Essential Principles, Practices and Panaceas, A – Z: Know Yourself

know yourself haiku

I found power in accepting the truth of who I am. It may not be a truth that others can accept, but I cannot live any other way. Alison Goodman

Why know yourself?

Because wouldn’t you rather be your own best friend than your own worst enemy? Not only that, the healthier your relationship with yourself, the healthier your relationships with others.

When I think of the people I know whose lives are more melodramatic than a soap opera, it’s safe to assume that they’re missing an inner connection. For example, I know of a guy who goes from one failed relationship to another, always being taken for a ride; he constantly bemoans the fact that women take advantage of him. Never does he stop to consider that he’s the common denominator in this repetitive cycle.

Then there’s a colleague’s (adult) daughter who complains about everybody she comes into contact with. Can it be that everyone in this young woman’s life has a problem, or does she need to look in the mirror?

I don’t know either of these people very well, but what I do know is that their inability to form and maintain good relationships tells me they could benefit from doing some personal development work.

If you can’t acknowledge yourself in your entirety, the good as well as the supposedly bad, then you project what you reject in yourself onto others; it stands to reason that these relationships are then going to suffer. Or as Steve Maraboli suggests: A lot of the conflict you have in your life exists simply because you’re not living in alignment; you’re not being true to yourself.

It’s empowering to know and accept your whole self. When you know who and what you are, you can make decisions based on what is right for you, rather than letting external influences dictate your life.

There are memes currently circulating social media, pictures of Audrey Hepburn or Princess Diana, bearing the caption: In a world full of Kardashians, be an Audrey/Diana. A relative of mine posted one on Facebook and I had to comment: Better still, why not be yourself?

In The Dark Side of the Light Chasers, Debbie Ford discusses how we cover our inner treasure with masks that protect us as we face the people who challenge us daily. Wanting to appear a certain way, perhaps because we fear being judged, we deny our true self; in the process creating a false self that we believe is a better representation of us. That false self is the fragile ego, described by Sogyal Rinpoche in The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying as:

…our false and ignorantly assumed identity. So ego, then, is the absence of true knowledge of who we really are, together with its result: a doomed clutching on, at all costs, to a cobbled together and makeshift image of ourselves, an inevitably chameleon charlatan self that that keeps changing and has to, to keep alive the fiction of its existence.

In The Book of Life, Jiddu Krishnamurti points out how self-knowledge can transform the self and, in turn, transform the world. This transformation can only occur, however, if we agree to see ourselves as we are, rather than who we would prefer to be. This means acknowledging and integrating our ‘shadow’ sides (aka the fragile ego), which isn’t as difficult as it sounds (if I can do it, anyone can).

One way of developing self-knowledge is to look at the stories you tell about yourself. Taking responsibility for the story of your life enables you to be the writer, director and star in your own life story. It can be hard work, but it can also be fun and is ultimately satisfying.

C. Joybell C. suggests examining what you’re afraid of: to know yourself, look at your fears. Fear in itself is not important, but fear stands there and points you in the direction of things that are important. Don’t be afraid of your fears, they’re not there to scare you; they’re there to let you know that something is worth it.

One way of examining your fears is to journal about them.

And an exercise to consider is this: think about someone who irritates you. What, specifically, is it about that person that gets up your nose? Say, for example, you can’t stand your mother-in-law’s gossiping; could it be that you, too, like to talk about other people, or are you over-identified with being the strong, silent type? Or does the fact that your brother is a notorious womaniser push your buttons? Is it because you secretly wish you could be as desirable to the opposite (or same) sex, or are you over-identified with being ‘good’?

Where do you think your judgements come from? Can you recall hearing a parent, or other significant adult in your upbringing, criticise the behaviours you find abhorrent?

In facing my own shadow, I discovered that who I am is okay. Along with C. Joybell C., I now find that: I don’t fit into any stereotypes. And I like myself that way.

Can you say the same?

Our lives are essentially our stories

No matter what you do in your life, what you create, what career you have…your greatest creation is always going to be your life’s story. Jonathan Harris

All human beings instinctively tell stories – stories help us to understand ourselves, each other and the experiences we have in our lives. We also share stories to entertain and inform.

Everyone we encounter can recount stories of love, loss, laughter, heartache, courage… As C.S. Lewis said: ‘We meet no ordinary people in our lives.’

We tell stories to define ourselves. When we want others to know who we are, we share anecdotes about our backgrounds and families, about our accomplishments in life. We can do this to help others, or to promote ourselves in the best light possible.

Our stories intertwine with those of our families, friends, colleagues and acquaintances. Each smaller story weaves into the larger narrative that makes up our world. I believe that by attending to our individual stories we can impact the world in a positive way.

But how much attention do we give to creating our own stories? Or are they dictated by others’ expectations of how we should be living our lives?

Carol Pearson, in What Story Are You Living? says, ‘Your life story is the tale that you repeatedly tell yourself about who you are, what you want, what you can and cannot do.’

Are the stories you tell about yourself tales that allow you to see the potential in your life, or do they limit you? Were you, when growing up, encouraged to be all that you can be, or were you told that life is a certain way and that you have to fit in?

If it’s the latter, I’m guessing you might sometimes feel trapped in a repetitive cycle of drama, disappointment and disillusion. Do you find yourself pointing the finger of blame, constantly complaining that ‘Things would be different if only…’? Or do you distract yourself by getting caught up in other people’s stories, thinking that you know what’s good for your mother, father, sister, brother, son, daughter?

If you were the main character in a book, play or film, how do you think your reader or audience would feel about the way your life is going? Would they describe you as inspirational, living a meaningful life – or would they feel disheartened by what they behold?

Brene Brown, in The Gifts of Imperfection, suggests that ‘Owning our story can be hard, but not nearly as difficult as spending our lives running from it’. She points out that if we take charge of our story then we decide how it ends.

To put it another way: Freedom begins the moment you realise someone else has been writing your story… it’s time you took the pen from his hand and started writing it yourself (Bill Moyes).

For the first half of my life I wasn’t the one writing my script. Because of that I ended up like Persephone, dragged into a murky, oppressive underworld. I lived through a terrifying psychological thriller that I was lucky to escape. My life story could so easily have been that of the perpetual victim, but I determined not to let that happen.

So if you ever find yourself saying, ‘That’s the story of my life…’ stick with me. I can help you digest your life experiences so that history doesn’t keep repeating itself. I can show you how to be the main character in your own, revolutionised, story, rather than a minor character in someone else’s.