity.
We must look always at the ways of being and the ideals we have adopted. Are they our true expression into the world or simply the mirroring of another?
Those who know themselves, seek consistently to truly be themselves.
To Know Thyself… Be Clear With Thyself
“We see in order to move; we move in order to see” –William Gibson
Many of us carry the idea that clarity is being able to absolutely see a guaranteed outcome before we take action. It’s true that would be clear, and really nice, unfortunately that experience thing we talked about earlier gets in the way and can throw some muck on the windshield of clarity.
Clarity is all about the destination. To bring some clarity to this point, let’s take a trip. Let’s say we have decided to take a road trip to Toronto Canada. We will assume we have never been to Toronto, and at the time of the decision to go don’t really know the travel routes to get there. The first thing we need to be clear on is why we are going to Toronto. I heard from another friend that there was an international basket weaving convention in Toronto and since we are both avid basket weavers, we decide Toronto Canada is the place to be! The next thing we need to know is when we are going to be there. Friday August 17th is the check-in date for the international convention and that date works in our schedule. We have made a decision, we are going to Toronto in August… Basket Masters here we come!!
Our tip to Toronto story points out how clarity really works. Clarity is more like a car driving at night than a crystal clear beacon we see before we take off. What we are clear on is really only two things 1) we are going to Toronto and 2) we are going in August. With this decision we have only made enough movement to create more clarity in our journey. But that’s how clarity works.
The fact of the matter is we have never been to Toronto, so we have no idea what Toronto looks like or what the layout of the city is. That’s a real lack of clarity in our plan right? Furthermore, we have never driven to Toronto so we have no idea what the landscape or roads look like getting us there. Bottom line, if we are going to get to Toronto we have to trust that clarity will be revealed as we move forward.
Clarity requires movement. If we have any chance of knowing ourselves we need to get clear on the journey and on the movement we are going to take. In life, experience gets messy and the road to our vision sometimes gets blurred. We must set a destination, a goal or a project, make some assumptions about the road to get there and then decide what action we need to take TODAY to start that journey.
Those who know themselves, are clear on where they are going.
Let’s take the steps the ancients called us to take thousands of years ago to “Know Thyself”. Knowing thyself requires that we understand what we value, who we are, that we have clarity on where we are going and the courage to keep the promise of knowing thyself to our self.