How Do I Get Self Knowledge
How do I get self knowledge? Well, lots of work, that’s how. No seriously. How does one gain self-knowledge? We are told it is desirable to have self-knowledge, but how do we gain that? I’ve spent many years answering this question. I’ll likely spend many more. After all that time and effort, I actually have a working solution for myself and there are many pieces to my puzzle.
I started by spending quite a few years developing strength in my mind and its capabilities. I developed concentration, visualization and memory skills. I also worked on my reasoning skills. I’ve learned several meditation techniques, though I only use one at this time.
Many people study philosophy. I’ve dabbled in it myself. I’m really not very good at it. It requires a lot of mental gymnastics that I am not willing to perform. On this show I talk about my personal philosophy. But that’s not the same thing as the study of philosophy that relates to the entire human species. My subjective experiences, and indeed your subjective experiences, color how I view the world, how we all view the world. It will never be universally perceived by everyone.
The Music Analogy
There are simple steps to becoming self-aware. They are simple to practice. The hard part is putting in the work. As with all things that we do that we get really good at, practicing the basics until we have mastered them is key. I’ve used the analogy before and we use it again here. When learning to play an instrument, you first learn the notes and what they mean. Basically, you learn to read music. This skill can be applied to any instrument. When learning to play the instrument, the first step is to learn to use your physical body appropriately. What I mean by that is to hold your fingers correctly, and if it’s a wind instrument to hold your mouth correctly. You learn to sit up straight. You learn to breathe properly. And you endlessly practice scales. You practice rhythm techniques. Long notes, short notes, plucked notes, strummed notes. All of these individual skills are necessary to become proficient at playing the instrument.
I want to take the skills and match them up with the skills needed to develop self-awareness. All of what I’m about to say is based on my own personal experience. Feel free to add your techniques in the comments. The basic techniques I’m going to talk about our dream interpretation, concentration, memory, imagination, and meditation or prayer.
Let me start with dream interpretation. I did an earlier podcast on dream interpretation and will continue to do additional podcasts in the future on this topic. Dream interpretation is similar to being able to read music. There are universal symbols that provide guidance. Dreams, as with music, are subject to individual interpretation. While the notes on the page describe a piece of music, the use of that piece of music, and the presentation of that piece of music, are colored by the person having the dream or playing the music.
The skills of concentration, memory, and imagination can be likened to learning to hold an instrument, hold your fingers properly, use your breath appropriately, and to basically learn to use your physical body to play the instrument. The instrument played with concentration, memory, and imagination is the mind.
The practice of meditation or devotional prayer is the place where concentration is applied. Being in the present moment and simply observing what exists there is the goal. As it relates to music, this is the time devoted to understanding and identifying your personal experience with the music you are playing. It is the study of the music, the particular piece of music in front of you. It is the focus concentration on understanding the intention of the creator or composer of the music. This analogy relates to your own personal composition of your life.
What Does It Really Take?
There is a significant amount of work involved in becoming self-aware. The bad news is it will take forever to accomplish. And the good news is that you will wake up one day and realize it has been 10 years or 20 years and your life has changed dramatically. We do a little bit each day. Part of what we do each day is exercise our memory, and when we look back 10 or 20 years to the point where we started, we can be quite amazed at our progress.
The skills required are learning to interpret your dreams, beefing up your memory, learning to concentrate, developing the ability to imagine the future you desire as opposed to stumbling toward the same future without awareness. And finally, meditation.
We apply the ability to concentrate to the practice of meditation or devotional prayer. This is what adds the element of serenity to our experiences. Working from the present moment, not affected by memories of the past that no longer exist, nor imagined failings of the future that have yet to come, we can draw on courage to act on our positive dreams of the future that we imagine with purpose.
And finally, the wisdom to know true personal power also comes out of living in the present moment. As we become aware of any ideas of being a victim and powerless, the power to bring our minds to the present moment in which we are adults is the most powerful tool in our toolbox. We can use our memory of the past and compare it to the power we hold in the present. This has to be the most empowering action that I’ve ever accomplished with my mind. I cannot stress enough how important it is to be aware that the past is acting upon you in the present moment, but only for as long as you are unaware of it.
As long as I’m aware that in the present moment is raining but I am dry, safe, and comfortable, there is no need for me to imagine a future where I am victimized by rain. I can actually enjoy the rain. I can be serene in the knowledge that there is absolutely nothing I can do to change that it is raining in the present moment. When the rain stops, that will be a different moment, and I will make different choices in that moment.
Using imagination to plan ahead is necessary. But when that future moment becomes the present moment and things don’t actually go according to my plans, that is my time to stop and reflect in the present moment about how to proceed. Is this something I can change? If not, what is an appropriate action that will take me closer to fulfilling my thwarted plan?
Allowing an unpleasant moment to be exactly that takes a great deal of courage. I’ve seen a lot of literature around self-awareness that apparently denies the existence of pain. Or presents the idea that you always have the power to change an unpleasant experience to a pleasant experience. This is absolutely false. I’ve seen many people on the path of self-awareness blame themselves, and look for what they did “wrong”, because the visualized goal didn’t work out the way they imagined. There is no wisdom in this. You must know the difference between what you can and cannot change.
That last statement is extremely important in your journey toward self-knowledge. There is always more to know about yourself. However, you are not the cause of all unpleasantness in your life. There are choices that you make that lead you from point A to point B to point C. And sometimes you’ll fail to reach goals. However, you are not personally defective if you do not reach a stated goal.
Our world is so vast, and so unknowable, and so remarkable, and so amazingly awesome that we will never know every variable, every choice, by every person involved, that brings us to any particular place in our lives. It is inappropriate to hold yourself to a standard of perfection and perfect knowledge only attainable by an omnipotent Creator.
And I’ll leave you with this little thought project. When do we stop working on figuring out who we are and just BE who we are and live our lives?
- Dream Interpretation
- Concentration, memory, visualization
- Meditation or Prayer
- Phillip deFranco