“People travel to wonder
At the height of mountains
At the huge waves of the seas,
At the long courses of rivers,
At the vast compass of the ocean,
At the circular motion of the stars;
And they pass by themselves without wondering.”
–St Augustine 399 AD
The adage “know thyself” is frequently attributed to Ancient Greece, but there’s evidence that it predates back to the Egyptians. According to the Greek geographer Pausanias, the term “know thyself” was inscribed in the Temple of Apollo at Delphi. Wherever it truly originated, the saying has been used throughout the centuries to encourage individuals to turn their curiosity inward to learn more about who they are as unique physical and spiritual beings.
Of all the things in this world we strive to understand, deeply knowing ourselves is one of the most difficult. Benjamin Franklin in his Poor Richard’s Almanack lamented how difficult it was to know one’s self and Shakespeare encouraged through his characters “to thine own self be true”—something that can only be done after deep self-knowledge is gained. But what does knowing ourselves really entail? And how does this knowledge affect the rest of our lives?
The Benefits of Knowing Thyself
We see everything through our own lens, and perception affects everything. Most of the decisions we make and reactions we have are based on past experiences, opinions and our own personality traits. Without knowing more about these deep places, we may not understand why we do what we do and therefore have no way to alter it. When we begin to compassionately extend curiosity towards ourselves, we can uncover a wealth of information about ourselves that is illuminating and empowering. Simply understanding why we are triggered by certain events or why we shy away from certain people is the first step in healing, moving forward, and living an authentically happy life.
Ancient Greek Temple of Apollo at Delphi Ruins
Knowing Thyself as a Human Being
We are all spiritual beings having a human experience. How we enjoy that experience and what we contribute during our journey on earth is up to us, but it can be difficult to make the most of our time here when we are unfamiliar with our thoughts, beliefs and the emotions behind them. We can start by taking stock of what we think, what we do, why we do it, and how we feel about all of these things. Pondering, journaling and tracking our values, interests, temperament, strengths and goals can highlight the discrepancies in our life. When we dig deep to assess the inner workings of our mind, by examining our beliefs we are able to learn if they are truly our own, or if were they taught to us and accepted without question as part of our thinking. Once we have a solid understanding of these parts of ourselves, we can examine our limiting beliefs and the associated triggers that influence our actions. With increased awareness about ourselves, we advance our ability to thrive in the human experience.
Knowing Thyself as Related to Spirit
Our physical selves are only one part of who we are. If we are not taking time to foster our spiritual connection, we are ignoring something essential to our whole being, which can make it challenging to find true meaning or fulfillment in life. Knowing ourselves spiritually helps us understand our place in the universe and fosters a stronger connection to the greater whole. Through simple practices like meditation, introspection, journaling, wandering in nature, prayer, and divination, we can find higher purpose and deeper meaning in our lives. We’ll also feel more balanced, nourished and peaceful.
Though knowing ourselves is one of the greatest challenges we will undertake, it is also highly connective and rewarding. When we strive to know ourselves both as spiritual and physical beings, it leads us on a path to wholeness, fulfillment, and expression of our authentic self.